Foreigners on foreign issues in Singapore

Chee Siok Chin

“The Lady” made her presence felt at Hong Lim Park on when Singaporeans and Burmese nationals held a vigil calling for the release of Asia’s most renowned democracy and human rights leader.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s picture was held up by participants who showed up in the hundreds dressed in yellow in the event organised by Maruah.

Although the event took place a few weeks ago, there are important lessons that we can learn from the proceedings.

The event was part of a regional effort involving NGOs in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and the Philippines calling for the release of Ms Suu Kyi. There was only one problem. It was made clear to one and all that the Burmese were not welcome to participate in the proceedings as they were reminded to remain at the fringe of the park.

Non-Singaporeans are prohibited from taking part in political events in public, even at Speakers’ Corner. The rationale for such a restriction is because Singapore’s politics is for Singaporeans only.

But how is calling on the Burmese regime to release Ms Suu Kyi be considered engaging in Singapore’s politics? Why couldn’t Burmese residing in Singapore join in the call for Daw Suu’s release? The organisers were not even calling for the Singapore government to change its Burma policy.

It’s not even a Burmese issue as Singaporeans were the organisers. I’m sure there were many other people of other nationalities who wanted to express their concern for her release.

Many Singaporeans have, I am sure participated in political events in countries whose governments are not as paranoid as the one we have. It would be unacceptable for democratic countries to ban Burmese and other nationals from protesting against the Burmese junta and call for Ms Suu Kyi’s release.

The recent international protests against the election results in Iran is another case in point. Iranians living and studying in countries across the world were out demonstrating against the Ahmadinejad regime. There were even protests in the Gulf States and Malaysia. These governments recognised their rights to free expression as long as the protesters remained peaceful.

In stark contrast, there is only silence in Singapore. Either we are a superior society or we are really out of sync with the rest of the world.

What happened at the Aung San Suu Kyi event at Speakers’ Corner is yet another example of how authoritarian regimes make its people comply with policies that not only make no sense, but also make us look silly.

Just because they are not Singaporeans, people cannot express their support for what is right? Is that what we are teaching our children? In an internationalised world where movement of people are much more pronounced is it reasonable to expect other nationals to remain silent about what goes on in their home countries?

Our Burmese friends felt so deeply about the injustice taking place in their homeland, as we all do, that they could not keep quiet nor remain at the fringe of the Maruah event. And so despite the warnings they went ahead to participate in the proceedings, lighting candles and releasing balloons.

And guess what? The 60-minute vigil was held peacefully, respectfully and responsibly.

Are we proud of our silliness?

And get this. While foreigners are not allowed to take part in our internal affairs, they are called upon to run our reserves in Temasek as well as to set wage levels in the National Wages Council.

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