31 Aug 2006

Peaceful assembly the key to change in Singapore

Chee Soon Juan
30 Aug 06

Admit it. Most of us have little understanding of what our national anthem means beyond 'mari kita.' Still, it beats singing God Save the Queen.

There is something else that many Singaporeans know very little of and that is how we came to rid ourselves of our British overlords.

Pictures produced ad nauseum by the state media of a certain youthful-looking Lee Kuan Yew shouting vein-popping "Merdeka!" have been irreparably seared onto our visual cortices so much so that independent Singapore has become synonymous with the PAP.

Pardon our French, but this is pure, unadulterated bovine scatology.

The independence putsch came not from the PAP but from Singaporeans who cared enough and were courageous enough to publicly demonstrate their disdain for colonialism.

The PAP expertly rode the waves of public enthusiasm, waxing lyrical about freedom and democracy along the way, and came to power on the backs of courageous, ordinary Singaporeans.

Why peaceful assembly

Once ensconced in the Istana, the ruling party made illegal all the democratic freedoms that enabled us to remove the British in the first place.

The most important of these is the freedom of peaceful assembly. It was the right of assembly that enabled Singaporeans to register their voices against colonialism and all the attendant injustice, including discrimination against the locals. Public protests were the staple of the independence movement.

The PAP now makes peaceful assembly to be an evil from which Singapore must exorcise itself. It restricts the people to indoor forums and passes off MacDonald's-suggestion-box type of feedback for national debate.

Imagine if luminaries like Lim Chin Siong and company were confined to just writing petitions to the Governor and contributing their views to Her Majesty's Feedback Unit, where would Singapore be today? Yes, one can see that the British would have been quaking in their boots and after enough letters from the public, packed up and left.

Let us not delude ourselves. No regime will voluntarily relinquish power. It is only when those they govern demand it that autocrats will pay heed.

To this end, peaceful assembly is the only tool that citizens have to pry open the tight grip of tyranny. It is the most basic right of citizens without which ordinary folks are rendered powerless.

Still not persuaded? Let's do a simple demonstration. Take a piece of paper and divide into two columns. On one side write down all the political grievances that you can think of: the use of the foreigners to compete with Singaporeans, the continued increase of living costs coupled with the downward spiral of wages, the atrociously expensive medical costs in this country, the creaming off of our hard-earned CPF savings, and so on.

In the other column, write down all the ways that the people can register their unhappiness publicly and, more important, the number of times the Government has heeded your call.

Now do you see the point?

Effecting change

The right of peaceful assembly is a right guaranteed not only by our Constitution but also one that is enshrined in the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

It is a terrible shame for our nation that we remain one of the very few Asian countries that prohibits the peaceful gathering of citizens (see Like Burma, like Singapore). When we should be up there competing with dynamic Asian societies like Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and Hong Kong (and increasingly India, Thailand, and Malaysia), we instead find ourselves in the same political league with the likes of Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, and Burma.

Being in a political straitjacket creates a double whammy for Singaporeans. Not only does it produce inane policies from a Government that is becoming increasingly out of touch with reality, it also ensures that our economy cannot benefit from the energy that would otherwise be generated by a free and dynamic people.

The truth of the matter is that as long as the citizens are deprived of their political rights, especially the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, our problems will remain. Without vehement opposition and, more important, a very public display of that vehemence, there is absolutely no incentive for the Government to acquiesce to public demands.

Over the years, the PAP Government has become impervious to the voice of the people, resulting in economic and social injustice that we currently witness. These ills will, if they haven't already, drive our nation into a morass of problems that we will find impossible from which to extricate ourselves.

(For example, we have yet to examine fully the unintended socio-political problems that may arise from the influx of foreigners into this country – yes, very much like the repercussions of the unthinkingly harsh Stop-At-Two policy of the 1970s.)

The coming together of citizens in peaceful protests is not the only thing to do; it is the right thing to do. It is the duty of every citizen to stand up and be counted at a time when our country needs us most. Shorn of this right, our citizenship is absolutely meaningless.

Most of you would be able to see the importance and the necessity of peaceful assembly. That's the easy part. What is significantly more difficult to do is to take that first step to take part in a peaceful assembly.

I would like to take this opportunity to encourage you to exercise your right as a citizen of Singapore and participate in the Empower Singaporeans Rally and March to be held during the WB-IMF meeting in September.

Remember, wresting back our rights of free speech and peaceful assembly is the ultimate honour one can claim as a citizen of this country.

Note: Details of the Empower Singaporeans Rally & March will be announced on this website soon.


rench00 said...

wah biang eh... if you want to protest, then just protest la! you want to protest, but scared government catch you throw you in prison. fuck la liddat. people like Lim Chin Siong didn't care whether they get thrown into prison or not what... they just did it cos they really wanted to change things.

the problem is not that the government doesn't allow you to do it. it's that you don't have enough guts to go against the government in the first place.

Matilah_Singapura said...

Easir said than done rench00

"If I have to shoot 200,000 students to save China from another 100 years of disorder, so be it." - Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew evoking the ghost of Deng Xiaoping whilst endorsing the Tiananmen Square massacre, Straits Times, Aug 17, 2004

"Supposing Catherine Lim was writing about me and not the prime minister...She would not dare, right? Because my posture, my response has been such that nobody doubts that if you take me on, I will put on knuckle-dusters and catch you in a cul de sac...Anybody who decides to take me on needs to put on knuckle dusters. If you think you can hurt me more than I can hurt you, try. There is no other way you can govern a Chinese society." - SM Lee Kuan Yew, The Man and His Ideas, 1997

Civil disobedience is one thing. But its too far gone for that now. Civil disobedience is a learned skill. The people have had to be doing it from the begining.

There's a saying which was ignored, because apparently, people were so hypnotised that they forgot the old proverb:

"Kill the monster while it is small."

Anonymous said...

Great spirits always encounter violent opposition from mediocre minds.

What has history shown us? Breakthroughs in repressed societies did not come by singing Que Sera Sera. Thus, was born democracy. Alas, is this the land of the people or land of a few who has made it their own.

As it was said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing".

Anonymous said...

Anonymous quotes:

As it was said, "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing".


Wow! I hadn't realised that Singaporeans have been governed by evil men all these years.

No wonder there is widespread deprivation, poverty and suffering here. Undoubtedly, our political leaders must have squirelled away billions of USD in Swiss banks from the numerous mining rights to diamond mines and timber concessions to huge rainforests extracted from our rich abundant land like so many African nations.

Thanks for waking me up to your alternate universe.

Beam me up Scotty.

Incredulously yours,


G said...

"billions of USD in Swiss banks"

I am sure the royal family has put a few millions into Swiss banks, just in case they might be overthrown as other tyrants were during the history.

Anonymous said...

g said...

"I am sure the royal family has put a few millions into Swiss banks, just in case they might be overthrown as other tyrants were during the history."

They can do what they want with their own money surely?

Besides, why the need for Swiss banks?

Haven't you heard of ACUs or even TTs through SWIFT, you know electronic payment systems, that can transfer funds out of home base and take but a few seconds to transact at the push of a button should Singapore start to sink into the sea?


Anonymous said...

As long as they are in power, you never know where they hide their money. Suharto was not found out until he was overthrown. So was Marcos.

Anonymous said...

Comparing our political leaders with the likes of Marcos and Suharto?

Yeah right. Singapore is the epitomy of corruption and greasing palms when doing business here is the order of the day.

With statements like yours how do you ever hope to garner any credibility?

Which part of the alternate Universe are you from?


Matilah_Singapura said...

Man, the "Battle of the Anonymouses" sure gets confusing. Hey folks, consider using a nick of some kind. It sure would help. Thanks!

IMO, when there is politics, there is power. When there is power, there is politics. And the more "power" there is, the less individual freedom you have.

It is true that S'pore is an authoritarian state — i.e. the "authority" is the ultimate decision maker. But if you look carefully, ALL STATES are ultimate decision makers. In fact, that is one of the definitioons of a state.

Does it matter if states are "corrupt"? IMO, all states are corrupt — they only vary in degree.

If you understand and embrace the truth, you are always "set free".

Q Therefore: is it possible to be FREE, happy, content, healthy and wealthy in an authoritarian society such as S'pore?

A Absolutely 100% possible.

Anonymous said...

I think I shall never see
A leader as clean as Mr.Lee
Perhaps,unless the empire falls
I shall never know a thing at all

Anonymous said...

Anonymous said...

"I think I shall never see
A leader as clean as Mr.Lee
Perhaps,unless the empire falls I shall never know a thing at all."

Aiyaaa, you ah ... so goblok one how to know anything?

If a truck hit you in the face you would still believe what you believe. The MIW did it!

There's a term for people like you ... wait it will come to me ... ah yes ... a bigoted buffoon.


P.S. Next time use a nickname can?

Anonymous said...

If matilah_singapura says it is confusing, it must be really confusing.