17 October 2007

When warnings go unheeded

It's getting harder for the government to ban public protests. People are increasingly likely to defy or circumvent warnings, and the cost of a crackdown is rising. Full essay.


Anonymous said...

Personally, I would not doubt the PAP government would persists with current policy of public protest however much the demographic shift.

I also believe that should there be any overreactions on the part of the enforcement of the policy, the PAP government will not flinch even in the face of bad publicity.

For a party that has built on a stance that brook no challenge to its power, or even to the notion being justifiably fallible, any deviation would spell an end. Coupled with the PAP "leadership" grooming policy, I doubt any new leaders emerging will be different from current mould. So not hopeful of change on that end.

Whilst there would no doubt be more demands for real world public protest, quite possibly initiated by our immigrant residences, I wonder if the more "native" Singaporean would necessarily want to take up the challenge, particularly on local issues.

Apart from high profile local causes such as the gay rights issues and Chee et al, I can't see real world public protest being championed so vigorously. As such, I see real pressure on the part of the PAP to change track.

Anonymous said...

in my last comment:

Apart from high profile local causes such as the gay rights issues and Chee et al, I can't see real world public protest being championed so vigorously. As such, I see real pressure on the part of the PAP to change track.

The last sentence should read:

As such, I can't see any real pressure on PAP to change track.

As an aside, remember the time when EU parliamentarians who came over to participate in SDP organised conference and an order was imposed on these delegate not to speak?

I am not very sure but I think one of the EU parliamentarian may also be involved in some kind of select committee that is studying EU-Singapore trade agreement in particular on Singapore offshore tax status issue. If that was true, the PAP Government attitude towards these parliamentarian could hardly have help, whilst negotiation was going on.

I am sure the PAP must be cognisant of such an unhelpful action, and potentially, jeopardising potential economic gains. Yet, they went ahead with the speaking ban. As is often argue that the PAP are more sensitive to economic pressure, they nevertheless don't seemed to care. So what does this say about the PAP attitude towards pressure for change?

Unflinching, I would say. So don't expect any substantive change from inside the PAP on this particular policy.

Anonymous said...

Hello Alex good compilation, in response to comment 1/2, I would say:

Well yes it doenst look it changes right now, but there might be a point where for instance a large group of for instance Westerners protest or stage something (like the ladies on the picture, just 100x more), what would the police do? I wouldnt think they arrest them all or call the riot squad. When it really hurts the economy, they will let go - introducing new double standards. I bet on it.

Further, yes one of the EU parliamentarians is in the commission on this EU-Singapore agreement and there are problems now, I know that reading the European press. Of course, our incredibly credible 141th wouldnt tell us!

Lastly a suggestion: there are so obvious double-standards when it comes to public gatherings that it is too ridiculous. The young PAP realized this and took of a cycling event from their www... now, there are many events that the authorities allow that are as "dangerous" as the ones they disallow. I know hardly anyone would dare, but what if one files a police report that the next lunch time rally stirred public emotions and poses a threat and blocks traffic? Would be interesting.

Yawning Bread Sampler said...

Well, the example of the EU parliamentarian being snubbed kind of supports the conclusion of my article - that stubborn, single-minded application of existing policies can prove to be overreaction with unanticipated consequential costs. Better to start relaxing now than pay the price later.

Charles said...

How the government will react towards public "protests" will very likely depend on many factors. What is certain is the government is afraid of public assemblies for they often have a life of its own.

Very often, individuals are lead to believe that they are powerless compared to the security forces who have far greater resources and power. The reality of the situation is however often more complex and the equation, not as simple as we think it is. When someone engages in an act of civil disobedience or protest, it is likely that his or her actions will inspire others to follow. If the security forces choose to ignore, he or she might be emboldened to further engage. Yet, if they choose to take tough actions, it is also likely to invite more supporters to the same cause.

The latest Saffron Revolution in Burma is a case study in point. It started out with about a few pro-democracy activists who started walking along the main roads of Yangon, attracting ordinary Burmese to join the procession. The authorities did not arrest everyone at first, except the leaders, hoping that it will die down by itself. Yet, these protests persisted and it took almost a month before the entire nation was engulfed in an uprising with the respectable monks taking the lead.
By that time, the regime had to resort to physical and outward display of violence to quell the spread of revolution.

I am pretty sure that the Singapore government and its security forces are well aware of what Singaporeans are reading and understanding about non-violence and public protests. The hard task for them is to contain these activities without coming across as 'heavy-handed'.

The only way to solve this problem, As I have and Alex argued, is to legalise public assemblies.

However, this would mean a relatively huge step for an authoritarian government that can be obstinate and at many times, out of touch with its citizenry.

Anonymous said...

I am afraid I find Charle's views wishful; the government is wary, not afraid; Chee Soon Juan's civil disobedience acts have not inspired a following - he is not Gandhi and Singapore is not colonial India; whether the monks that took risks and made sacrifices in Burma would inspire a change is still unknown

it is true in any society that rulers are much smaller in number than subjects, and if the subjects unite, they can overthrow the rulers; it is also always true that every society has various kinds of discontent, and the rulers have to know how to smooth things out; I see no signs of organized opposition, nor any of government losing control


Singapore Kopi Tok said...

I think civil disobedience can work. SDP has been instrumental in introducing the idea but the party has reached its limits. Due to the stigma associated with SDP, some fair, some unfair, Singaporeans as a whole won't be part of any SDP action. However, if there is another "leader" to advance civil disobedience, Singaporeans might be more receptive to the idea.

Also, small digression. The expat women "protest" was not a street protest per se as depicted by AP. It was part of a museum tour and the expat wore red in protest of the junta.

museum tour at waterloo street

Anonymous said...

The comment by Singapore Kopi Tok is so typical of so many Singaporean. Here is the classic one:

However, if there is another "leader" to advance civil disobedience, Singaporeans might be more receptive to the idea.

It screams the Singaporean phrase: "Want my fruits cheap, want it fresh, want it big, want it jucy".

Here you have a person in the form of Chee willing to risk it all to act on his believes and possibly lead a civil disobedient campaign but all you get is people bitching.

Frankly, what more can any replacement leader do to the cause of civil disobedient. Given the political climate in Singapore, the PAP can easily inflict the same kind of damage on the alternative as easily as they did on Chee. I am sure if a Gandhi were to come forth in Singapore, Singaporean will still see him no differently from Chee.

My personal feeling is that deep down in their hearts, many Singaporean really don't want to see change. Or more accurately, want the status quo, in terms of material well being, but hope (not want) the PAP itself to loosen up. If people want it, they would have act on it now. So more a case of hoping.

The problem is, as the first commentary entry pointed out, the PAP is all about wanting to preserve power, quite possibly in my opinion, at all cost. No one should expect change except on its term.

As pointed out earlier no substantive policy change can be expected. Maybe change for headline grabbing effect that's all. Behind the scene, it's the same.

Economics: Same since Independence, which is to grow through foreign investment, and government led. No change. (Don't want too many independently rich people, who might be tempted to support opposition causes or different policies -- e.g. Bill Gates often clashes with US Government on Immigration policies).

Politics: Same must be in control mentality. Maybe add gloss to old policy with trendy terms.

Social: Same old we are Asian, multi-racial (as if Singapore is so unique) clap trap talk, rewards for the rich (or "capable") and poor == burden to state mentality. Maybe make token gesture like "workfare" or rebate, etc.

The problem with any substantive change is that there are unintended consequences, no matter how well crafted. That is most likely exercising the minds of the PAP especially when it results in lost of control.

As for the populace, it's a case of Oliver's "may I have more sir", and hoping (not even expecting) for spoonfuls more tactic. Definitely, not the Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) tactic.

Should anyone be surprise at why the PAP does not feel the heat for change?

Tan Ah Kow