Saturday, April 09, 2005

Citizens' Activism

Citizens’ Activism

The casino debate has created an unusual situation for a normally, politically sterile Singapore. It has sparked some individuals to start a web site FACTS ( to collect signatures to sign on petition against the Casino, to be submitted to our President. FACTS stands for “Family Against Casino Threats to Singapore”.

This is a rare demonstration of social activism initiated by a few individuals without any organization nor political network or connections. Some would view it as an “awakening” of social activism.

Although the message FACTS spreads is potentially political in nature, they have skillfully disassociated themselves from any political connections, especially those from the alternative platform. Thus, though FACTS has demonstrated a new form of citizens’ activism, it has also demonstrated the subtle “FEAR” that this society has in association with the alternative platform.

We used to have active participation from citizens in the form of civic societies like Think Centre, Socratic Circles, Round Table, Nature Society and the Tangent. However, some of these civic societies have died down or even de-registered themselves when many of their members became inactive or have “upgraded” themselves into partisan politics. The Socratic Circle and Round Table are those which have closed down due to such development. Think Centre also faces a serious “brain drain” when many of its past activists have stepped into partisan politics.

Are we having a “renaissance” in civic activism due to the casino debate? Workers’ Party did receive a lot of emails from individuals all over the world when it decides to organize a public forum to collect public feedback on the casino issue. The internet services have provided an easy and accessible way of communication as well as channel for social activism with regards to contribution of political views. It is changing the rules and structure of the game of social activism as well as political activism.

Political activism cannot sustain without the support of social activism. Internet services have encouraged more social participation in terms of contribution of social and political discourses. Blogger and internet forums have provided a very convenient platform for individuals to put up their views for all to read in the cyberspace.

However, for a political party like Workers’ Party to work towards alternative, we need more than opinion providers. We need people with more courage to take a step further to make contributions on various fronts. The apprehension of joining an opposition party is well understood. Individuals could help out as social or political activists without signing up the membership form at all. We do receive help from various individuals to do research which have proven to be very useful and effective for formulating our casino stand. But we need more people in research as well as in ground work. We basically need more people to walk the talk, to make his stand by contributing to the political process via a political platform.

If the casino debate only raise social awareness and social activism in a very narrow spectrum, then the day for the alternative to be formed would take a longer time to materialize.

Politics can never do without people behind it. The transformation of the Taiwan military rule into a democratic one needs the involvement of both politicians as well as many non-party activists. Academics have provided research and think tank services through the participation of various political meetings. Social and political activists helping out in elections and ground work. Eventually, the real Alternative was formed within a short span of ten years, which has proceeded to take over power later on.

Citizens’ activism must not shy away from the various political platforms. If everything we do, we always have this consideration of “de-politicizing” it, then we will never achieve an effective check and balance status on the ruling party.

The arrogance of the ruling party to disregard the massive citizens’ activism against the Casino but to decide on the issue basically on its own has demonstrated that such “de-politicized” activism has little effect in pressurizing the ruling party to take them seriously. It is only when Mr. Low Thia Khiang made the public statement on wanting to make the casino issue as an election issue that the ruling party has responded vigorously.

Social activists must realize that their route of “de-politicizing” may just not be effective enough. If it was effective, many members of the civic societies would not have gone into partisan politics. We must learn from those defunct civic societies about the reality of one party rule in Singapore.

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