Political parties must ACT now to assure voters of clean online campaigning

Originally published June 29, 2020 on Academia.sg

Voters should require parties and candidates to pledge themselves to Accountability, Civility and Transparency in the use of online tools. By Damien ChngChong Ja IanCherian GeorgeHoward Lee and Netina Tan.

This General Election will be the most internet-reliant in the republic’s history. It is also Singapore’s first since it became clear to the world that online tricks for manipulating public opinion have outstripped societies’ traditional defences against disinformation. 

Many voters are by now on guard against “fake news”. Vigilant netizens are active in pushing back against abuses of online freedoms. Nevertheless, we believe Singapore remains vulnerable to parties’ sophisticated and often invisible computational propaganda as well as cybertroopers [1] — traditionally associated with authoritarian regimes such as China and Turkey.

Candidates and political parties involved in GE2020 should publicly commit to clean and fair online campaigning. Voters should hold to account those trying to benefit from the cynical and underhanded use of manipulative technologies. Two risks are of concern. First, there is the abuse of online tools to deceive voters by, for example, the use of bots to give voters a misleading picture about the state of public opinion. Second, although polarising rhetoric has always featured in elections, digital techniques such as micro-targeting [2] and profiling take this tendency to new extremes, with divisive effects that may long outlast the elections. Both risks were highlighted by government ministers in recent years [3], so we hope that the incumbent party as well as challengers disavow these campaign methods unequivocally. 

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How will Small Ethnic Parties Perform in the Upcoming 2020 General Elections?

Netina Tan and Cassandra Preece

Originally published June 24, 2020 on PK FORUM

Regardless of the current COVID-19 pandemic, Myanmar appears to be going ahead with general elections in December this year. Will there be continued support for the National League for Democracy (NLD)? Or will ethnic parties gain more popular votes and seat shares this time round?

Election prediction is tricky. In the last 2015 general election, the results surprised many observers and experts, as there was an unexpected ethnic swing support for the NLD. Given the recent trend of party mergers between ethnic parties….will the NLD’s electoral fortune change?

Recent reports indicate that the 2020 elections may be more competitive than expected.

Our paper, “Ethnic Party Success: The Mechanical and Psychological Effects of Plurality Rule in Myanmar” explains the conditions under which ethnic parties can succeed in Myanmar, if they are strategic by fielding candidates in selective districts.

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The Department of Political Science at McMaster University stands in solidarity with Black communities at home and around the world in condemning all forms of racial injustice and acknowledging in particular the suffering that Black people everywhere continue to endure as a result of systemic anti-Black racism.

As political scientists, we study how power functions within societies and to whose benefit it inures. The historic and more recent violence against members of Black communities in Canada and other jurisdictions emphasizes the pervasive and on-going disparity in power relations between White and racialized people.

As a Department, we are also directly implicated in the same power disparities that we study. 

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How Cambodia’s prime minister rigged an election

Netina Tan and Cassandra Preece

Originally published August 14, 2018 on The Conversation


Hun Sen and the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) won a recent landslide victory in the Southeast Asian country.

After outlawing the main opposition party that challenged the ruling CPP, Hun Sen secured more than 80 per cent of the popular vote and well over 100 of the 125 contested seats in the National Assembly. Despite calls to boycott the election, voter turnout was around 82 per cent, or about 6.88 million people.

The response from the international community has been split.

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How Malaysian voters defied the odds and ousted corruption

Netina Tan and Cassandra Preece

Originally published May 15, 2018 on The Conversation


Nobody saw it coming. Malaysia’s 14th general election brought a shocking end to Barisan Nasional’s (BN) 60 years of coalition rule.

Against all odds, Pakatan Harapan (PH) — the opposition coalition of four parties led by onetime prime minister Mahathir Mohamad — won 113 out of 222 seats in parliament and in doing so set in motion the prison release of the onetime political enemy of the country’s newest — and oldest — leader.

The stunning election saw the return of strongman Mahatir, 92, who joined the opposition coalition to unseat his former protégé, Najib Razak — who has been embroiled in a massive state investment fund corruption scandal.The BN coalition took a serious beating, retaining only 79 seats. It lost eight cabinet ministers and 19 deputy ministers, among them the leaders of the Malaysian Chinese Association, Malaysian Indian Congress and the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) that has ruled since independence from Britain in 1957.

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Anti-Fake News Remedies Worse than the Disease in Asia

Netina Tan

Originally published May 3, 2018 on Asia Global Online


False information sways elections, and social media makes it worse. So governments are rushing through laws to block “fake news.” But in Southeast Asia, these laws will do more harm to elections than fake news.

Asia is the new battleground for the digitization of elections and social media use. Social networking platforms are remaking the idea of what is public in democracies and autocracies alike. Social media, data scraping, and algorithmic learning are all modern tools that influence electoral campaigns and have cross-border effects. As the recent Cambridge Analytica Facebook data scandal shows, a lack of regulation and good practices leads to confusion, chaos, and unfair electoral outcomes. But in many Southeast Asian countries, the remedies are worse than the disease.

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Malaysia’s dire democratic crisis

Netina Tan and Cassandra Preece

Originally published March 25, 2018 on The Conversation


Malaysia is gearing up for its 14th general elections, to be held by Aug. 24, 2018. Its parliament is expected to be dissolved within weeks.

Prime Minister Najib Razak and his ruling coalition, Barisan Nasional (BN), are pulling out all the stops to tilt the level playing field, making them likely to win despite a strong opposition coalition led by former strongman prime minister Mahathir Mohamad.

Malaysia’s ruling party, the United Malays National Organization Party(UMNO), has ruled through a coalition alliance under BN for 60 uninterrupted years since the country declared independence from the British Empire.

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Why did it take so long for Canada to kill the Philippines helicopter sale?

Netina Tan and Marvin Mercado

Originally published February 25, 2018 on The Conversation


Canadian trade minister Francois-Philippe Champagne recently announced the cancellation of a $300 million trade deal to transport 16 helicopters to the Philippines in early 2019.

The cancellation was spurred by a Canadian government review that found the helicopters were likely to be used for anti-terrorism and internal security purposes and not for humanitarian missions as agreed upon. Canada had previously sold eight Bell helicopters to to the Philippines in 2015.

But it wasn’t Canada that finally scrubbed the deal. Enraged by the delay and review of the sale, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte ordered the cancellation. Continue reading

Are gender quotas helping female politicians in Asia?

Netina Tan

Originally published June 24, 2016 on East Asia Forum


In January 2016, Tsai Ing-wen made history after being elected as Taiwan’s first female president. Several women before her such as Park Geun-hye in South Korea, Ying-luck Shinawatra in Thailand and Aung San Suu Kyi in Myanmar have all risen to top political leadership in recent years. With these high-profile female politicians featured in the media, it may appear that the political glass ceiling has been shattered in East Asia.

Yet, the success of these elite women belies the fact that the overall number of female politicians in Asia remains low. Continue reading

PAP’s win silences its critics

Netina Tan

Originally published September 16, 2015 on East Asia Forum


In the 2015 election, Singaporeans strongly endorsed the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and gave Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong a strong mandate to lead for the next five years. Despite the online dissent and the large crowds that thronged the opposition rallies, the PAP won a handsome 70.1 per cent of the popular vote.The PAP strengthened its hold over Punggol East ward, which it lost in the 2013 by-election, and improved its performance in all constituencies across the island — earning more than 70 per cent of vote share in 15 out of 29 constituencies.

Remarkably, the PAP consolidated its hold over Potong Pasir, formerly held by long-time opposition leader Chiam See Tong. Continue reading