Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Making Sense of the Messages – Lee Hsien Loong vs Lee Hsien Yang Saga

Making Sense of the Messages – Lee Hsien Loong vs Lee Hsien Yang

In our opinion, politics provide the ideal context to study the art and science of communications. This is because politics, at its essence, is a contest for the hearts and minds of voters. Nowhere else will you find a more intensely fought battle with thrust, counter-thrusts and counter counter-thrusts with a definitive winner once the ballot boxes are counted.

The ongoing saga between Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong (LHL) and his brother Lee Hsien Loong (LHY) over 38 Oxley Road is no exception. Without going deeply into what is being said (and who is right), let us talk about the communications approached being used by Hsien Yang.

lee hsien loong hsien yang 38 oxley road

Lee Hsien Yang the Guerrilla

Being a former General in the Singapore Armed Forces, LHY is well-schooled in the art of war. Recognizing his numerical disadvantage, LHY has adopted a guerrilla approach as his strategy. Through the use of strategic pinpricks (single message Facebook posts), LHY is attacking LHL’s source of legitimacy to be the Prime Minister of Singapore - character, conduct, motives, and leadership. With the end state being LHL’s removal from office, LHY’s key messages are that LHL has misused his position and influence over the Singapore government and its agencies to drive his personal agenda. To muster allies, LHY has wisely chosen to imply that the system has few checks and balances - to prevent the abuse of government – and this has open the door for the opposition to join in the attacks. LHY is also wisely controlling the narrative by continually releasing “damaging” accusations every few hours to keep LHL’s (more cumbersome) communications machinery off-guard and playing catch-up. This is a well-known military concept of information warfare where you defeat the opponent’s decision cycle (OODA loop).

The prognosis for Lee Hsien Loong could be better ….

Our assessment is that LHL has identified LHY’s strategy and end game, but has either not identify LHY’s centre of gravity, or chosen not to attack it. LHL and his team have thus far been defending, with the occasional counter-attacks to push LHY back into the “jungles”, but LHL has not acted to decisively defeat LHY. This is precisely the approach that LHY is counting on, as time is on his side and every day the battle protracts, is one more day to build his base of supporters.

As military history has shown, the "base of the people" is the key lifeline of LHY’s guerrilla movement. An apathetic or hostile population will make life difficult for LHY and force him to capitulate. In our opinion, LHL has to aggressively mobilize the population to speak out against LHY by: (1) clearly demonstrating the damage that LHY’s actions have on Singapore and the livelihood of Singaporeans; and (2) actively and directly refuting LHY’s allegations.

In the realm of politics, LHY has drawn first blood and has explicitly stated that his end game is the political destruction of LHL. LHL, in our opinion, needs to stop thinking as an elder brother and act as the leader of a nation to come out the winner from this saga. Family or not, LHL must fight and fight to win. Any less, and LHL may win the battle but lose the war.

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