Sunday, October 12, 2014

What will get Singaporeans out onto the streets in Hong Kong style protests?

Oct 12, 2014
Chua Mui Hoong, Opinion Editor
It’s protest season.

Protests in Bangkok throughout much of 2014, ending only when the military stepped in and mounted a coup.

In Cambodia, protests over electoral fraud angst sparked by the July 2013 election, continuing into July 2014.

In Taipei, the Sunflower movement protests in March and April this year, over a trade pact with China that saw protesters occupying the legislative chamber.

In Hong Kong, protests since Sept 29, over terms for the Chief Executive election in 2017.

The question in many cocktail and kopitiam chats: Will those kind of mass protests break out in Singapore too? And would that be a good or bad thing?

In Singapore, public assemblies and protests are allowed in free speech venue Hong Lim Park, but not in other public places.

To be sure, the Republic is no stranger to mass gatherings: National Day Parades; the Swing Singapore parties of yore; and election mass rallies are testament to that.

But the country has not seen a public protest of the kind in neighbouring cities since the 1960s.

In the 1970s, a wave of student activism did break out. There were student demonstrations against a 10-cent hike in bus fares and a tuition fee hike of $100. The arrests of student leaders like Tan Wah Piow stopped the wave.

By 1975, according to historian Mary Turnbull, it was the end of student activism.

And so it has remained till today.

But will things change? Will students and young people here take to the streets to protest?

Former diplomat Kishore Mahbubani, in a column in The Straits Times last month, mused: “Bear in mind that there have been large-scale demonstrations in Seoul, Taipei and Hong Kong. Singapore has had a few protests at Hong Lim Park, each with attendees numbering in the thousands.

“Will more widespread protest spread beyond Hong Lim Park in Singapore? We need to reflect on this possibility.”

In April, law professor and chairman of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs Simon Tay asked a similar question. Citing protests in neighbouring countries, he said: “The angry Asean citizen is a growing factor to reckon with, for better or worse. Could Singapore see more, and more widespread, protests in future?”

As someone who has seen protests around the world up close, Simon has some advice: “We would be mistaken to hold a naive, romantic notion that is blindly in support of street protests.”

What determines if Singaporeans will march on the streets?

I think it depends ultimately on whether there are fair rules, and whether government and people play by those rules.

If a society has fair rules to govern elections, there’s no need for people to take to the streets. The vote gives people voice and power.

If people think rules for elections are too unfair, that’s a trigger point, because they will lose faith in the democratic process and decide that street politics is better than ballot box politics. 
[In the US, Canada, and Australia, street protests are frequent. Does that mean that elections in those places are unfair?]

If people agree that rules on public assemblies are fair, then activists and leaders should play by those rules. Then there’s slim chances of things getting out of hand. 
[And in Mainland China (not HK), there are few if any demonstrations. So that means the rules on public assemblies are fair? That elections are fair?]

Hong Lim Park protests have been peaceful - so much so that when one CPF protest rally encroached onto the ground of another group event at the park, many Singaporeans online and off rallied against such behaviour, vilifying it. Social norms are set that way.

Will Hong Lim Park remain enough for Singaporeans? Will more want to take part in public demonstrations beyond that 6,000 sq metres?

So far, there’s little indication that such a desire is strong in any except a small number of activists who want to march to the Istana or Parliament House.

Walter Woon, former attorney-general, said in his inimitable way: “We have already seen how a small accident can snarl up traffic. Imagine what a march on Parliament would do.”

For now, the valve that is Hong Lim Park remains sufficient for Singaporeans to let off steam peaceably when they want to mount a public demonstration. It’s been good for 14 years.

For how long more? Your guess is as good as mine.

Online Comment:
Well. We had a riot recently.There was Anger. They were Asians (if not ASEAN). But they were not Singaporeans. And their Anger was in error, misplaced, socially disconnected from the social situation that is Singapore. Their anger was for perceived corruption. Corruption that is rampant from the society they came from, which they transposed to Singapore.
There's the GiveBackOurCPFMoney people. But they are in minority. 55 year olds and those approaching 55 may be unhappy with the Minimum Sum, but most it seems are not unhappy enough to be angry. Only 22-year old and 33 year old can work themselves up into a froth about this. There is probably a conclusion to be drawn from that. 
There's the outrage over pricey Cable subscription for World Cup matches on TV, and previously over the EPL. There are grumbles over rising housing, rising COE, rising inflation, decline in Transportation standards and reliability. But the truth is these are First World Problems.

A protest MUST be over basic principles. "They may take our lives, but they will never take away our Freedom"

In HK, replace "Freedom" with "Democracy" (though that is not being taken away. They never had it in the first place).

So in Singapore, the question must be, how do you complete this sentence:
"They may take our lives, but they will never take away _________"?

Because that is the reality that would-be protestors will have to ask themselves: Am I willing to be hurt, beaten, injured, possibly killed for *this*?

And what is "this"? Rising COE? Increasing CPF Minimum Sum? Rising Housing costs? Rising Inflation? Declining standards in our public transport system? Increasing Cable TV charges just to watch football?

Am I willing to step up to protest what is [sic] essentially conveniences, or First World Problems?

Even "essentials" like Housing is not clear cut. For every one person who is having trouble buying a flat because of rising costs, there are 19 other people who already own their flats (and so are not affected) or are trying to sell their flats (and so would like prices to be higher, but are keeping quiet because the political and social situation is not really right for them to brag about owning a flat that they want to sell for high prices).

It's easier for a camel to enter the Eye of the Needle, than for a Rich Man to protest. 

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