Social media can't replace opposition voice

Opposition MPs play a vital role that social media alone cannot supplant ("Social media and the eclipse of the opposition"; last Wednesday).

The purpose of a parliamentary opposition is not merely to be a conduit for the electorate to voice its discontent over government policies. Rather, the duty of the opposition also extends to offering coherent rebuttals and counterproposals to the Government's policy ideas.

These functions are not easily conducted over social media, an inherently limited channel of communication. Scope and depth of opinion are often sacrificed for chest-thumping rhetoric and oversimplification, which, in turn, encourage viral propagation.

Moreover, a physical presence in Parliament is necessary to have any tangible influence on the outcome of parliamentary debates and votes. An opposition voice that is recorded in Parliament is far more potent than one thrown about over the Internet. A face in Parliament is much better than a Facebook post.

Thus, the role of the opposition voice cannot be assumed completely by social media.

Despite greater support for the ruling party at this general election, strong support for the Workers' Party indicates that Singaporeans still want an entrenched opposition in Parliament. The argument could also be made that social media has reinforced, rather than worked against, the opposition.

Nine days of campaigning and rallies might not have been enough to leave a lasting impression on voters, and social media provided a more permanent, prominent presence for opposition parties.

Constructive opposition MPs are compatriots, not adversaries, in Parliament. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam was correct in pointing out how they can continue to contribute to the development of Singapore, regardless of electoral outcome ("Opposition 'can continue to contribute to Singapore'"; Sept 14).

Paul Chan Poh Hoi

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 23, 2015, with the headline 'Social media can't replace opposition voice'. Print Edition | Subscribe