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There are many Singaporeans who cannot see the importance of people power as it relates to their everyday lives.
For them, political rights such as freedom of speech and freedom of peaceful assembly are idealistic notions that have nothing to do with bread-and-butter issues that affect their everyday lives.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Take the recent announcement of the hike in the GST. Despite the people’s unease over such an increase, does anyone doubt that the PAP will again get its way, however negatively its policies impact on society and our economy?
There is hardly any scrutiny and zero public debate on the matter. Meanwhile the widening income disparity looks set to grow even bigger with the 7 percent GST hike. And like a joke coming out of a bad comic strip, the prime minister tells us that the increase will help the poor.
Contrast this with Hong Kong. When the SAR Government put forth the idea of introducing a GST, there was much debate in the Legislative Council as well as among the wider public through the free media.
Seeing how such a tax would hurt the competitiveness of Hong Kong as well as the poorer segments of society, opposition and civic groups conducted marches and protests to convey Hong Kongers’ unhappiness over the introduction of the tax (see photographs).
It wasn’t long before the administration got the message and shelved the idea of a GST.
That’s active citizenry at work. That’s how citizens make governments listen. That’s how democratic rights help to protect our economic welfare, the issues that affect our everyday lives.
Without these fundamental rights to freely speak and congregate, how are we going to rectify the current imbalance that we now have where whenever the PAP says jump, everyone asks how high?
There are also many who see that protests are a political, albeit necessary, evil that must be conducted only as a last resort, lest society breaks down into violence and anarchy.
Alas, the PAP has managed to sear into our minds that public protests are dangerously subversive weapons that if unbanned will lead to the disintegration of society as we know it.
If truth be told, mass public activities such as protests help bond citizens together as well as to the State. A political culture that makes the people feel at ease in expressing themselves publicly, even vociferously, but peacefully, is one that will ultimately signal greater stability and continuity.
Again, Hong Kong provides us some valuable lessons. In the myriads of protests that have taken place in the territory, and there have been some massive ones, Hong Kongers have demonstrated how mass public action can be conducted with civility and dignity while at the same time send clear messages to the authorities how they want their city to be run.
Does the city look like its on the verge of anarchy?
The sad truth is that we in Singapore have lost our ability to hold our government accountable and to make sure it serves our interests rather than its own and those of the ruling elite.
But all is not lost. We can rebuild and we can regain our voice. To do this, we need to come together to discover how we can empower ourselves. And what better way to start than with the Empower Singapore Seminar Series.
If you haven’t already registered yourself for the seminar this Sunday, 28 Jan 07, do it now and learn for yourself how we can all become active citizens in our own country.
So the next time you hear someone say that democracy and rights have nothing to do with bread-and-butter issues, tell him of the impending increase in the GST and ask him what he intends to do about it.
Then mention what his Hong Kong counterpart has done about it.