Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Outdoor Protests

The two main Singapore newspapers have backed the government stance on the ban of outdoor protests during the IMF/World Bank meet this week.

According to The Straits Times in an editorial entitled "Warfare or business?", the decision to ban outdoor protests was a judgment made by the security authorities with the interests of the Singaporean people uppermost in their minds. Singaporeans would expect nothing less.

Pix from cyberspace of IMF-related street protest at Czech Republic for illustration purpose.

Similarly, The Business Times' editorial entitled "Right to ban outdoor protests" thundered that while Singapore's position may not please some parties, it is entirely consistent with what the country stands for. The editorial echoed Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong's point that Singapore cannot have a different set of rules for its citizens and another for foreigners - street demonstrations have been banned here since the 1960s.

The BT editorial went one step further, saying: "Singapore's political culture may eventually have to be more open than it is now, as its society matures and evolves. But that is a transition for it to make at a pace dictated by its own comfort levels, not outsiders."

The two papers have taken the right position. Singapore has all the right to ban outdoor demonstrations or decide who should or should not be barred from entering the island, regardless of what the rest of the world think. It's the sovereign right of every independent nation.

As the BT editorial suggests, the pace of liberalisation must be dictated by the country's own comfort levels. And in analysing its own comfort level, Singaporeans must re-assess the premise for banning outdoor protests in the first place.

The premise -- the torn social fabric as a result of the riots in the 1960s -- may not be so applicable today. Singapore has moved from third world to first world in forty years. With the tremendous improvement in the standards of living, Singaporeans are less likely to be swayed by emotions and rhetoric. In other words, rich people are less likely to riot or run amok!

Singapore can afford to give more room for healthy dissent in whatever form of protest further down the road as long as it is not destructive (for example, protesters should not loot or destroy physical properties) . There must be a reasonable avenue or channel for people to vent their frustration or feelings of injustice, without fear of being arrested or accused of inciting riots. How long can you keep the lid on the pressure cooker?

The change, at the country's own comfort levels, can be done without the undertone of a revolution.

PS: Although Singapore has set aside space for protest by civil society organisations during the IMF meet, the conditions are simply too stringent.


Anonymous said...

Sometimes we need the outsiders to tell us how wrong we are in some of the most basic things in life. You know its like the emperor with no clothes. Only the unbiased can tell u best! cheers


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