Who says Singaporean youths are politically apathetic? [Part I]

June 10, 2007
Singapore Democrats

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World Youth Movement for Democracy
09 Jun 07
http://www.ymd.youthlink.org/ymd/2007finalists/contestsfinalists.html

The essays of two young Singaporeans were selected by the World Movement for Democracy as finalists, representing the Asian region.

Mr Priveen Suraj, a member of the SDP’s Young Democrats and a junior college student, and Mr Galven Lee, a junior college student who has attended several anti-death penalty and SDP forums, had submitted essays on the topic: “What do you see as the biggest challenge to democracy in your world, and what can the youth movement do about it?”

The exercise was part of a global youth movement to contribute to the advancement of democracy.

Five finalists were selected for Asia: Two from Singapore, two from the Philippines and one from Fiji. The SDP understands that there were most number of entries from Singapore in the Asian region.

This dispels the myth that young Singaporeans are politically apathetic and cannot see that democracy is the answer to Singapore’s future.

The finalists will proceed onto the stage of the competition where the writers will compete with essays from other regions. This website will keep readers posted.

Below are the essays of Messrs Priveen and Lee.

Priveen Suraj S/o Santakumar
http://www.ymd.youthlink.org/ymd/2007finalists/priveen.html

“The absence of Independence is the mark of the slave.” These words of a world reknown political philosopher, Aristotle, resonates through the centuries for what we call democracy today.

His words has emboldened my inner courage and empowered my teenage mind as I made my way to the police station for an investigation for participating at a march organized by fellow Singaporeans at the Speakers’ Corner on International Human Right Day.

Nevertheless, unlike many other repressive societies like Myanmar, North Korea and Zimbabwe; Singapore’s economic development to a large extent forbid citizens from participating actively in the governing aspect of the country. As an avid supporter of democratic principles.

I, in my own subtle ways, promote the idea of democracy and youth activism which I feel is vital for the sustainable development of a first world nation. As a result, I participate in activities that are organized by non-governmental organizations and youth organizations in Singapore as well as abroad.

Study missions to Sweden and Taiwan has indeed broadened my perceptions of the successes of a true democracy. It has also allowed me to rethink the political climate in Singapore. The forty year domination of the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP), though primarily it has been the key factor in the success story of Singapore from a fishing village to Asia’s financial hub, has constantly been under the scrutiny of opposition parties, human rights activists and even International human rights organizations like Amnesty International (AI).

A recent report by AI had highlighted Singapore’s prime minister as the World’s Worst Democrat. As it is often said, “there is no smoke without fire,” I find some underlying truth in this.

Carefully structured economic, social, media policing has resulted in the apathetic situation which is inherent in the Island Republic. As it is often said, “ignorance is bliss”, it has led to the continual suppression of civil and political freedoms.

Singapore is revered as an economic giant in the ASEAN region. On the auspices of Singapore’s former premier Mr Lee Kuan Yew, has brought the country to greater heights economically. While other countries were badly affected by the financial crisis that hit Asia in 1997, Singapore was still head-strong and determined to quickly revive from it; and so it did.

This complements the nature of citizens giving the mandate to the PAP for the past 8 years. Ever since, the citizens are satisfied with the economic prosperity they have been entitled to. However, I feel that the economic front of Singapore is a blockade for the growth of morality, democracy and more importantly human rights. The ruling party has always emphasized the importance of bread and butter issues even after having perched on the top of the economic ladder. Morality issues has subsumed with the ‘pushy’ plan for building a casino; despite a majority vote by its citizens to veto the idea.

Beyond economic frontiers, the society in itself has been conditioned to work along the boundaries of the law and rules that are set in place by the government even though it may be a deprivation of civil liberties. “It is the right of every citizen to break unjust laws”, the words of Gandhi seems to hold no water in democratic Singapore. With basic needs taken cared of, most citizens tend to be shepherded with every idea the government establishes into a policy. Indisputably there are Members of Parliament whom in my opinion disagree for the sake of disagreeing just for media glamour and sometimes to show that the government is not dictatorial as perceived by many.

On the other end of the spectra, “social responsibility” is a term widely used by the government to instill self censorship or rather as what I feel to control the freedom of speech and expression.

To many, basic necessities seem to override the principles of liberty and rights. Once at a coffeehouse while distributing fliers during elections for the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) as a volunteer and helper, a young man around the same age as me told me, “Why does the SDP emphasize on democracy so much? We should be grateful for having food on the table, a roof over our heads and a well received education. Thanks to the PAP”. Though what he said seems true at first glance, we need to delve into our minds to question what it really means to be humans as oppose to other species living on our planet?. The answer might be obvious to some, humans have rights.

Yes indeed. Humans have rights as well as fundamental liberties that are enshrined in most constitutions of governments. Civil and political liberties are inalienable rights that as citizens of a country we need to be aware of. The most ludicrous deed, in my view, is to be bestowed a gift and not been able to use it.

Many Singaporeans especially the youths are unaware of their rights and tremble in their pants when confronted by the police for exercising their civil liberties that enshrined in the Singapore Constitution. I myself have shunned away from the police while distributing fliers for fear of apprehension.

Notions of democracy have been used as a contradiction of the popular interest of Singaporeans. Activities that aim to engage the government by opposition members and activists has only ended with a tussle with the authorities. One such event would be the peaceful Central Provident Fund (CPF) protest at a business district in the country where 40 riot police coalesced inciting them of causing public disturbance. Even from my own experience on International Human Rights Day, one had to be blind in order not to have seen at least 7 to 10 under-covered police moving among the crowd watching every move that the Freedom walkers’ made.

With the setup of the Speakers’ Corner, the government claims that politics is gradually becoming more liberal. What may seem like a distinct shift in the political landscape, however becomes a reality check under an examination of the facts. Dr Chee Soon Juan, a popular opposition leader, and a group of activists during the International Monetary Fund (IMF) meetings in Singapore advanced to organize a peaceful march to the Suntec City where the conferences are held to highlight the criminalization of political parties under the PAP rule were stopped by almost 3 dozen police in uniform and undercover.

“If you believe in democracy,” Mr Lee Kuan Yew said years ago when he was in the opposition, “you must believe in it unconditionally. If you believe that men should be free, then they should have the right of free association, of free speech, free publication”.

These words have hit me the most. It has both inspired and deepened my faith in democratic principles; let alone fight for the cause of democracy and human rights. And since freedom of speech is the bulwark of democracy, the words of the man who led the American Revolution – George Washington, “if the freedom of speech is taken away then dumb and silent we may be led, like sheep to the slaughter” reverberates through centuries to daunt on me once again.

Allow me to continue what happened during my investigation: As inexperienced as I was answering the intimidating questions of the investigating officer, I summoned all my courage, thinking through every question put forth to me before giving an answer so as not to incriminate myself.

It took me more than thirty minutes longer to answer the questions than my mother who was also called up for investigation for the very cause I buttressed with my heart and soul. I soon realized that the comforting words of Dr Chee Soon Juan, “No youth should have to overcome such obstacles to do what they believe to be profoundly in the interest of democracy” in his book – Your Future, My Faith, Our Freedom – were the very thought I believed and worked for as a nineteen year old student