Sunday, January 6, 2013

The PAP AIM Saga

Predictably, with the PAP finding it increasingly difficult to explain why Aljunied Town Council sold their computer system to a PAP-owned company when Aljunied was controlled by the PAP, the PM decided on the nuclear option of lawyering up. A lawyer's letter was sent to Yawning Bread demanding an apology, which Yawning Bread complied with.

Separately, Tan Chuan Jin did the same to Vincent Wijeysingha over comments he made in relation to the SMRT strike fiasco.

This is what you do when you realize that you are losing control of the conversation. Send in the lawyers and shut down the entire conversation.

[Oh, and put in a few nice articles of the PM patting the shoulders of students and Chan Chun Sing reading to kids at the library -- see today's Straits Times (6 January 2013) in the pages following the articles on the apologies.

I am reminded of George W. Bush reading "The Pet Goat" during the events of 9/11. Note to Straits Times editors: anodyne pictures do nothing to dispel citizens' disquietude with what the hell is going on with AIM. If anything, they only serve to reinforce the perception that our ministers are completely disconnected from the ground. Straits Times editors, you need to go back to propaganda school.]

Frankly, I am bemused by this whole turn of affairs. For the two activists under legal injunction to retract their words, there is no shame attached to apologizing over a defamation charge from the PAP. Everyone knows the PAP doesn't fight fair. Apologizing is easy and the better part of valor. In fact, being served with a defamation letter is a sign that you're being taken seriously.

It is not, however, the PAP's cheap tactics which I find distasteful; politics is inherently dirty. What is particularly odious is the hypocrisy. Despite what Goh Chok Tong once said about the PAP being a party of 'junzi', the PAP really is a party from the 'hood. Lee Kuan Yew himself said that famous quote about putting on knuckledusters and ambushing his opponents in a cul-de-sac.

There may not have been very many palatable options other than lawyering up and putting a stop to this particular AIM conversation, unlike that time-waster of a national conversation. Still, by doing so, the PAP has opened several cans of worms.

The first is the ineffectiveness of such a move. The words "Pyrrhic victory" come to mind. This is the information age. What's online stays online, as anyone who has ever been tagged in some particularly mortifying picture on Facebook would have found out.

If someone was so inclined, setting up several mirror sites to mirror the content of objectionable (to the PAP that is) sites would be a cinch. Heck, your average content scraper or forummer copying and pasting articles wholesale onto forums alone would ensure the longevity of any web content. And Google's PageRank algorithm guarantees that should enough people access the link, it will automatically float to the top of the search rankings.

And everyone's connected to the Internet these days, to judge from the number of iPhones I am surrounded with each time I board the MRT. Get with the program already. A gag order, particularly on Internet content, is no longer effective in the information age. It just shows that you're...out of touch. Then again, perhaps the party from the 'hood hasn't heard of smartphones.

The second thing to note is that by lawyering up, the mainstream media has to report on the controversy. Cue Striesand Effect. As terse as the Straits Times would prefer to be, and they were indeed very tight-lipped, they still had to explain why exactly the PM found Yawning Bread's articles defamatory, and that just puts front and center the raison d'etre behind the whole AIM Saga: why was a town council system developed with public funds sold to a company controlled by a political party by the politicians then in charge of the town council?

The last time I remember the mainstream media having to twist a story into such unnatural contortions was during the floods of yesteryear, when they hastened to explain what the government was doing before describing how f***ed up bad the flooding situation was on one particular weekend. Remember putting the cart before the horse?

The third can of worms is that employing a defamatory charge as a first and last resort is inherently a self-liquidating power. Self-liquidating because each time you use it, it becomes far less convincing. The PAP has resorted to defamation charges countless times. So much so that it has become predictable and boring (which in my mind, is the bigger crime. I hate boring. That includes people and things.).

See above my point on defamation no longer carrying any stigma whatsoever for the defendants. It truly begs the question of whether PAP politicians are really being defamed each time they cry foul, or do they in fact have malfeasance to hide. I am reminded of City Harvest's strenuous protestations of innocence on the part of its high priests. Apparently, the party from the 'hood is not so different from a cult either.

A completely separate point about self-liquidating powers is that they're often so effective at first that their users quickly stop thinking of alternatives. Strategies and tactics work...until they don't. The PAP's key strategy of using the threat of defamation lawsuits to shut down criticism is looked about as dated as penicillin, and about as effective.

My fourth and last point is that more than any other incident from recent memory, the AIM saga erases any doubt in my mind of what I have conjectured before: that the PAP is more than willing to put party above country, and as a result, a smoking ruin is what will result prior to any transition of power.

You have been warned. Everyone needs a plan B.

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