Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How Aljunied GRC Was Lost: Importance of Correctly Identifying the Opponent's Theme

Much has been reported in the Main Stream and Social Media on how the People's Action Party (PAP) lost the Aljunied Group Representation Constituency (GRC) to the Worker's Party (WP). To the Public Relations (PR) Professional, the key lesson here is the importance of correctly identifying the opponent's Theme. Failure to do so, will make your responses ineffective and may result in serious consequences.

Allow me to explain ...

During the Singapore General Elections 2011 (GE2011), the PAP adopted the Theme of “Proven Leadership” as the basis of their value proposition to the electorate, while the WP adopted the Theme of “Transparency and Accountability”.

At the start of campaigning, the PAP's narrative focused on telling the electorate that they had the experience and quality of candidates to ensure Singapore's continued success in an uncertain future. At the same time, the PAP sought to counter (what they assessed, albeit wrongly) was the WP's Theme of a “First World Parliament” by highlighting the dangers and inefficiencies of a two-party system. On the other side, the WP's narrative focused on telling the electorate that they did not question the experience and quality of the PAP, but that it is in Singapore's interest to have someone to hold the PAP accountable for their actions. The WP's narrative also sought to counter the PAP's narrative of being “proven” by highlighting the high cost of living, high cost of public housing and congestion on the public transportation systems. As campaigning progressed, the PAP noticed that their responses to the WP's narrative was failing to address the electorate's concerns. In their belief that the electorate was responding to the WP's Theme of having a “voice in parliament”, the PAP responded by acknowledging that they were not perfect, apologising for their mistakes and assuring the electorate that the PAP has heard them.

This is where the PAP went wrong. If the WP's Theme had been a “First World Parliament” so that people had a “voice”, the PAP's adjusted narrative would have stemmed the support for the WP. Unfortunately, the WP's Theme was not about having a “voice in parliament”, but about Transparency and Accountability. Thus, while the PAP apologised for their mistakes, they stopped short of being transparent on how they went wrong and how those responsible were held accountable. This, in my opinion, is the key factor that prevented the PAP from winning over the electorate.

In summary, during a crisis, organisations may find themselves trying to gain the information initiative against well organised opponents. In such situations, correctly identifying the opponent's Theme is essential as missing it will render your Crisis Response Strategy ineffective. And as this example proves, sometimes costly.

(Footnote: The WP must be credited for their insightful identification of the electorate's “vulnerabilities” by assessing their attributes, attitudes and conditions)

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