Thursday, July 06, 2006

Mr Brown Saga

Yet, I have to defer my postings on GE 2006 as something more interesting pop up recently.... Mr. Brown has been told off by the PAP government and suspended from newspaper Today column.

This is what I wrote in Mr. Brown blog comment

Dear All,

I am really touched by the support that many of you have shown here for Mr. Brown. However, I feel very sad that there are so many Singaporeans here who are still having some fantasies about PAP government. Some even believe in PAP's constant calling for "Open Society" when we know very well in reality, this "Open Society" has deliberately "excluded" people (regardless partisan or not) who voiced against PAP.

How could people ever truly believe in the PAP's concept of "Open Society" when the GE has shown us that PAP is constantly thinking of ways to "fix" its opponents? And PAP has consistently labeled its opponents as "donkeys", "troublemakers", "people with doubtful characters" etc . Hey, what we merely did were to contest against PAP's monopoly of power!?

To some extend, Today's editors have somehow kept the fantasies of PAP's "Open Society" alive by inviting Mr. Brown as its columnist. This gives people just a little hope that PAP is serious in building an "Open Society" when they see the "bold moves" by local newspaper. I think unwittingly, PAP has thrown a big stone at its own toe. It has totally destroyed the only iconic resemblance of "Open Society", that have kept the illusion alive all this while.

Incidentally, I do not blame those editors or reporters at Today. Please don't blame them as I know most of them, who are young and idealistic, have been pushing the boundaries as far as they could. I think some of them might just quit from their jobs after this incident as their own illusion of hope for a change towards "Open Society" has been totally dispelled.

The only consolation we have here is the rapid awakening process of Singaporeans at large about the reality of PAP rule. But I guess, this is just too little, too late.

Please people! We should not have any more fantasies about PAP rule, least "Open Society" under its charge. It has happened to Catherine Lim, it now happens to Mr. Brown. Why? It is something for us to ponder about. It is basically because elections after elections, Singaporeans have voted PAP and given it total grip on power. Singaporeans have given PAP the mandate to rule as it wishes and ineviatble, those who are talking against it, would be considered as talking against those people who voted them in.

I have made "politically incorrect" comments to some of the reporters who called me when James Gomez was being detained at the Airport. I said, "Is this country worth fighting for?" Yes, I may be speaking at a time of great emotions, but this is a question that constantly rings in my mind. Are Singaporeans worth fighting for? Worth sacrificing for? Worth risking our jobs, families and life for?

Put it simply, what Mr. Brown received was just a slight slap on his wrist but this created a big hoo-haa. However, when some AP politicians got a blow by the sledgehammer, there is apparently silence among the masses, overwhelmed with fear. Yes, Singaporeans keep looking for excuses or anything that could prolong whatever little fantasies they have in PAP. They are quite forgiving towards PAP but the same could be said about AP politicians. Somehow, they believe or chose to believe in what the local media said about AP politicians.

I was told by many, Singaporeans have very short memories and we should not have any fantasies about Singaporeans being awaken and support for a more balanced political system five years later. I wish to prove them wrong but when I was standing right in front of the ballot boxes in the counting centre, looking at the votes given to PAP team, I knew, I have too many illusions and fantasies on Singaporeans for a start.

Voters have chosen to believe in the smear campaign and the carrots thrown at them instead of thinking of the bigger picture of political development.
I no longer have any illusions or fantasies on Singapore voters and I hope you should not have any on PAP.

Goh Meng Seng

Sunday, July 02, 2006

HK 7.1 Parade & Protest March

HK 7.1 Parade & Protest March

I will take an exceptional break from posting my views on GE 2006 for a while to report on Hong Kong’s 7.1 unique "celebration".

I have just returned from the annual 7.1 (1st July) Procession (in Hong Kong). This is the second time that I attended the annual gathering at Victoria Park at Causeway Bay but the first time I completed the whole procession. It is quite an experience.

First of all, here are some background information:

Hong Kong was “returned” to China on 1st July 1997 on the pretext of “One Country Two System” and has become a Special Administrative Region (SAR) thereafter The Hong Kong SAR government celebrates the anniversary every year with a flag-raising ceremony and a cocktail reception for senior officials, prominent business leaders and other select guests. Usually the Mainland Central Government would also send a high-ranking official to visit Hong Kong before or on the handover anniversary day. This year some pro-Mainland organisations even organised a parade to celebrate the special day.

For the first time, the People’s Liberation Army stationed in Hong Kong participated in this celebration parade, showing off their strength and martial art. The parade this year looks like our Chingay procession with lion dance and wayang performers. It also looks like US’ July 4 Independence Parade but with a “Chinese” flavour. The organisers claim to have 50,000 participants in this year’s parade but I really doubt so. Participants were mobilized and ferried to the venue. Sumptuous lunch was even provided. The parade started in the morning and ended by 1 pm.

In strong contrast with the “Pro-Mainland” parade, the Democratic Movement Alliance organised its annual protest and procession at 3 p.m.. Due to the lack of mobilisation mechanism and resources, such event depends very much on Hong Kongers’ own initiative and will to participate. The theme for this year’s march is “Universal Suffrage for Chief Executive”. This year is special in the sense that ex-Chief Secretary for the Hong Kong SAR government who headed the then more than 180,000 civil service, Anson Chan, announced her intention to participate in the protest march in advance. She is also seen as a potential candidate for the Chief Executive. Hong Kong will hold the election of its next Chief Executive in 2007.

The present political system only allows 800 delegates to choose the Hong Kong Chief Executive every 5 years. Most of these delegates are widely viewed as Pro-Mainland individuals. According to the Hong Kong Basic Law installed by both the British and Chinese governments back in 1997, the Chief Executive will have to be elected by ALL Hong Kongers (i.e. Universal Suffrage) 10 years after the return of rule to China. However, the Communist Party of China has interpreted the Basic Law that it does not state the exact year which Universal Suffrage should be implemented as it only states “10 years after return of rule”. Thus, the Chinese authority ruled that it is up to the Chinese
Government to decide on the date for Universal Suffrage.

The estimates of the size of participants for this march range from 28,000 (by police) to 58,000 (by organisers). My own estimate: 35,000 to 45,000.

Nevertheless for this year, we see an increase in participation, most probably due to the Anson Chan effect. However, it is a far cry from the historical record of half a million people back in 2003 when SARS broke out and the Hong Kong economy was hardest hit after its return to China.

Ok, that’s all for background information.

At Victoria Park, I saw Anson Chan being surrounded by reporters and cameras. A group provided marshalling for her during the procession. Along the way, quite a number of bystanders cheered her on.

I noticed many Hong Kongers brought their children along. Some of them even had babies in strollers going for the march! As any other mass protests in Hong Kong, participants were quite representative of the population. Infants, young children below 10, teenagers, young adults, middle-aged couples, people on wheel chairs/crutches to elderly with walking sticks were all there. The weather was quite hot and humid with temperature at 32 degree Celsius.

Organisers gave out printed slogans and stickers which, I believe, were sponsored by Apply Daily newspaper. However, Hong Kongers demonstrated their creativity with lots of home made placards, banners and slogans. There was even a group of netizens dragging a big banner and beating drums!

The organiser, Democratic Movement Alliance, consists of many different groups (NGOs) and political parties. All the different groups have set up stalls along the route to solicit for donations. The march was very peaceful in nature and I did not see any police in riot gear anywhere.

One little interesting encounter occurred along the march. I saw a guy wearing a polo t-shirt with a Singapore Police Force logo on it! I walked up to him and asked him politely (in English) whether he is from Singapore. He tried to answer me in an accented Cantonese “No”, with a stern look. Then I shifted my eyes on the logo on his chest and said, “that’s from Singapore!” He mumbled something and walked off quickly! Well I was thinking to myself, maybe our Singapore Police Force has sent someone to observe the march so as to learn about crowd control for the coming September IMF meeting! If so, then they must have sent a person not that tactically smart! ;)

Anyway, what impressed me was that many young people were involved in organising this march. Many of them also participated in the march as individuals as well. Most of them in their twenties, some of them from the universities. Such activism among the youngsters is indeed a very healthy development for Hong Kong’s political development. This phenomenon stands in great contrast to the apathy generally found in Singapore youngsters. At the Final Destination, the Central Government Offices, four young people were the MCs in charge of the make shift stage.

I believe that the youngsters in any society should be the avant-garde of social-political activism and change. Young people should have idealism, courage and altruism in them to participate actively in social or political movement.
I have realized long time ago that our whole social environment, including the education system, does not encourage such spiritual altruism. We have cultivated our young people with a social mindset based on materialism.
Young people are “discouraged” from expressing themselves politically.

There are a few classic examples. When some secondary school girls started selling the cute elephant T-shirts outside Buangkok MRT station, they were told to stop. When some young bloggers expressed their frank “politically incorrect” views on the net, they were “warned” by the school’s teachers.

PAP may openly say that such political expression is perfectly ok, but they do not realize that they have created an atmosphere of anxiety and even fear among the civil service (i.e. police, teachers etc) by the way they try to “fix” opposition politicians. The inevitable long-term effect is that people, especially the young ones, will just “play safe” and step out from the political arena. Thus apathy will arise.

In Hong Kong, young children are encouraged to express their political stand or views openly without fear. They are taught from young that rallies and protest march is their civil rights but as a mature Chinese society, they do it peacefully without any violence. They are taught in schools, among other things, about what constitutes democracy, corrupt practice, local and foreign political systems etc as part of their civic education. Such civic education is essential for a progressive political democratic development. I do not know what sort of political education we have in our schools now, other than the glorification of PAP’s past achievement, but during my time we were not taught about what Democracy is all about. This is ironic because students are made to recite the National pledge on Democratic Society but nothing was taught about that. We were not taught about our political setup, electoral system and how our votes can be kept secret even with serial numbers on them.

In fact, I would say that the PAP government has deliberately “de-politicize” the citizens throughout the decades. PAP has learnt from the early days that social-political activism is mostly carried out by students. Thus it is only logical to “de-politicize” the curriculum of the schools. Thus the direct result is general apathy in our young people.

After experiencing Hong Kong’s 7.1 protest march, I worry for Singapore’s political future. Politicians need to be nurtured from young, not through some “expressway” politics of GRCs. Political talents are more than being “smart” or “elite”. The Hong Kong Chief Executive has put it very well in his 7.1 message: Political leaders should not view themselves as elitists. They should lower themselves to the level of ordinary folks and cultivate the necessary empathy so as to serve the people better.

Such Empathy could only be cultivated through social-political activism at a young age. And WE DO NOT HAVE IT IN SINGAPORE as compared to Hong Kong where Universal Suffrage has not even been enjoyed!

Goh Meng Seng