A small but significant event: Protest march in Singapore

Arthur Waldron
International Assessment and Strategy Center
9 Jan 07

Although the world press has ignored the story, a small protest march in Singapore a week ago may signal an acceleration of change in the island country whose economy and intellectual sophistication is, sadly, streets ahead of its political system.

On December 10 a dozen Singaporeans marched to protest the imprisonment of Dr. Chee Soon Juan, secretary general of the Singapore Democratic Party trained as a neuro-psychologist.

The protesters, wearing identical yellow tee shirts, marched in three groups of four, to avoid violating the Singapore regulation that assemblies of more than four people must have official permission.

The Singapore police followed the march and filmed the marchers, but no arrests were made.

That the world media paid no attention to this event is not surprising. Singapore is a tiny country and a dozen protesters there are scarcely a story.

But this author recalls a day in the 1980s, when some Chinese students in the United States announced that they would protest in front of the People’s Republic consulate on the West Side in New York City.

He was then teaching at Princeton, and made the short trip up to New York. From a nearby coffee shop he watched as six or seven people, with paper grocery bag masks over their heads, unfurled a banner reading “Human Rights for China.”

No one else took any notice. No one emerged from the consulate, the former West Side Sheraton Motor Hotel, a vast and unwelcoming structure.

Yet a quarter of a century later, one can say truthfully that tiny demonstration marked the beginning of a growing tide of criticism and unrest that, sooner or later, seems bound to change China.

Singapore is incomparably more advanced than China in every respect, including its political system. That means, however, that Singaporeans expect more and Singapore, though prosperous and clean and smoothly administered is not free.

I regret not being present in person to witness a demonstration that I suspect will be of equal importance for Singapore.

Dr. Chee is a highly intelligent, responsible, and well-educated man. He speaks English far better even than Lee Kwan-yew, who would, I think, be hard pressed to best him in debate. When I heard him speak a year ago at a democracy meeting, my thought was: “You have just heard a speech by the future first elected prime minister of Singapore.”

More can be found at various Singapore websites such as: http://www.pseudonymity.wordpress.com.

Dr. Arthur Waldron is the vice president of the International Assessment and Strategy Center, the above article was published on December 16th, 2006.