Thursday, April 24, 2008

In Singapore, democracy has to take root from bottom up, not from top down.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

Those fighting for a more democratic society in Singapore must introduce it first to the ordinary man. Once that is done, the government will automatically fall into place. In Singapore, democracy has to take root from bottom up, not from top down. Making brilliant Winston Churchill speeches in Parliment is unlikely to bring real change. You first have to awaken an entire Singapore population that has been numbed into wholesale submission.

Having lived abroad for many years, and through my work as an immigration lawyer met people from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, the entire alphabet of countries, I will tell you an astonishing fact. The Singaporean stands out as a totally different species from any other human being in the world.

For instance, no matter if you are an Afghan, a Hottentot or a Pygmy, one thing is certain. If a Prime Minister of any country pays himself $3.7 million a year and several million more a year in hidden perks, while the average person earns no more than $2,000.00 a month, such as the case in Singapore; there is not a single breathing human being anywhere in the world who would not have picked up his cudgel or sickle of whatever he had at hand, marched to the Prime Ministers office to demand an answer to this outrage and would have refused to leave until he got it.

Believe me, this is normal human behaviour for an Afghan, a Belgian, a Canadian, a Dane, an Eskimo, a Finn, a German, a whatever. But in Singapore, except for the Internet where there is a great deal of criticism, but mind you, with everyone engaged in it being anonymous through fear; there is not a single soul in the entire island with enough courage to even so much as raise a whimper!

Singaporeans just like other humans around the world are taxpayers too. But all other taxpayers, since they are taxpayers to repeat the obvious; would demand an explanation as to how their taxes are being spent. Are you wasting it, through objectionably high salaries for Ministers, for scholarships for foreigners while denying it to Singapore children, training foreigners for jobs while Singaporeans are neglected? These are questions that any other human being taxpayer will ask; that is, any other human being except a Singaporean!

For one or more reasons, the Singaporean over the years has become entirely subdued, submissive and obedient. Such people are not conducive and do not comport with a democratic society, because for democracy to thrive, you first have to have an emboldened people. A people who refuse to take no for an answer when the inequity is obvious, such as, to take one example, million dollar ministerial salaries.

Take prisoner Mas Salamat Kastari who recently escaped from his illegal detention at Whitley Detention Center; illegal by reason of the absence of any criminal charges filed against him for 2 long years, where criminal jurisprudence requires the release of a suspect after just 48 hours in the absence of a charge.

Despite the fact that we have been publicly told of nothing less than gross negligence, even criminal recklessness of the facility's guards in enabling the escape through an open window panel, no government official has yet been willing to take responsibility. The minister responsible has publicly stated that he does not care what people think of him and will not resign!

Now any other human being, even if he happens to be a Hottentot who inhabits the remotest parts of the German South West African bush, would have by now run amok demanding justice! But not so in quiet and obedient Singapore. From last I heard, there is not even a single miserable Singaporean except for the handful of brave protesters, raising a single complaint.

In a society like Singapore where the people have been numbed into a sense of helplessness and tolerance, no amount of democratic institutions will actually change anything. As the saying goes, you can take a horse to water, you cannot make him drink. If a Singaporean is determined not to have freedom, no amount of persuasion can make him accept it.

Therefore as I said in my last post, The Singapore Parliament is a white elephant; getting more opposition members to enter Parliament is unlikely to bring about any real change. Somehow the opposition has to work on trying to embolden and empower the Singaporean. Once that is done, the people, through their demands will resurrect the Phoenix of democracy.

The first thing to do is to remove the fear which shrouds each Singaporean keeping him in his straitjacket; by telling him that his fear is unnecessary; that his fear is merely an illusion designed to keep him satisfied; that the government is nothing more than a toothless tiger if you think of it; that they really cannot sack and dismiss everyone from their jobs or imprison everyone and beat everyone. And once the ordinary man realises this, the taxi driver realises this, the Chinese sausage maker realises this, the Malay belachan maker realizes this, the Indian Mama Prataman (not the President) realises this, then you have it made.

If you can manage that, you will find this government suddenly becoming more representative, more concerned and more humble. It will all automatically come about. All you have is to change the mindset of the Ah Kow, the Ahmat or the Ravi; you would have changed society and a democracy will come about overnight.

In order to achieve this, you have to embolden each and every Singaporean not to accept injustice and stand his ground, like I said in my last post. The opposition needs to have a hot line and a member on standby to take the complaints of the citizens, keeping ready for deployment a group of willing protesters with ready cameras and placards, ready to be deployed at any offending location where the injustice has occurred to stage their protest. It may be the HDB office which has denied justice to a tenant, a CPF member who was not paid, a taxi driver protesting high taxi rents or gasoline and so on. In other words, protesting has to become a pivotal exercise in the opposition's work for democratic change.

In the present difficult circumstances that Singaporeans face, with high food costs, low salaries, fewer jobs, heavy unemployment, the ground is ripe to be worked for this purpose. There are growing numbers that have been pushed to the limit of their suffering who may be ready to be empowered. I think the opposition should take advantage of the situation and start moving now.

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

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