Lee’s meaningless concession on protests fools no one

August 19, 2008
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

The announcement that the Government will allow limited forms of demonstrations at Speaker’s Corner is like a bulldog with ribbons. It prettifies, it’s good for a laugh, it makes a sad commentary about the people behind the ridiculous charade and, most of all, it fools no one.

But that’s the nature of Mr Lee Hsien Loong’s leadership – he knows that the need to open up the political process and to move with the times is imperative, but is afraid to defy his father. He ends up making meaningless political gestures.

Make no mistake: The PAP’s continued suffocating grip on society is undermining Singapore’s development as a nation and crippling our ability to compete with the rest of the world.

Singaporeans should not be fooled by the current economic arrangement. It is based on exploitation of cheap labour and is unsustainable in the long run.

On the other hand, a population free and innovatively productive is the key to progress. Political openness and democratic accountability, which include peaceful protests, are the substrate on which such progress flourishes.

Protests are not to allow people to “let off steam a bit more”, as Mr Lee Hsien Loong puts it. It is the only means that citizens can compel a stubborn leader, out of touch with the masses, to yield to will of the people. And the PAP knows that.

Singaporeans must always remember that our right to protest peacefully is not for the Government to give but for the citizens to exercise, and not just at a pathetic little corner on the island but also on the busiest thoroughfares of the country.

Nevertheless, it must be noted that the Government has conceded to public pressure to open up political space in Singapore.

Let it not be said that civil and political activism cannot change things here. When citizens come together wisely and courageously there is much clout that we wield, nothing that we cannot achieve.

But now is not the time to celebrate or gloat. Now is the time to press ahead with our demands for our fundamental freedoms of speech and peaceful assembly to be fully returned to the people. Tokenism and meaningless concessions get the PAP nowhere.

We will not quiet down. We will continue to speak up and take positive action to claim our rights back as citizens of Singapore.

Times are a-changing. The entire world is moving ahead with democratic development. Asians everywhere are rejecting authoritarian control and fighting back dictatorships. Singaporeans must not get left behind.

Speakers’ Corner: protests ok
Jeremy Au Yong
Straits Times
(18 Aug 08)

Those who want to hold outdoor demonstrations will soon be allowed to do so, but only at Speakers’ Corner.

The total ban on such protests had been a bugbear for years for activists and opposition politicians, but on Sunday, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met them halfway when he indicated that the ban will soon be eased.

However, those who want to hold one can only do so in Hong Lim Park, already designated as a forum for people to make speeches without a licence.

Speakers’ Corner in Hong Lim Park was chosen because it was a well-defined location, accessible and near the MRT, he said.

He eased the restrictions, he said, because he recognised the need to allow people to ‘let off steam a bit more’.

In announcing the move he joked: ‘I think we’ll still call it Speakers’ Corner. No need to call it Demonstrators’ Corner.’

Still, concerns over safety remain and PM Lee explained to the 1,700-strong audience at the National Day Rally why many restrictions on outdoor demonstrations have been maintained.

‘Our concern is law and order, and security. It comes back to race and religion, because one incident could undermine our racial harmony, and confidence in Singapore,’ he said.

He did however promise that the Government would maintain a light touch.

For a start, the management of Speakers’ Corner will be taken off the police and handed over to the National Parks Board.

Next, they will also consider setting up online registration so that potential speakers and protesters would not need to go down in person to apply.

The new move, however, met with guarded reactions from political bloggers and activists yesterday.

Visual artist and activist Seelan Palay, 23, for one, worried that it would work against protesters.

‘Now every time we exercise this right somewhere else, they will use it against us. We will be called troublemakers because there is already a place set for us but we choose to do it elsewhere. Who really goes to Hong Lim Park?’ he said.

He is one of 18 people who were charged recently for taking part in an illegal assembly outside Parliament House in March, when they protested against rising prices.

Law undergraduate Choo Zheng Xi, 22, who eight years ago became the youngest-ever speaker at Speakers’ Corner, hoped the move would just be the start of even more moves to open up the political space.

‘This should be only the first step. There needs to be a more fundamental recognition that freedom of speech and expression are fundamental parts of a democracy,’ he said.

Political watcher and law lecturer Eugene Tan from the Singapore Management University believes it is a ‘good move’.

‘It reflects a growing maturity of both the Government and Singaporeans. Political discernment comes from allowing people to make decisions for themselves and living with the consequences of their choices,’ he said.