The day that Singaporeans take to the streets

Singaporeans desiring change wring their hands and ask: When will something like Bersih 3.0 happen here? When will Singaporeans find the courage to make their feelings known on the streets?

Bersih 3.0 was the huge demonstration in Kuala Lumpur yesterday (28 April 2012) calling for clean elections. Estimates of crowd size vary, but looking at the various videos available, 25,000 to 50,000 would be about right.

I don’t think anything similar will happen here any time soon. But when it does, it may end in worse disaster. However, saying this doesn’t mean that we should therefore fear it ever happening and thus keep a tight lid on such demonstrations. Quite the opposite: I think for Singapore to enjoy a new lease of life, the old order needs to be successfully contested.  If some chaos is a necessary rite of passage for that to happen, then chaos can be said to be good for us.

For now, however, there are key differences between the Singapore situation and Malaysia’s.

However much Singaporeans believe the electoral system is designed to give a big advantage to the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP), by and large Singaporeans also trust that elections are conducted according to rules. The rules may not be altogether fair, but they are observed. In Malaysia, the chief grievance is that the incumbent coalition flouts the rules altogether, particularly through padded electoral rolls. Rigged elections typically produce much more disgust than tilted rules, and so the depth of anger in Malaysia is greater.

Corruption is also more visible in Malaysia. It also takes the form of flouting the rules and thus comes across as more egregious and arouses greater anger again. Corruption in Singapore, if you wish to call it that – others might prefer the term cronyism and feather-bedding – again takes the form of writing rules to benefit oneself. It is therefore packaged better to avoid scrutiny.

One other key difference, of course, is that Malaysia has a much stronger civil society and political opposition. Together, they sustain a tradition of street politics of which the Bersih rallies are just a part. This is despite the fact that laws against public gatherings are nearly as strict in Malaysia as in Singapore. Our neighbour too has a history of using detention without trial to silence opponents. So, why are Malaysians less deterred than Singaporeans?

I think it can be traced to the fact that Malaysia’s coalition government has long suffered from factionalism. Every leader is fiercely contested from within the leadership; no leader gets close to acquiring an aura of omnipotent power. As a result, no leader has been able to wield fear as a tool.

In Singapore’s case, the ruling party has been more successful at maintaining internal unity. Having a strong leader (Lee Kuan Yew) whose very person was a source of legitimacy for the party certainly contributed to it. And with the man prepared to resort to thuggish methods to maintain his power, any insider thinking of challenging Lee would know what peril such a course of action would expose him to.

The lack of internal challenge in turn preserves Lee’s and the PAP’s image of invincibility, and becomes a major discouragement to anyone outside the ruling party taking him on. However unhappy one may be with the PAP, so long as there aren’t dissenters within the PAP that one may build alliances with to leverage both your causes forward, the chance of success must look extremely slim.

* * * * *

As much as it explains the past, the above analysis makes a prediction about the future too. It will not be long before Lee Kuan Yew fades from the scene, and given the fact that Lee Hsien Loong is more of a ditherer than a natural leader, Singapore is looking at a future without a colossus.

Eventually, two trends will converge. The first is the rising effectiveness of our political opposition in winning voters over and a slowly growing civil society. These in turn will put pressure on the PAP to respond, but this very pressure will throw up challenges to Lee Hsien Loong or to whoever succeeds him. The mixed messages from various PAP heavyweights during last May’s general election and the example of Tan Cheng Bock, a PAP dissenter, nearly knocking out Tony Tan, the PAP’s preferred candidate in last August’s presidential election are harbingers of things to come. They will undermine the PAP’s aura of unity and invincibility, and when that happens, unhappy Singaporeans’ calculations will change.

The second is economic stress. In just the last month or so, three different persons, a law academic, a corporate leader and a civil servant, have mentioned to me in passing: “This government has run out of ideas” or something to that effect. There is a sense the government will get increasingly defensive about its established direction and will not be open to radical new ideas. If at all it makes course corrections, they will be too little, too late.

An article in the Economist magazine also resonated. (I’m not sure whether you can access the link if you’re not an Economist subscriber).  Titled Buttonwood: The question of extractive elites, it was about a new book that suggested that “many countries are bedevilled by economic institutions that ‘are structured to extract resources from the many by the few . . .’ “.

Even in developed economies,

… [the book authors’] description of extractive economies should ring one or two alarm bells in the minds of Western readers. “Because elites dominating extractive institutions fear creative destruction”, the authors write, “they will resist it, and any growth that germinates under extractive institutions will be ultimately short-lived.”

Two candidates Buttonwood singled out as cause for concern in developed economies are the financial sector and the public sector. Rent-seeking behaviour and clientelism may be the means by which they use their power positions to extract from an economy. Reading that, I couldn’t ignore the parallels with Singapore.

Whereas Malaysia has more blatant corruption and election-rigging, thus giving rise to greater public anger (for now), Singapore may have a wider income gap or at least a more obvious one. Malaysia’s poor tend to be in the rural areas and may therefore be buffered from the higher cost of living of urban areas. A wide and growing income gap, as Singapore has, and the social immobility and entrenchment of privilege that follow, can cause as much popular frustration as corruption and election-rigging.

One day it will surface.

* * * * *

The course taken by political contestation is never a smooth one. The challenge does not rise gradually until it topples the old order. It makes unpredictable lurches. Look, for example, at the six Arab Springs that began in 2011: Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain and Syria. No two of them unfolded in the same way, each was affected by local conditions and the different responses of the incumbents.

Hence, when Singapore’s politics begin to take to the streets, ours will unfold in a way different from Malaysia’s. And this is where I fear the headlines coming out of Singapore may be more dramatic. With regular experience of demonstrations, the Malaysian authorities are probably better able to calibrate their responses. Should it happen in Singapore however, our police’s inexperience in responding to demonstrations is likely to lead to panicky miscalculations.

Moreover, the regular defiance of bans on public gatherings in Malaysia means that should one more instance of defiance occur, it is not seen as calamitous to the government’s authority. But in Singapore, even one sizeable demonstration may be viewed as an intolerable affront to the authority of the government. The response may not be calibrated for containment, but tend towards crushing the movement.

In other words, when it does happen here, we are more likely to get it wrong than right. I fear that Singapore’s revolution will look less like Malaysia’s rumbles, and more like Bahrain in 2011. Below is a searing documentary (from Al Jazeera again) of what happened in Bahrain last year. Some of the descriptions of Bahrain come pretty close to Singapore’s faultlines: a large number of people feeling dispossessed, a ruling elite that owns more and more of the country’s wealth, the elite’s reliance on foreigners to defend and sustain itself, and a parliamentary opposition that is so weakened by the system, it offers no safety valve.

The video below is 50 minutes long, but is worth every minute of it.

54 Responses to “The day that Singaporeans take to the streets”

  1. 1 Poker Player 29 April 2012 at 19:10

    If you accept that there is no electoral fraud, why demonstrate when you can simply vote?

    • 2 Roborovskii 29 April 2012 at 23:22

      Voting doesn’t occur every year, and people may be trapped in a corner that they do not like to be in. Demonstrations usually demand immediate change to rectify the current situation. Do understand that some demonstrations result from people having no other avenues for reconciliation, and the systemic policies that are in place may either be hindering any aid to them or oppressing them directly.

      • 3 incrediblyvexed 3 May 2012 at 02:40

        It makes no sense that we would need to urgently change the government between elections. The choice of government should be a carefully considered decision, not something that is forced on a whim. Furthermore, there is no way to qualify that a protest or demonstration reflects the wishes of the majority. Changing the government based on the actions of a vocal minority is pretty far from being democratic or first world, and is historically the first step towards a dictatorship and absolutism.

        In light of this, the question should not be “Will the Police stop us?” But rather “Would other citizens let us get away with it?” Remember, protesting election fraud is one thing but protesting a democratically elected government is quite another.

      • 4 Roborovskii 3 May 2012 at 10:39

        I am not advocating demonstrations. I am just explaining why there could be demonstrations from certain segments of society who are trapped within a perceived non-inclusive system. It is good to know why without imposing any viewpoint. I was answering the question posted.

        There are plenty of folks at the lower strata who are now facing multi-stress situations. They are barely coping on a daily basis and are getting by with bits of help from various VWOs. With the global debt situation putting a strain on the economy, these people may very well go over the edge in the next downturn. These folks will not care for the long term governance of the country if their very existence is threatened today. They would just want to be heard and helped immediately. Look the west for concrete examples of what has developed in their countries today. We are not far behind if safety nets are not put into place.

  2. 5 ricardo 29 April 2012 at 20:08

    The Al Jazeera documentary is equally shocking, uplifting and heartbreaking. Is this what’s in store for Singapore? Will the HoLee Family’s efforts to ensure this doesn’t happen result in even greater evil and an even worse police state?

  3. 6 guanyinmiao 29 April 2012 at 20:29

    What a chilling documentary. The scenes when troops entered the hospital and threatened the patients made my stomach turn.

    On your postulation, “[s]hould it happen in Singapore however, our police’s inexperience in responding to demonstrations is likely to lead to panicky miscalculations”: would I be right to contend that NSFs make up a substantial proportion of the Home Team and Armed Forces? If that is the case, how would potential conflicts and reactions play out?

    • 7 yawningbread 29 April 2012 at 23:05

      This question has been asked by others before, and until 2 years ago I had no clue what the answer might be. But in May 2010, after the Red Shirts had camped in the centre of Bangkok for weeks, the Thai government finally decided to clear them out, by force if necessary. I was there in the thick of the fighting, and what I saw were plenty of young conscripts (Thailand has national service too) scared out of their wits to be confronting demonstrators, molotov cocktails and some guns on the rebels’ side. Ultimately, however, the conscripts did as they were told. About 90 persons were killed, almost all by gunshot.

      But there’s another lesson from Thailand too. Despite the military prevailing in May 2010, the pro-Thaksin party (supported by the Red Shirts) swept the general election of 2011.. You can crush a demonstration, but winning people’s hearts is a different matter altogether.

  4. 8 octopi 29 April 2012 at 20:37

    Just a thought: PM Lee could have called for elections in April, and Bersih 3 could have taken place in the middle of an election campaign. It would have been advantageous to the PAP. Too bad he did himself a disfavour by not taking advantage of this.

  5. 9 Kirsten Han (@kixes) 29 April 2012 at 20:52

    Hi Alex, the above video of Bersih was actually the report of Bersih 2.0. This is the report for yesterday:

  6. 11 Anonymous 29 April 2012 at 21:04

    the first video on Bersih is from Bersih 2.0 last year – and reference to “Merdeka stadium” is correct (in the context of last year’s Bersih)

  7. 12 Martyn 29 April 2012 at 21:09

    Not entirely true. Our current men in blue (and white) , while under public glare, will wilt and waver in the face of open confrontations. I doubt they will have the stomach for open brutality, as the links to the following videos demonstrate. But then I don’t discount the use of the ISA in the arrests of movement leaders. After all, the Govt has made it clear it will be used as “a last resort.”

    • 13 ecks 30 April 2012 at 15:18

      Perhaps the rank and file neighbourhood policemen, given their daily job scope and some reluctance to be violent against ‘regular citizens’. But lets not forget about the SOC who are trained specifically for crowd-control and putting down protests. And in the unlikely scenario where even they won’t have the stomach, the Government will not hesitate to deploy its Gurkha Contingent.

      • 14 Poker Player 1 May 2012 at 19:14

        “will not hesitate to deploy its Gurkha Contingent”

        What better way to make people even more xenophobic.

        Anyway, once it comes to that, the govt is practically finished.

        This is not an extractive (in the sense of mines and gas/petrol) or agricultural economy. The economy can’t function without the people’s support. And when the economy stops functioning, the govt elite loses it motivation to hang on to power. It’s a plus for a country not to have mines, oil or lots of ignorant peasant farmers.

      • 15 Poker Player 1 May 2012 at 19:19

        An aside.

        If a country has oil or gas, it’s better to discover it AFTER becoming a functioning democracy.

        If discovered before that, then “extractive elite” finds its purest expression.

  8. 16 ;ABC 29 April 2012 at 21:50

    That the government has run out of ideas should not surprise anyone. It has been noted by an astute scholar that all organisations decline in vitality as it ages. Having started off driven by ideology they lose their dynamism eventually. As the scholar noted, they no longer ask the why questions but ask what is practical.

  9. 17 Roborovskii 29 April 2012 at 22:22

    The day Singaporeans take to the streets is the day I hope not to be around. You are certainly right about how the govt would respond to any real threat to the status quo; they will try their best to crush it. They will try to kill the movement hoping that things would return to normal only to make it worse; as the pent up tide of frustration would’ve already reached the point of no return. They would not be able recognize that… after all, these frustrations are nothing but “emotive issues” to them.

    Why do I hope not to be around then? This tiny island has many interlinked vulnerabilities. One of which is the dependence on foreign labour. When people take the streets, you can be sure the instability would force many foreigners to return home. Can our infrastructure and systems cope with the manpower drain on such short notice? What would happen to the food supply? The transportation system? The refuse collection? … … Systemic failure in turn aggravates those who can’t just pack and leave… thus snowballing the effect, putting more people in the streets.

    If/When it does happen, you can be certain of a rapid deterioration in civil society. Weeks maybe at most, not months. I hope I have the foresight and fortitude to leave before that happens.

    • 18 godwin 30 April 2012 at 01:41

      You somehow assume that in this situation, “foreigners” cannot and will not take to the streets with citizens, or that in this situation, the status quo would remain as we understand of it today, and that people would be just as unwilling to take the risks and actions necessary to make change happen. It is of course your choice to not participate, as only you are responsible for your own safety, however this is also the kind of attitude which makes it more than likely that it wouldn’t happen in the first place.

      It is also the kind of attitude that probably equates immediately anarchy to “chaos”, democracy to “voting”, and direct action to “rioting”. I hope we can develop the foresight and fortitude to not be self-centred, negative beings.

      • 19 Roborovskii 30 April 2012 at 18:03

        Foreigners taking to the streets for themselves, yes definately. Taking to the streets with citizens for a common cause… that is something I can’t imagine. Citizens themselves won’t take any action due to the generational conditioning that is in place. Have you scratched beneath the surface to find out the long term goals of foreigners and their allegiances? I have had many foreign colleagues over the past decade, and I can tell you personally that they have no intentions of settling here; even if they appear “rooted” in the community around them. A slight breeze of instability and off they go. Taking to the streets together? Maybe only for those who grew up here. Even then, their parents would definately not have the same allegiances.

        You liken me to someone who runs at the first sight of trouble. I have a family with young children. It is my duty to ensure they survive and my duty to continue to take care of them till maturity. Family comes first before country. I am sure this attitude applies to most in the same situation. There are two types of people. Those who take action and those who sit still and complain. Within the action group, another 2 sub-types – those who take it to the front, and those who retreat to safer pastures. I am in no position to take it to the front, maybe you are. Self-centred? No, I am looking out for my children. Negative? No, I am being bluntly realistic.

      • 20 godwin 2 May 2012 at 22:38

        Yes, because “foreigners” are a homogenous mass; all thinking, feeling and acting alike, just as all “Singaporeans” do.

  10. 21 Singapore Researcher 29 April 2012 at 22:24

    It is critical that we do not dig ourselves into a self-fulfilling prophecy. This scenario of a Bahrain chaos is likely, but let us put the chance at 30%.

    We should put an amicable resolution and a sudden enlightenment of the current government at 70%.

    • 22 yawningbread 29 April 2012 at 23:19

      How often in history do governments acquire “sudden enlightenment”? I think it is more common that a bad government tries to stand its ground until it falls and is REPLACED by a more enlightened bunch.

      Out of six Arab Spring states, how many had governments that reached an “amicable resolution” with their opponents?

      • 23 octopi 30 April 2012 at 04:31

        Many many countries have transitioned to democracy in the past 30 years, not just the Arab spring states.

        A partial list of peaceful revolutions: Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Taiwan, South Korea, Brazil, Argentina. Maybe even Burma and South Africa. Maybe even USSR, although it’s not clear that Russia has actually become democratic. To be sure, all these cases had a lot of police brutality, and most of them involved a new government kicking out an old one. But the transition to democracy itself was relatively peaceful. Most importantly, the peaceful revolutions are, by definition, not the ones you read about in the news.

        Where is our history of violence? Our government has not been detaining people without trial for quite a while now. Its use of torture was minimal. How is the government going to send in the army after the people when the army is the people? The fact is that the government is a dictatorship with a light touch. The reasons why Singapore is not more democratic have more to do with our cowardly citizens not applying ourselves in the past, rather than the government being brutal.

      • 24 Poker Player 30 April 2012 at 10:59

        ” partial list of peaceful revolutions: Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Taiwan, South Korea, Brazil, Argentina.”

        What you mean is that the last step was peaceful.

        Peaceful revolutions are the ones where those in power give up before being forcibly and violently booted out. Violent ones are where they don’t give up. Either case, the threat of force or violence must be there. Whether it comes to that depends on the bloody-mindedness of the dictators.

      • 25 octopi 30 April 2012 at 19:42

        Yes, only the last step. Because all regimes use threats of violence. Especially the dictatorial ones. For that matter, even liberal regimes use threats of violence to enforce the rule of the incumbent. For example in the US, treason is punishable by death.

        Let’s face it – those countries which I listed as having bloodless revolutions were more heavy-handed than Singapore. Czechoslovakia and Hungary were communist states with secret police. Taiwan and South Korea were military juntas which tortured their own people. Brazil and Argentina murdered their own citizens. Why did they suddenly change?

        Citizens in Singapore actually have a lot of power. We just don’t know it yet because we haven’t seriously thought about how to use that power. And it would be extremely stupid to look for regime change first before we think through exactly what we’re going to do with that power.

      • 26 yawningbread 1 May 2012 at 15:52

        > Why did they suddenly change?

        Because citizens poured out onto the streets?

      • 27 octopi 1 May 2012 at 16:22

        OK, so a statement like “things in Singapore will never be so bad that people will take to the streets” is actually very pessimistic because it means that Singapore will never change? That its fate is to slowly rot rather than regenerate itself through revolution?

        Anyway, let’s not forget: plan A is the ballot box. Plan B is going out on the streets. Why are we even considering plan B before putting plan A into action?

  11. 28 Anonymous 29 April 2012 at 23:28

    That they have run out of ideas seems increasingly true as they continue to just reject criticisms and fail to come up with strong and fresh solutions for our problematic national issues. What is even worrying is that they are out of touch with reality. I was shocked to read that DPM Tharman actually said that the average Singaporean will not be affected by the rising inflation! How on earth can he say that when everything has gone up in price from sugar to electricity bills!?

  12. 29 One of the millions ppl in SG 29 April 2012 at 23:58

    The fact they run out of ideas is getting clearer and clearer as days passed. Already suspected it years ago by the way they keep on repeating the same old stories, 5 yrs ago and now still the same.
    There are so many e.g. 1) insisting that immigration is the only way to solve our aging population problem (as if sg is the only one suffering from it and did you see other developed countries resorting to that as the only way to solve).
    2) “Solving” road congestion by installing more ERP (More of diverting).
    3) Insisting HDB is affordable despite sky rocket prices.
    And many more to name.
    They are losing the ability to connect, to understand the grounds and to communicate.

    • 30 ecks 30 April 2012 at 15:25

      Perhaps there’s no deficiency of ideas per se, but more of a reluctance by bureaucrats to toe anywhere near the line for fear of breaking their ricebowls. After all, the national media will have you believe only one man deserves the lion’s share of credit for raising this city out of the swamps. And as long as that man is still alive, very few with the real power to change things will dare to challenge that man’s vision.

  13. 32 Sad2beSingaporean 30 April 2012 at 01:34

    What a chilling documentary and I shudder at the thought that such a scenario could ever play out (even if it is a miniscule possibility) in our shores! However, a few parallels & similarities bet the Bahrain example and Sg comes into mind straight away ; both are small nations and diverse in population make-up and races, the fate of both is determined by only a handful of ultra-powerful people ie. Bahrain = the royal family whereas Sg= some other “family” and of which exerts mega-powerful infleunce over the direction,politics and rule of life over the citizens of their respective countries to the extent of unquestionable and absolute authority!

  14. 33 Unbranded BreadnButter 30 April 2012 at 10:13

    goes back to the problem social mobility and how dangerous it can be if the elite gets entrenched; no that there is anything wrong with having an elite although the same couldn’t be said for an elitist mindset.

  15. 34 yawningbread 30 April 2012 at 11:51

    See also this example of censorship:

  16. 35 7homask 30 April 2012 at 12:52

    “Should it happen in Singapore however, our police’s inexperience in responding to demonstrations is likely to lead to panicky miscalculations.”

    On the weekend I was at a party in a licensed venue. About 10pm, two local police showed up, I guess in response to a noise complaint. Upon entering the premises, one female party-goer approached them to have a photo taken together. One cop actually put his hand on his gun as if in response to a threat!. Hilarious and scary all at once.

    (The police left with no problem once they were informed the license was until midnight.)

  17. 36 Tea-Party Member 30 April 2012 at 13:33

    The only time Singaporeans will take to the streets is when LKY dies. They will line the streets to bid farewell to the “Founding Father”, the MSM will definitely capture people crying their hearts out a.k.a North Korea’s Kim’s death. But most would secretly wish in their hearts that this would be a dawn of a new era for Singapore, a new hope. A kind of sad-happy moment

  18. 37 NC 30 April 2012 at 16:48

    Let’s be on point here and not use the post to extrapolate and make general sweeping statements on the government and/or state of governance in Singapore. I think the key issue is whether there will be a day when Singaporeans take to the streets to rally a cause similar to what the Malaysians have done.

    Sadly I think that’s wishful thinking as the Sg government is too smart to allow such a tipping point to be reached. While one can argue that historically there was precedence of governments losing control of the population in a variety of ways, nonetheless there are always significant context and cultural differences that one has to be aware of.

    I find it hard to convince myself that with :-

    a) 80% of the Singapore population owning a property (hence the majority of his/her savings) in Singapore,
    b) most of the population’s liquid savings in government related banks or institutions,
    c) a population conditioned for decades to be obedient and non-confrontational, and most importantly,
    d) the country being small and urban is easily controlled and excessively monitored to nip problems in the bud either through incentives or punishments (carrot and stick approach), or simple delaying tactics while making life slightly more tolerable for the masses,

    that day will ever be reached.

    That, readers, is the ingenuity of the elites in Singapore.

    • 38 octopi 30 April 2012 at 20:13

      Singaporeans also have a lot of power on our government.

      1. Singapore is very visible to the outside world. Singapore is a regional hub and a lot of outside interested parties. Financial hub, maritime hub, airline hub. US military base. If anything happens to Singapore that affects the outside world, the outside world will respond accordingly.

      2. PAP’s share of the vote in the GE was 60%, and they have 95% of the seats. If that share drops to 55%, they could lose their 2/3 majority. If that share drops to 50%, they will lose around half the seats in parliament. The GRC system was not meant to protect the PAP. It was meant to protect whoever has more than 50% of the votes. Over the last 10 years, the vote swing against the PAP has been 15%.

      3. The people control the Army and the Police.

      4. The government does not censor the internet, other than the comments on their own webpages.

      5. Even though everybody knows that the government keeps a close watch on the people, this relationship is symmetric. The people are keeping an equally close watch on the government. There are no secret locations on our tiny island. There is no way to conduct something like Operation Spectrum in 1987 without the whole world knowing about it. And I think that is the reason why they have never tried to do Operation Spectrum 2.

      For Singaporeans to complain that they don’t have political power is so 90s. The power has shifted against the government and towards the people, because of the internet. What we have to do now is to assume that we have the power, and then we have to think: what are we going to do with this power? How are we going to solve the problems? Everybody else in our neighbourhood is cheaper and better than us. How are we going to deal with that?

      • 39 yawningbread 1 May 2012 at 15:51

        I don’t know whether your views are too optimistic, or too naive.

      • 40 octopi 1 May 2012 at 16:04

        I don’t consider my point of view optimistic. My main point is that Singaporeans do have some power but they – out of their own free will – have done very little with it.

      • 41 dZus (@dzus77) 2 May 2012 at 16:24

        “Singaporeans also have a lot of power on our government.”

        Naive it is.

        If you delve deeper into what you said, for example: “The government does not censor the internet, other than the comments on their own webpages.”

        Rules can be made to impede voices on the internet without resorting to outright censorship. TOC is a good example, now gazetted as a political association, their fund raising methods are now severely limited. You can read more about it here:

        As much as I believe that the internet empowers and is a good forum for Singaporeans. I also believe it is limited if there is not one point/issue/event that rally everyone to a common cause.

        And that cause is to “have a lot of power on our government.”

      • 42 octopi 3 May 2012 at 02:35

        There is too much emphasis on “having a lot of power on our government”. It is not a “cause”. It is power for power’s sake – even when you consider that there is not much power involved.

        There are 2 dimensions to “people power”. One of them is not having the government get on your back every time you open your mouth. True, the government has a lot of means of curtailing free speech, but when you go through my 5 points – those means are limited.

        The other dimension is for me even more important. That is to have an alternative vision for Singapore. I have to be fair and say that some progress on this front has been made. But is it not enough. It certainly is not the extent of what could have been achieved with the means at our disposal. You still hear stories of opposition parties bitching against each other. Like you said, “there is not one point / issue / cause that rally everyone to a common cause”. Is this the fault of the government or is this the result of prolonged incompetence? The question is whether people perceive the opposition to be of the same quality as PAP. Things are changing, but the answer is still no.

        The TOC is gazetted. So what? Have you seen them lately? It seems that the quantity and the quality of the articles has actually gone up since they got gazetted. I am rubbing my eyes. Am I going mad? Well I’m not going mad. I say that if you think the government will succeed in this hare- brained scheme to regulate the internet you’re the one who’s going mad.

        The impression I have of Singaporeans who are “exercising” this newfound freedom of expression is they are adolescents. I’d feel very shiok laughing in a cabinet minister’s face on his facebook page too. But a lot of talk about “somebody handle this please”. Ask them to solve a real problem, and some might say, “it’s not my business”. Remember 10 years ago when they first talked about 5.5 million people? Where were the raised protests?

        Think – think about what you really want. You want fewer foreigners in Singapore. You want higher pay. How are you going to improve productivity first? This is not a lame excuse. This is a real issue.

        Don’t worry about what the government cracking down on you. Do what you’re supposed to do first. History has shown that the opposition will always get more power than they are prepared to handle, like in 1991 when they won 4 seats and promptly gave back 2. In 2016 you could have 20 opposition members in parliament. What are they going to do? START PREPARING NOW!!!

    • 43 Hazeymoxy 1 May 2012 at 12:12

      Yes. Expanding on your points, NC, I’d say the govt here have been smart enough in keeping the youth relatively contented. They’re not disillusioned nor are they disenfranchised. The small percentage that are, join gangs and fight, but look how quickly that was squashed.

      So the young may grumble but they’ll find a decent enough job, get reeled into the hamster wheel and by the time they realise they’re the sandwiched class or the lower income group that can’t climb up, they’d have too much to lose, even if it isn’t much, to risk it all.

      Added to that of course is parents who continue to provide for their kids or mollycoddle them way after the children are old enough to do things on their own.

      It’ll probably take a few more generations, if ever.

  19. 44 anon 30 April 2012 at 19:41

    It would be most unwise for locals to victimize the FW in a street situation. They are not the targets. In a many ways there are victims of the open floodgate policy – many incur huge loan burden to come here to work for a living.

    They should be left alone and even protected for if they are targeted, they could fight back for self-preservation. I foresee the West Asians as less of a problem compared to the East Asians with a motherland that is on target to stamp its footprint as big brother of the region.

  20. 45 octopi 30 April 2012 at 20:38

    “The government has run out of ideas” is a phrase with a lot of different meanings. One of them is that the problems that Singapore face are not easily solved. A second is that all you have to do is to overthrow the government and those problems will magically be solved. Obviously I lean towards the first interpretation.

    Regarding the problem of extractive elites, it is true that Singapore has an extractive elite. This is a problem that you currently see all over the world, in China, the US. It is the result of our adherence to economic policies in force elsewhere in the world. Solving that problem is relatively easy. It’s just a matter of overcoming political barriers and implementing redistributive economic policies.

    The other big big issue is that Singapore ITSELF is an extractive elite. That is why we are so much richer than all our neighbours. That is the real meaning why we want to be this hub that hub. Hub really means “extractive elite”. We won’t stay that way for long unless we figure out how we’re going to add so much value to the region economically that we stay ahead of the race. Everybody wants to go into finance, because that is THE extractive elite sector.

    But how can Singapore transition to adding value to the world instead of being a “hub” and watching all the money roll in? Just what is it that we can give to the world, so that the world will keep on wanting to make us rich? That is the main question, and it is in response to the main question that the government seems to have “run out of ideas”.

    A lot of issues that are being talked about now over the internet are the ones with relatively easy solutions. Build more hospitals. Build more MRT. Slowdown the import of foreign talent. Regarding the second problem – and I think that this is by far the more serious problem – very little is talked about, outside of government planning offices.

  21. 46 Tan Ah Kow 1 May 2012 at 05:45

    When you noted that Singaporean won’t take it to the street anytime soon, I would probably agree with you. However, I need to qualify my concurrence with your assessment to Singaporean not taking to the street possibly in the way our Malaysian cousin does or in the same motivation. Chances are what would motivate Singaporean to hit the street would most probably than politics.

    There is indeed a possibility Singaporean could take to the street sooner than one would predict. The driver would be economics just as the Lehman Brothers mini bond affair that bought mass turnout.

    I would not put it past the possibility of an economic shock event hitting Singapore much larger than say the mini bond affair occurring. For example, banking failure caused by a collapsed in confident with our sovereign wealth fund causing panic leading to a bank run(1).

    If and when that were to occur the kind of people taking to the street will be of a character that will not be the same as what occur up north. Such an event will be spontaneous in nature. For example, cause by people queuing up to withdraw money from a bank and scuffle that lead to panic. Now in that situation, I suspect our authorities will have a hard time to deal. Since it is spontaneous and our authorities who seemingly lacking in ability to act out of the SOP box will in my mind exasperate the situation. Unlike political street gathering where leaders can be identified and contained, a spontaneous outpouring will be much harder to deal with.

    Note (1): Some would argue that the reserves of the country is so big that it would not happen but watching what happened in Dubai, and the power of the finacial market I wouldn’t be too sanguine about Singapore’s chance.

    • 47 yawningbread 1 May 2012 at 15:49

      I have exactly the same premonition as you: that it will be economic failure that brings people out onto the streets, that it may be largely leaderless, and very hard for the government to deal with. If spontaneous, it will panic the PAP government even more, and we are likely to see an over-reaction.

      • 48 NC 1 May 2012 at 23:23

        I will have to disagree with you on the point that there exists a less-than-remote probability of an economic failure – impactful and broad-based enough – to bring large number of people on the streets. The Lehman bond saga can hardly be characterized as one such event.

        While one should never say never, I again point to my earlier comment on how the Singapore government could and has been managing the masses. This system is cleverly designed, socially engineered to force citizens generations after generations, to be plugged in so deep that perhaps the citizens themselves have too much to lose if the system is not perpetuated.

        I think it is also apt to point out that all major credit rating agencies currently rate Singapore as a AAA sovereign, not because of its low indebtness (in fact it is rather high in absolute terms) but because most of these SGD debts are held domestically by local institutions (CPF being a major one). As such, should there be a debt-repayment problem, the government can simply direct the central bank (remember, there is no such thing as an independent central bank in this world anymore) to slowly inflate these debts away. With inflation at 5.5% now, Singaporeans would barely notice anything!

        One who may not be too familiar with financial instruments might say “what’s the big deal, Lehman mini bonds were A-rated too!”. Remember though, sovereign debts are by nature different from structured products in a sense that it is a direct claim on the sovereign and not a financially-engineered derivatives that is only structured to have a synthetic exposure on the underlying (i.e. you don’t have a claim as the creditor if the borrower goes busts). So it is rather impossible for a country with its debt largely domestically-owned to suffer a catastrophic downgrade. Japan is one such prime example.

        One could perhaps argue that there might be a possibility for citizens to take to the streets if they feel a sense of injustice, should there be evidence that the reserves accumulated through the decades, was mis-managed. I would discount this possibility as any losses disclosed would have been carefully managed to obscure and perplex the masses (is this a loss, or not? paper loss only right?) If the truth leaks out it could be years later. And let’s face it, how many people actually know how much reserves Singapore has?

  22. 49 zoe 1 May 2012 at 16:36
    “PM Lee said these are all real issues that the tripartite partners must address together.

    He said on its part the government will implement several strategies.

    The first is to keep Singapore open, embrace the world, welcome new ideas and explore new opportunities.

    Mr Lee said that’s how Singapore has become successful and has competed against bigger countries and held its own and more.

    The government has also improved the lives of the people and secured a bright future here for their children.”

    See? The same old tried dribble even at this late stage. The PAP under LHL has completely run out of ideas.

  23. 50 2 May 2012 at 00:34

    Well, if YB has to even give in to the slightest whisper of a defamation suit (mind you – that incident occurred when the PAP was arguebly at it’s weakest, and the blogosphere was at it’s most potent) , do you seriously think it’s even fit to contemplate a scenario in which Singaporeans will ever “take to the streets”. Hahaha…an oxymoron at best.

  24. 51 george 2 May 2012 at 18:52

    I don’t see why YB should have done it any differently given that Alex was only quoting a source (if I recall correctly) and he has absolutely no political agenda or ambition (like what an opposition political party would have) beyond being an erudite SPE commentator. So why shouldn’t he heed the notice?

    Besides it is absolutely pointless given the ‘rule by law’ situation here, to quote Dr Chee Soon Juan.

  25. 52 The Pariah 2 May 2012 at 20:14

    At the end of GE 2011 rallies of Workers’ Party when the crowd leaves the rally site, the public anger was palpable as ordinary Singaporeans chanted “Workers’ Party” whilst they waited for the WP candidates to exit from the rally site gates and even as they wound their way home, whether by foot or heading towards bus stops or MRT stations.

    It was pretty close to public demonstrations in quite orderly manner even though they were shouting – even the ladies in office attire, the housewifely aunties ….. for once, I was proud to witness my fellow Singaporeans standing up for themselves. Hope reigns eternal, they say ….

  26. 53 ape@kinjioleaf 2 May 2012 at 23:03

    IMHO, a seemingly peaceful street protest can turn into disaster sooner than any participant realise it. Like what some of you have pointed out, one of the probabilities is authority’s overreaction and suppress the protest through violent means. People do behave differently when they are part of a group.

    Notwithstanding the need for permits, until the day when peaceful protests are held successfully in confined space such as stadium with massive turnout, it is unlikely that any law enforcers will allow any protest, peaceful or otherwise, to take to the streets. Neither will there be many protesters take to the streets.

    The worst scenario is when a protest takes places pontaneously with no definite cause, i.e. any unhappy citizen just joined in, that’s when all hell breaks loose.

  27. 54 tk (@tk_tk7) 5 May 2012 at 03:02

    the gurkhas themselves have their own problems within their own camp – not forgetting a scandal not so long ago involving one of their own british commander after david niven retired .

    if singapore has a bersih-like protest, it will definitely burst the banks in singapore as more likely than a million or so new citizens and prs and foreign workers will be involved in either camps – the p[o- and the anti-pap camps.

    the exploited workers have nothing to lose and disgruntled singaporeans are far too many today.

    all one needs is a situation like in bangkok where one person fires the first shot and all hell will break lose .

    remember, as mentioned by someone here, the gurkhas are foreigners too and this will only add fuel to the fire if the gurkhas are called in.

    remember also that today’s 2 million singaporeans mostly will know how to use the m-16 as well as the gurkhas and if one expects some 3,000 gurkhas to ‘fight’ these singaporeans who will be recalled during an emergency wrongly read, the beginning of the end of singapore is close at hand as there are more singaporeans who have lost their hearts and minds to find singapore worth defending anymore.

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