Protest or performance art?

Daniel Ong

The Nayang Chronicle
17 Oct 06

Click to access vol13no4.pdf

The following article was published in Nayang Technology University’s publication.

It had to be a “Uniquely Singapore” sight. The only place in the world where the media covering a protest outnumbered the protesters.

Specifically, it was just a team of six led by Dr Chee Soon Juan, who planned to speak at The Speakers’ Corner before attempting to march down to Parliament House and the Sun-tec International Convention Centre.

In fact, it was so overwhelming, a photographer present even joked that the ratio of media to protesters was probably 10 to one.

It was a Saturday morning, but I wanted to see a protest in Singapore first-hand. While on exchange in Hong Kong, I had observed a pro-democracy march attended by thousands, but what I saw that morning was more amusing than inspiring. Plus, like other members of the public who were around, we were there simply because “Singapore so boring lah, might as well come and see lor.”

The police were on site questioning the crowd, taking down personal details, and video-cording the event too. My friend got curious and asked why they were recording, to which he got a fierce reply: “I am not obliged to tell you anything.”

For the rest of the day, police simply encircled protesters wherever they went, with most of the attention focused on Dr Chee and his sister, Miss Chee Siok Chin.

At times, the authorities and protesters simply stood still and stared at each other, the awkward moments broken only by periodic flashes of the camera. These scenes were played out for the next three days until Dr Chee ended his protest.

It might have made a good Singapore Biennale art exhibit, whose theme this year was “Be-lief”. Titled “A Game of Politics”, live and unrehearsed, pitting Dr Chee’s faith in civil disobedience against the police’s belief in security.

It was disappointing, to say the least, that it was a protest that did not matter and had no matter.

To me, Dr Chee was simply out to create a ruckus and score political points with the foreign media. They eventually wrote mainly about his latest act of civil disobedience and the sup-posed state of repression here.

He talked about the lack of freedom of speech and the widening income gap, especially between working Singaporeans and the ministers. His stirring speech made sense at times, at least for someone who heard him for the first time. How-ever, what I failed to hear was anything concrete to remedy the problem or plans to improve the situation.

Also, I cannot help but con-sider other factors when it comes to believing the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party. The party was found liable of defaming the government in its January newspaper article and got the least votes in the last General Elections.

Dr Chee himself was found to have defamed the then Prime Minister Goh during 2001’s General Election while campaigning. He was also charged with con-tempt of court for questioning the independence of the judiciary this year.

It was no surprise that he found himself with so little sup-port, at least from me.

I simply cannot attach any credibility to a bankrupt opposition politician, much less want him running the constituency I live in. I want someone with credibility and action, not some-one who gets into the headlines for all the wrong reasons.

If anything, Dr Chee should question himself, after all these long years of campaigning if Singaporeans support him at all. He may have grabbed the limelight overseas, but what matters is whether he can do it here.

As for me, I can now lay claim to having observed (not participated in) two protests in my lifetime, something that I am sure most Singaporeans will never get a chance to do so in their life.

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