Should Minister Chan have responded to Huffington Post the way he did?

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So there is an ensuing political side-debate going on in Singapore right now. The Huffington Post published two articles written by Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) secretary-general Chee Soon Juan late last year. These resulted in Minister Chan Chun Sing taking the US media company to task on 15 January, saying that they had given Dr Chee “considerable but undeserved attention and space.” Minister Chan went on to label Dr Chee as a political failure and should not be given much notice. This has now prompted a response from Dr Chee, raising the rhetoric levels and promising more media attention than the original two articles published by Huffington would ever create. The question here is, “Should Minister Chan have responded to Huffington Post the way he did – or even at all?” In this article, we discuss this question.

First off, we are apolitical. We don’t have an agenda and we don’t support one party over another. Instead, we are interested in the strategic thinking aspect of daily life, commenting on significant events. This is one such event. It just so happens to be political.

Important aspects of strategic thinking

There are many definitions of strategic thinking and it would do well for us to remind our readers what ours are. For us, strategic thinking is the application of different perspectives to arrive at the right decision. Without going into great detail, the important elements of strategic thinking in this situation are:

  • the intent of the decision;

  • systemic repercussions;

  • historical events and their implications on the decision;

  • reframing for other options

We will discuss this situation based on these four elements.

Intent

It is not difficult to understand Dr Chee’s intent in getting his views published by Huffington. In fact, it would not be unreasonable to say that he will take all opportunity to have his views heard, either by local or foreign media. As a member of an opposition party, Chee will want to avail his views to anyone who wants to hear him out. In addition, his cause of opposing current establishment will naturally see him criticizing governmental policies. In this respect, it is not surprising to see Chee being quoted in foreign media. In this case, having his articles published.

For Minister Chan, it is not so clear. One wonders what his intent is. Is it merely to chastise Huffington for its decision to publish the letters? Is it as a response to the criticisms laid down by Dr Chee? Or is it to show up to the local populace Dr Chee’s “incompetence” so as not to give him any credence in the next elections? If it was any of these, the response did not help.

Systemic repercussions

In all systems, change usually takes time to gather momentum. There is a reinforcing element that does this. However, it one wants the change to speed up, there needs an introduction of a catalyst. This will enable the reinforcing elements to react faster, leading to a bigger and faster outcome. In this case, Minister Chan’s letter was that catalyst. If he had not responded to the two articles, many Singaporeans along Main Street wouldn’t have known about them. With that, there would have been miniscule impact. That has now changed.

History and its implications

Dr Chee’s rebuttal has some valid points. The ruling party has had in the past resorted to personal attacks, instead of engaging the opposition in political discourse. The 2012 Hougang by-election is one example. No less than the deputy Prime Minister, Mr Teo Chee Hean himself, tried to tarnish Workers’ Party’s Png Eng Huat’s character during campaigning. But that did not help the cause when they lost 38% to 62% to the opposition. One wonders how the PAP might have done if they didn’t cast such aspersions onto the character of the opposition and garnered the sympathy vote.

Perhaps Minister Chan was an unwitting pawn in an elaborate plot by Dr Chee to pull the PAP into just such a mud-slinging event? Knowing that the PAP will not stand down from a fight, and knowing that the PAP is prone to mud-slinging, Dr Chee could have orchestrated the article publication to draw the discussion home and be depicted as the victim, getting the angry online voices wagging, stoking up anti-PAP fervor ahead of impending elections?

Reframing

If I were Minister Chan, or anyone else in the Cabinet for that matter, I might take a different tack. If my intent was to chastise the media, this was not the way. In fact, how would I be able to chastise any foreign media? There are now literally millions of media sites, some more journalistic than others. And each of them is entitled to their views (as is Charlie Hebdo, but we shall not go there right now). If I were to track down each of them, and respond to them in like fashion, I would be spending my time on worthless endeavours. So perhaps that cannot be my intent.

If my intent was to respond to the criticisms laid down by Dr Chee, I would then use hard facts to do it. I would also enlist the help of friendly third-party nations to defend me. I will address each point in the same way as Dr Chee had put them out. This will show that I treat Dr Chee with respect, and I discuss with him on an intellectual level. Since it didn’t happen this way, perhaps that, too, was not the intent.

And if my intent was to show up Dr Chee’s incompetence, then it is déjà vu all over again (yes, déjà vu of a déjà vu).

What would I have done differently from Minister Chan? Frankly, I wouldn’t have given the articles the time of day. I would just have let is languish in political limbo. After all, how many people would have read the article? At the time of this writing (Saturday, 17 Jan, 1510hr Singapore time), there had only been 545 Facebook likes, 59 Facebook shares, 15 tweets, 6 Google+ shares, and 2 comments to Dr Chee’s December article. And this was already after Minister Chan’s response. So one can only surmise how many there were prior to the response! Not large, I am sure. So there would not have been ANY political fallout by letting the article languish on its own.

What do you think?

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