We were almost into our last two days of our workshop for Climate Change on the Bantayan Islands in the Philippines. The youth representatives of the respective member parties in CALD Youth were getting chummy with the local litigation lawyers and environmental activists, hanging out at a beach bar near our accommodations.
It’s during times away from the tight conference agenda that we get to hear about the social-political situations in our countries. I was talking with Kim Sophea, an activist from Cambodia, and I told him about my encounter in Cambodia in 2009 when I did a cycling expedition from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.
I had seen flags and banners of mainly the incumbent Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) which adorned the pathways of the villages even though the last election was held in the middle of 2008.
Infrastructure like bridges often had plaques with photographs of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his fellow party members on them. For every 20 banners of CPP, you can see one from Sam Rainsy Party (SRP), the major opposition party in Cambodia.
It is a scene only too familiar in Singapore. If you were to walk through the neighbourhoods of our public housing estates, you will see the PAP logos emblazoned above neighbourhood kindergartens. Faces of the PAP MPs can be seen at major points of human traffic, and the size of their smiling faces grow five-fold on posters whenever National Day comes. Opposition parties, on the other hand, have to utilise their members and volunteers to sell newspapers for publicity.
Kim and I also talked about the lack of an independent press in our countries. Just like Singapore, his country’s constitution ensures that there is a freedom of press. However, laws are in place to suppress it. Kim talked about the difficulties in reaching out to the public through the controlled media. His party is able to set up a Youtube Channel, but the restrictions on what they can put out there are many due to vague laws.
Who is copying from whom is unclear. What is clear is that the tactics adopted by undemocratic governments are very similar: Maximise the exposure of themselves while suppressing information about the opposition.
Before we knew it, two hours had passed and we retired for the evening, but not before exchanging ideas on how to run campaigns in urban areas.
Oppressors around the world have been learning from each other about how to control the masses. What democrats should do is learn from each other how we can break such control. And we can do this by standing in solidarity, supporting and learning from each other. In this regard, everyone is connected. No man is an island.
Clarence Zeng is a member of the Young Democrats and Deputy Head of the SDP’s Ground Operations Unit.