Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Singapore Parliament is a white elephant

Ladies and Gentlemen,

If you ever thought Singapore is a parliamentary democracy, it is not. It is a one party state, with Lee Kuan Yew's PAP in power since 1959, no less than 50 years; and with him wielding absolute power and authority. It is a dictatorship.

It is true, Singapore has a Parliament with elections held every five years, but in truth these have no real effect at all. All civil institutions including the judiciary, the civil service, the police and the media take their orders directly from Lee Kuan Yew. To Lee, Parliament is merely a nuisance.

The Singapore opposition should not raise their hopes if they win additional Parliamentary seats other than the miserable 2 they presently have. Even with 10, 20 or even 30 seats, and regardless of how many Parliamentary speeches they make; as long as Lee has a Parliamentary majority of one, he will still call the shots, because he alone has civil society under his thumb.

And even, in the unlikely chance that the opposition wins a parliamentary majority, it is more than likely that Lee will still continue to rule, because, as was said, the institutions that matter, the judiciary, the civil service, and everything else take their orders from this man.

If you realize the gravity of the situation, you may feel, and rightly so, that Singapore is a hopeless case. That you are destined by Providence to live as Lee's slaves and there is nothing you can do about it. But this is not so, and there is hope; abundant hope.

The way to bring about change in today’s Singapore is not by winning seats in Parliament, even though it is good; it is by demanding justice from each institution of government, and holding them to account for each transgression of your rights.

This is what has to be done. If a Malay or Indian is not permitted to reside at the place of his choice by the HDB because of illegal racial quotas violative of the Constitution, the aggrieved citizen should refuse to accept it, and protest against it; taking pictures and videos of his protest and putting them up in blogs throughout the island, publicly exposing the injustice.

The idea is to embarrass the government where they clearly are violative of your rights. The constitution provides for equality and prohibits racial discrimination. And in such a case, this government would find it impossible to justify the discrimination.

If a citizen is illegally deprived of his CPF retirement savings, the aggrieved citizen should refuse to take no for an answer, protest at the very spot, take pictures and videos of it and post it all over the Internet.

If a Singaporean is deprived of his job because he was displaced by a foreigner willing to accept lower pay, he should stand outside Ministry of Manpower or other ministry and protest his loss of a job, take pictures of it and post it on the Internet.

If the Tak Boleh Tahan protestors of March 15, 2008 have still not been returned their cell phones which the police had illegally confiscated, they should protest outside Cantonment Police Station and not leave until their cell phones are returned, photograph and film the entire protest and put it up on blogs all over the island.

If you see an employer discriminating against older workers, protest at the spot, take pictures of it and post it all over the island.

The purpose of this exercise is to shame these public institutions into respecting the law and treating everyone fairly and impartially. At present, the HDB feel they can discriminate against Malays and Indians because Lee has ordered them to do it; their illegal actions become lawful because of Lee's authority over them. The same with the CPF violating the law, the Ministry of Manpower and every other public institution.

It is quite clear that Lee's main tool to remain in absolute dictatorial control is his absolute power over the judges and the newspapers. If Singaporeans protest outside the state controlled newspaper offices, they will be shamed by their misdeeds being exposed through blogs and videos.

It appears to me, the energy of those opposing this one man dictatorship should be directed to the institutions of civil society such as the judiciary to force them to stop oppressing the citizens. In order to do this, technology has turned out to be a Godsend. The power of the Internet is something authoritarian governments cannot overcome, and citizens should use it to the fullest to force their governments to see reason.

The Internet has in fact made a great difference for the better even in authoritarian Middle Eastern countries. I have heard in Egypt, even a country under the iron grip of Mubarak, had to concede a little, when a blogger took a video of the police arresting some people and abusing them with their batons, and put it up on his website. Immediately thereafter, his website began to get several thousand hits each day, with almost the entire country up in arms about the incident, forcing the Mubarak government to take action against those officers. Were it not for the blog, nothing would have happened to the policemen.

Riad al-Turk, a Syrian opposition leader suffered many years of imprisonment for his opposition to the government. But with the Internet exposing the injustice publicly, the Syrian government eventually had no choice but to release him.

It is for these reasons that the Lee Kuan Yew government is terrified of public protests. In Singapore, a small built up, completely wired island, which depends on international trade and business; any adverse publicity involving the denial of human rights can be very damaging. And realizing this, the opposition should take full advantage of this and push this government to its limit of either accepting the truth or resisting it at their peril.

They are now clearly in the defensive as their actions show. You will recall, some years ago at the CPF protests in front its offices in Robinson Road, to disperse a mere 4 unarmed peaceful protestors holding nothing more than placards, the police officer John Baptist, a man totally undeserving of such a biblical name, deployed his Red Maria Police vans with about 50 armed police in full riot gear!

When such an over reaction, almost comical, on the part of the police was captured on camera and prominently displayed all over Singapore on the Internet, they realized that they had egg on their faces. Ever since then, even for the larger protest of 50 at Tak Boleh Tahan, the police began to use the soft touch instead; this time no riot police, no police uniforms and women plain clothes police were used to arrest the protestors!

This government is finding it increasing difficult to deny the legitimate demands of its citizens when their actions are being glaringly exposed to public scrutiny through the Internet. This is something this government cannot overcome since it cannot stop the Internet. No matter what, the Internet is here it stay and Lee whether he like it or not has to live with it. And he is finding that increasingly uncomfortable.

Since Dr. Chee's party now has extensive experience in organizing protests, protestors could collaborate with him to hold it at the offending location, pre-arrange with video cameraman and photographers and immediately put up the images on the Internet. If the protests attract police retaliation, their injustice can be visually exposed. It is my belief that if this done on a sustained basis, this or any other oppressive government will have to listen. They have no choice.

Trying to change Singapore through winning more Parliamentary seats may eventually be possible. Change may happen if Lee is dead or if the opposition wins a majority. But if you want to make it happen a little faster, protest take pictures and keep embarrassing this government. That way, you leave them no choice.

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

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