10 Oct 2005

Civil Disobedience and Taking the Judiciary to Task

The Straits Times today presented to the public the rationale behind the recent white elephants and a four person protest outside CPF building. The article on 'Managing Civil Disobedience' was by Cherian George, a former ST journalist and author of Air-Conditoned Nation. His Review article is adapted from a previous posting in his blog, Air-Conditioned Nation.

Cherian expained that these actions are carefully used to counter the Regime. By peacefully and publicly challenging a law or a practice, activists force the target of their lobbying into a potentially lose-lose corner. If the big bad Regime overreacts, they not only give publicity to the cause but presents the situation as a David vs Goliath one. If they don't react act at all and ignore the protests totally, they embolden the protestors and encourage others to join the cause. This is the fundamental game of brinkmanship inherent in civil disobedience.

In the four people CPF building protest, the Regime overreacted and used the Men in Blue to 'break up' a peaceful protest. That they did but at a price. Now three of the four are taking to court the Police Chief and his boss, the Home Affairs Minister. They want the court to make the latter two admit that the dispersal of the creative four people protest was without doubt "unlawful and unconstitutional manner". It is unlikely the two would admit to that allegation. Then the truth becomes clear. The protest is not really about transparency and the use of public funds by the Regime, the real protest is about the supposed separation of powers in Singapore - the Legislature, Judiciary and the Executive.

What would the Court do? Civil disobedience has done its work and can the Regime leaders return the spike? This is yet another opportunity for the Judiciary to demonstrate that they are separate from the Executive. But looking at the track record, somehow the courts always backs the Regime's leaders in defamation suits, however shaky the case. It is ok for a Regime leader to say without fear that so and so is a political gangster but it is not ok for an opposition politician to say that he has in his hands a police report at the start of a rally.

On October 21, can we expect the Court to throw out the CPF protestors' case that their dispersal was unlawful? Or do we cross our fingers that surprise, surprise, the Court manages to cajole the Police Chief and the Minister to reconcile their differences with the activists.

Poloniusian civil disobedience in Singapore. Though this be madness, yet there is method in't.


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