Protests do not lead to anarchy

October 14, 2008
Singapore Democrats

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Singapore Democrats

For decades freedom of assembly, aka protests, have been taboo in Singapore. Any call for demonstrations is met with words like “chaos” and “destruction” being thrown about will-nilly.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the ultimate scare-monger, said that when people are allowed to protest in public, there’ll be “pandemonium” and insists that “we are not that kind of society.” Really? What kind of a society are we then?

The kind that says not a word when the Government lacerates us with hike after excruciating hike in prices?

The kind that keeps heads bowed when millionaire ministers like Mr Lim Swee Say demonstrate their idiocy by taunting that he “feels so rich” whenever he looks at his CPF account even as free-food lines lengthen?

The kind that pretends that nothing untoward is happening when the the Government increases the GST, public transport fares, and electricity rates (and by a whopping 22 percent) even as the economy dives into a recession?

It is most unfortunate that former NTUC Income chief, Mr Tan Kin Lian (Protest outside DBS headquarters), has decided to join in such scare-mongering by saying that protests planned by investors outside the DBS’ office are designed by people out to expand their “anarchical ranks”. He was referring to calls by DBS investors to stage a sit-in outside the bank’s headquarters.

Why must closed minds conjure images of pandemonium and anarchy whenever we talk about protests? Why can’t protests be civil, disciplined, and peaceful as demonstrated by peoples all over the democratic world? Why must people who call for protests and challenge unjust laws be always demonised?

Ironically, DBS promptly agreed to fully compensate their Hong Kong investors over the purchase of Lehman’s financial products. But this happened only when the investors descended upon the bank’s office in the Chinese city. Without the freedom to protest, would DBS have moved so quickly, if at all, to right the wrong?

Hong Kongers know what it’s like to run a competitive economy with a dynamism and energy that the world admires. And yet, protests are a regular and necessary feature of Hong Kong life. Has the Hong Kong society been thrown into pandemonium or have the anarchists taken over the city because of the protests?

For goodness sakes let us stop thinking like children. Laws against protests in Singapore were not handed down through some heavenly edict. They were introduced by white men to subjugate brown, yellow, and black ones during their colonial rule.

Now it is the men-in-white who continue to wield such laws to ensure that their rule is not challenged. The regimes may have changed but the oppression remains.

Think about it. Just weeks ago, protests were illegal and frowned upon in Singapore. The “pandemonium” argument held sway. There was a moral tinge to the Minister Mentor’s line. After all, aren’t chaos and turmoil undesirable happenings?

But after September 2008, protests are now legal, albeit in a very circumscribed way. Have protests suddenly become morally acceptable? The truth is that freedom of assembly has never been morally undesirable. It is dictatorships that, for obvious reasons, outlaw them and give the convenient excuse that protests are bad for society.

Defying the oppressive colonial-cum-PAP laws has played a part in the establishment of the Speakers’ Corner and the change in rules to allow protests there. Where would Mr Tan Kin Lian have asked DBS investors to protest last Saturday if activists had not campaigned for freedom of assembly?

But instead of keeping up the pressure on the Government to open up society including the right to protest in any public area, it is sad that some people would turn around and criticise those who have worked to make public protests possible.

Let us not continue to decry civil disobedience and to demonise those who work for the political and civil rights of Singaporeans. These rights may just come in very handy in future.