The recent dramatic reforms undertaken by the Burmese regime have raised hopes that the country is firmly on the path towards democracy.
Under the leadership of President Thein Sein, the government has released hundreds of political prisoners, held elections (albeit on a limited scale), allowed opposition leader Ms Aung San Suu Kyi to travel (she will be visiting Norway next month). The Burmese president has even authorised peaceful protests.
As a result, the Burmese people are exercising their political rights. This week, several hundred people gathered in Yangon to protest against power outages. Another protest in Mandalay attracted hundreds more people.
Such public assembly is banned in Singapore where our Judiciary continues uphold the view that the PAP Government can stop Singaporeans from conducting peaceful assemblies and processions – even single-person demonstrations.$CUT$
The latest example was demonstrated by High Court Judge Quentin Loh. In keeping with a long line of decisions to convict Singaporeans who exercise their right to free speech and assembly, Justice Loh dismissed the appeal of SDP activists who had come together to distribute flyers and sell Tak Boleh Tahan T-shirts on 9 August 2009.
The Government bans all forms of public assembly organised by civil society that it considers unfriendly. It also does not allow opposition parties from organising all forms of activities in public places. Pro-government groups are, however, allowed to conduct such activities.
Peaceful public gatherings are important because they are a means to hold governments accountable and for the people to express their unhappiness at policies. Without these avenues for public action, the people are helpless in challenging policies that work against their interest.
This is the reason why we have not been able to change our profit-oriented healthcare system, unaffordable HDB prices, and unthinking foreign-worker policy.
What about elections? Without reform of the electoral system and the media which are controlled by the PAP, it is impossible for the opposition to make any meaningful inroads in parliament.
Even if the opposition were to, by some miracle, win power without such reforms, what is to prevent the new government from behaving like the PAP? This is why Singaporeans must not stop calling for their political rights to be respected without which the people will not enjoy real democracy.
As it is, Singapore is becoming one of the very few countries left in the world that bans public gatherings. Even the Burmese now enjoy more freedom.