Nonviolent protests taking root in Singapore

Those now famous white elephants. Photo from Today.Singaporeans are beginning to pick up on the idea of taking civil, but nonviolent, action to demonstrate their displeasure with the Government and its policies. The latest incident involved the display of cardboard cut-outs of white elephants at the Buangkok MRT Station (see report below).

The police, to nobody’s surprise, have said that they have commenced investigation. The matter would be laughable if it weren’t so sad. Here is a Government desperately trying to encourage the people to become more creative and entrepreneurial (although the message is targeted strictly at the commercial sector). The minute citizens show some spunk, however, it calls on the police to investigate the “offence”.

The PAP may not understand this, but creativity, spontaneity, and derring-do cannot be turned on and off like a tap, and worse, hosed only at certain targets. But that’s not the point. The point is that carrying out peaceful, nonviolent protests – and nothing could be more peaceful and nonviolent than eight cute, albeit cheeky-looking, elephants greeting motorists and passers-by – is the right of citizens in this country.

If the police are going to say that the protesting pachyderms were a hazard to motorists, then what about those cows that were displayed en masse at various grassy locations along our highways by some advertising company a few months ago? You mean just because the elephant-message was targeted at the PAP while the one with the cows was meant for consumers makes the former an offence?

But let’s come back to the original point, which is that our society is gradually and surely realising that civil nonviolent civil action is a way in which the people can participate in the political process, one that the Government seems bent on continuing to monopolise. Peaceful protests take on many forms and are absolutely legitimate forms of expression. Recent examples are the online petition over the NKF scandal, the rock concert against the death penalty, the protest calling for government transparency and accountability by four activists outside the CPF Building,the making of the film Singapore Rebel by Mr Martyn See (although unintentionally), and other actions by environmentalists and animal rights advocates.

While these actions may be novel to the Singaporean political culture, they are run-of-the-mill activities in all democratic societies. More than just exercise their rights, however, the actions of social and political activists introduce an element, and not a small one, of dynamism and energy in our society, qualities which are sorely lacking. Their actions should be lauded, not criminalised. Some people may like the cleanliness and tranquility of this country but taken to the extreme, of which we are dangerously close if not already there, we become sterile and insipid.

Singaporeans must not forget that we are citizens of this country and citizens have rights. Rights are for the people to exercise, not the Government’s to give. After more than 40 years of PAP rule and under three prime ministers, however, the Government shows no sign of backing off.

The Singapore Democrats send this message out to Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong: The SDP is willing to sit down and have a dialogue with the PAP Government on how democratic reforms can be ushered in. We can do this to create a win-win situation for the Government and the people. The PAP may scoff at such a proposal. It does so at its own expense.

Democracy is on the march throughout the world and there is nothing the PAP can do to stop it taking root and developing in Singapore. The question is how stubborn the PAP wants to be and at what price it is willing to pay to cling on to power.

The economy cannot regain momentum without creativity and energy from the people, qualities that freedom brings. Singaporeans are more educated, the Internet is increasingly becoming a more potent tool in information dissemination, and citizens are no longer content to let Mr Lee Hsien Loong run the country the way his father did.

The wise thing for the Prime Minister to do is to acknowledge the changes in society and the unavoidable advent of democracy. The smart thing to do is to introduce genuine political reforms, not give more National-Day-Rally type blather. Otherwise the PAP will see an increase in the number and intensity of nonviolent action and civil disobedience in this country. The proverbial genie has been released and it cannot be put back.

S’pore police hunt white elephants after rare protest

05 Sep 05

The sighting of fabled white elephants in Singapore’s concrete jungle has sparked a police investigation into a rare public protest in the wealthy city-state.

Police are trying to find out who put up large cardboard cut-outs of cartoon white elephants in a Singapore suburb last month to grab the attention of a visiting government minister.

“Someone has filed a police report and an investigation has been initiated,” a police spokesman said on Monday.

He said police were also on the lookout for the cut-outs, which vanished on the same day that the minister spotted them outside an urban railway station.

The elephants were seen as a none-too subtle reference to the station, still unopened two years after it was built. The government has refused to allow services to the station, saying there were not enough households within a 400-metre radius.

Although Singapore community development, youth and sports minister Vivian Balakrishnan was reportedly amused by the unexpected appearance of the cut-outs on his August 28 visit, the authorities appear to be less so. The perpetrators “may have committed an offence” under Singapore’s Public Entertainments and Meetings Act which requires a licence to be obtained for exhibits and posters that are put up for public display, the police spokesman said.

Offenders can be fined up to S$1,000 ($600) under the Act.

“At the end of the day, we have to consult with the Attorney-General’s Chambers to see what is the appropriate action to take,” he added.

Singapore laws require a permit for gatherings of 5 or more, and consequently public demonstrations are rare in the tiny island republic still ruled by the same political party 40 years after independence.

Last month, police broke up a demonstration of four people demanding greater transparency in the state-managed pension fund and other government-linked agencies.

In July, vandals daubed the National Kidney Foundation headquarters with abuse after revelations that the then-chief of the country’s biggest charity was taking home S$650,000 ($388,800) annually in salary and perks.

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