If you’ve been reading the government newspapers and watching government shows on TV (Which I assume you have), then you would have probably gotten the impression that Protests are bad and will turn violent, and that is why the government have imposed a law restricting one or more people gathering together for an event, under the Public Order Act. This is ironic as our constitution promises us Freedom of Assembly, as well as Freedom of Speech. The government proves this by citing examples, violent protests back in the 1950s. But the truth is, these protests started off us peaceful, but later on turned violent, because of police intervention. The police wanted to give a reason to arrest them, so they provoked them, thus causing violence. This was the fault of the police, not the peaceful protesters.
But what are protests for? Are they just for show, to attract attention just for the sake of it?
Let me start from the beginning. Firstly, if you have experienced injustice done to you by, let’s say, your employer., then the first thing you would obviously do is to lodge a complaint, or feedback to the head of your organisation. Now, if that doesn’t work, then you complain to the trade unions. And if that doesn’t work, you complain to the Government. But what if all these still does not work? This is where protests, or civil disobedience comes in. You protest on the streets to get the attention of other people, so that they are aware of the unfortunate situation you are in. They, in turn will pressure the organisation who has done injustice to you and would most probably negotiate with you, else their reputation is lost.
Notice that I’m talking in the context of a Democratic society. But here in Singapore, you can’t do it the same way. If the government does injustice to you, you can’t complain to the trade union, the only trade union in Singapore is the NTUC which is affiliated with the PAP. And obviously, you can’t get them compromise with you; they are the ones who have done injustice to you! People must realise the importance of Freedom of Assembly and Speech, and not discard it away like an unnecessary add-on. Benjamin Franklin once said “Those who trade Freedom for Security do not deserve nor will they ever receive either.”
The SDP has applied for a permit to speak at Fajar Road over the wet market issue. Assistant Secretary-General John Tan put in an application for party leaders to address Bukit Panjang residents on Sunday, 25 Oct 09, from 9 am to 12 noon
As the title of event, Keep our wet markets, suggests the talk would be about the impending sale of wet markets to Sheng Siong Pte Ltd and the impact the sale would have on shopkeepers and consumers.
The venue is the open square outside the Fajar wet market which is ideal for the public forum as it has a covered stage. The police have yet to reply.
But the Government’s unconstitutional decree of not allowing such activity will mean that the application will probably be turned down.
This is where Singaporeans must see the relevance of human rights in their lives. The denial of the right of the freedom to assemble and speak freely in public means that livelihood issues such as the Sheng Siong takeover of the wet markets cannot be effectively addressed.
Residents no matter how displeased with the sale cannot adequately express themselves and bring political pressure to bear on the authorities to stop the transfer.
With no pressure, the MP for the constituency can remain quiescent to the transaction knowing that come elections, he will be shielded from criticisms by the state media and with the election rules being the way they are, win the contest again without having to break sweat
The PAP and big business will push through with the sale, and the people will just have to stomach the consequences.
This is the way that people in a one-party state live – they simply have no say in matters that affect them.
Compare this to a society with all the attendant freedoms like Hong Kong. In 2006 the city’s administration wanted to introduce the GST. Hong Kongers strongly objected and made known their displeasure in no uncertain terms.
They conducted public forums, organised peaceful public rallies and marches, and the opposition spoke up vociferously on their behalf. The result? "We have heard clearly a strong opposition to the GST from the public,” Financial Secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen said. The government backed down.
Singapore? Ministers are paid indecent salaries the amounts of which are kept secret, CPF savings are withheld through one scheme or other, HDB prices have become incomprehensibly expensive, billions of dollars are lost through the GIC and Temasek who incredibly refuse to reveal their accounts, and the F1 grand prix continues to be held right smack in the middle of the downtown area no matter how much losses we incur and how much inconvenience it creates.
We simply don’t have a say.
And why? It all boils down to the fact that our rights to the freedoms of speech and assembly guaranteed under our Constitution have been plundered and stolen.
Singaporeans must realise that without political rights, we have no economic rights to speak of. Politics and economics are two sides of the same coin. The sooner we realise this the happier our lives will be.
This is the reason why the Singapore Democrats continue to alert Singaporeans to the importance of human rights and civil liberties in our lives.
Make no mistake. The stallholders and vendors in the wet markets are vexed because their very livelihoods are at stake. But because they have no rights and the opposition has been shackled, they have no choice but to accept their fate.