The Internet and Political Control in Singapore
By Garry Rodan
GARRY RODAN is an associate professor of politics and a member of theAsia Research Centre at Murdoch University, Perth, Australia. His mostrecent books are
Political Oppositions in Industrialising Asia
The Political Economy of South-East Asia.
The advent of information technology (IT) has generally been heralded as aforce for the breakdown of authoritarian political control. One writer describes it as "the greatest democratizer the world has ever seen."Boththe volume and form of communication made possible by electronictechnology are seen to greatly compromise, if not totally undermine, thecapacities of authoritarian regimes to blunt the circulation of opposingviews.Seizing printing presses and jamming broadcasting frequencies,for example, is now a limited defense by authoritarian regimes against theflow of information. In the demise of such regimes in Eastern Europe andthe coordination of students leading up to the Tiananmen Square massacre inChina, attempts by authorities to insulate locals from editorials and reports by the international media proved futile while dissidents had access tofacsimile machines and satellite television.More generally, SamuelHuntington emphasizes the unprecedented importance of demonstrationeffects in the Third Wave of democratization, made possible by changes inglobal communications.Media proprietor Rupert Murdoch has even proclaimed: "Advances in the technology of telecommunications have proved an unambiguous threat to totalitarian regimes everywhere." However, since these events in Eastern Europe and China, another electronicmedium has been emphasized in the association of IT with political pluralism and democracy: the Internet. This communication medium isnonhierarchical, interactive, and global. Its usage is also growingexponentially. The Internet affords unprecedented access to information andnew avenues for individual political expression. The following extract froma letter published in the
South China Morning Post
captures the optimisticliberal mood pervading public discussion of this technology's politicalsignificance: "The Internet and associated technology is like a snowballwhich is rolling and getting bigger. It gives everyone a voice, which is whyit will still be going while those who seek to regulate it will have departedthe scene."The Internet's bypassing of the strictures of formal politicalorganizations and the scrutiny of government authorities is one factor behind