Saturday, December 8, 2007

It won't be long before Singaporeans take to the streets in protest.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

I just read in Singapore's state owned and controlled press, the Straits Times that about 60 persons including 12 lawyers have peacefully protested in Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital for UN Human Rights Day demanding that the permit requirement for peaceful protests be abolished. Just as Singapore, Malaysian law requires government permission even for public peaceful protests as long as the number of protesters exceed 5. The Malaysians are demanding, and rightly so; that this law is a direct violation of the Constitution of Malaysia which guarantees freedom of peaceful assembly.

As the Constitution is supreme requiring any law which is in contradiction to be struck, the Malaysians are clearly within their rights when they demand the abolition of it.

We have seen in Malaysia recently, not one but a number of such protests in rapid succession. About a month ago, Mr. Anwar Ibrahim organized a huge protest numbering several thousands. About 2 weeks ago, we had seen another protest by the Indians against discrimination. And now this protest. All these protests were carried out without the required permits. Yet we have seen the Malaysian government to be powerless to do anything about it. They can charge a few here and there but in the end, the masses become emboldened. When that happens, the government cannot charge everyone, and this unjust permit laws dies a natural death.

As it has done now.

The question is whether these protests are in the interests of Malaysians. To this question, I can state without hesitation that it is an overwhelming "Yes".

The effect of these protests is to make the Malaysian politicians realize that is is no longer going to be a walk in the park for them. For the fist time, they begin to realize that they are being watched, their actions are being observed, and they cannot just do anything they want anymore. For the first time, they have been forced to see that their actions have consequences. They begin to realize that they are after all accountable to their people. And it is this realization that makes government reflect the wishes of the people. And with these events in Malaysia, I congratulate not only the people of Malaysia for their courage, but I also salute the government of Malaysia for acting with restraint and I am sure they will heed the call for more openness and accountability. On the whole, I must say that I am gratified and happy with the recent events in Malaysia.

What about Singapore? Singapore has these very same undemocratic repressive laws as Malaysia. The question is whether are Singaporeans going to take to the streets en masse like the Malaysians to demand what is rightfully theirs, their freedom. And I can assure you that they will. I have no doubt about it.

Singapore and Malaysia are connected in many ways. The culture, the ethnicity, their history is almost entirely the same. In fact it is one country artificially divided into two. If something can happen in Malaysia, it will definitely happen in Singapore. No doubt of that.

It is just plain psychology. The idea that if someone else can do it; so can I. Let me give you a few examples. Until 1953 May, nobody had ever scaled Mount Everest, except for the New Zealander Edmund Hilary. But just after he did it, that very same year others climbed it it and today so many have climbed it that people treat it as if it was a stroll in the park!

In May 6, 1954, Dr. Roger Bannister was the first man to run the mile under 4 minutes. Before then no one else could accomplish it. But just after he did it, just 46 days later in Turku Finland, the Australian John Landy broke Bannister's record. And record after record have been broken till today when the mile is run as if it is flat out sprint.

I am not suggesting of course that the activity of peaceful protests is like climbing Everest or running the mile under 4 minutes; but what I am saying is the psychological courage that goes on in people's minds which makes them do difficult things when they know that someone else has done it first.

I think Singapore lawyers should take the example of the Malaysians to demand an end to the protest permit laws. Dr. Chee should now strike while the iron is hot and organise peaceful protests, starting with 1) a reduction on ministerial salaries 2) return of CPF funds 3) minimum wage for workers 4) stop the inflow of unlimited immigrants which suppresses wages.

The list of legitimate grievances are many.

So Dr. Chee. What are you waiting for? The people are depending on you. You have done an excellent job so far. We are all proud of you. Let us move ahead now.

The result of such protests can only make Singapore a better place for Singaporeans. It will have the effect of forcing these high and mighty politicians of Singapore to come down to earth for once from the dizzy heights they now are. They will realize for the first time that they are the representatives of the people and therefore they have to listen to them. That they are not invincible after all.

As is the case, already happening with Malaysia.

Gopalan Nair
39737 Paseo Padre Parkway, Suite A1
Fremont, CA 94538, USA
Tel: 510 657 6107
Fax: 510 657 6914


Mike Zeng said...

About S'pore lawyers.....I happen to know and rub shoulders with many of them, young and old.Many here will agree with me that 99%of them are more interested in making big bucks, drive a Merz or a BMW, live in landed property or a luxurious condo than fight the PAP Govt for democracy an freedom of this and that. They have become so money-faced, they have lost their conscience, compassion for the down-trodden and the poor.And LKY knows this for a fact and will continue to encourage and support their greed for manna.Sad but true.

Gopalan Nair said...

Hello Mike Zeng,

Although it is true that Singapore lawyers may seem reluctant to take on the government, because the conditions existing in Singapore, it is incorrect to say that they are any worse off as humans than others elsewhere.

I have practiced law in Singapore for more than 10 years and I know them as well as anyone else.

The lawyers in Singapore are very concerned about the high handedness of the Singapore government. But because of what has happened to others such as JB Jeyaretnam and Dr. Chee, they are afraid to take on the government head on.

As for wanting to make money, everyone does, including me. And I am sure, you as well.

So let us not put down Singapore lawyers entirely.

With the protests in Malaysia, Singaporeans too will begin peaceful protests. With them Singapore lawyers too will join. Just as doctors, engineers and diesal engine mechanics.

Things are going to better. You will see.

Gopalan Nair
Fremont, Northern California