Always dwelling on how to "fix the opposition", his own words uttered during the 2006 elections, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong proposed an extra day of non-campaigning as a cooling-off period just before Polling Day, after wrapping up his attendance at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Trinidad and Tobago on December 2009.
Lee had said: “I think 24 hours after the last excitement of the election campaign period, the rallies, the door-to-door campaigning, the adrenaline flowing, the clash in the mass media as well as in person, perambulating vans blaring away loud speakers, it’s good to have 24 hours to just calm down, think about it – tomorrow we vote.”
Under laws passed yesterday, mainstream media outlets would still be allowed to carry election news on cooling-off day. Potong Pasir MP Chiam SeeTong described the introduction of a cooling-off day as a move designed to disadvantage the opposition, "if the PAP really wants a cooling-off day, it should also ban newspaper reports on Polling Day."
Ms Sylvia Lim illustrated how civil servants could be used to circumvent the ban on election advertising:
"For instance, if affordability of housing becomes an election issue, the Ministry of National Development or HDB could announce a change during the cooling-off period, thus taking some heat off the ruling party. By contrast, opposition parties will not be allowed to put out new responses as these will be deemed election advertising as defined under the Act."
Even NMP Viswa Sadavisan, speaking from his experience working in Singapore broadcast media, tactfully told Parliament that the opinions of editors sometimes influence programmes.
Law Minister K Shanmugam refused to admit what Singaporeans already know: the Straits Times being the Pravda of Singapore. Shanmugam cited US based PR firm Edelman that 64 percent of respondents here found newspapers to be the most trusted source of information, but conveniently omitted that Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranked Singapore 144th out of 173 countries in its annual World Press Freedom Ranking in 2008, in line with previous assessments. He should pay heed to his own words:
"If the media are no more than a mouthpiece for one or the other party, Singaporeans will see through that and the credibility of the media will suffer. Then it will not matter much what the media reports." Ditto whatever the minister utters.
When Ms Lim questioned the need of a cooling-off day now, when Singapore had done without one for decades, Shanmugam resorted to "school boy debate" (his own words):
"She says why now, so I ask her, why not now."