Singapore's pension reform plans spark rare protestReuters - Thursday, September 6
SINGAPORE, Sept 6 - Singaporeans have started a rare protest against the government's pension reform plans with an online petition and a planned public protest action.
An online petition against the pensions reform had drawn nearly 600 online signatures as of Thursday, while on Saturday, activists will test Singapore's ban on demonstrations by staging a symbolic "black T-shirt" protest at a popular downtown mall.
Any public protest is rare in Singapore, where all outdoor demonstrations are banned and any public gathering of more than four people requires a permit.
The protest takes aim at plans to make it mandatory for all Singaporeans under the age of 50 to buy annuities and which would impose restrictions on how pension savings are invested.
"People are quite unhappy, partly about way the announcements about the pension reforms were made," political commentator Leong Sze Hian told Reuters.
Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong announced the pension reform in his National Day speech last month, saying there was no choice as "people are living longer".
To cope with a rapidly ageing population, the government is upping the retirement age from 62 years to 65 years by 2015, and up to 67 beyond that.
In recent weeks, government ministers have talked about several planned changes to the Central Provident Fund , a mandatory retirement savings scheme for all Singaporeans that pays a lump sum upon retirement and can be used to pay for flats.
"There is concern, but the public ought to wait for more specific details on the changes, to be out later this month," Member of Parliament Halimah Yaacob told Reuters.
Singaporeans have turned increasingly to cyberspace as an outlet for their dissatisfaction.
The latest petition -- on Petitiononline.com -- has drawn 580 signatures over two weeks. In the past two years, petitions against a pay-and-perks scandal at a national charity and against the introduction of casino gambling drew thousands of signatures.
Saturday's protest -- announced on political blogs and online forums -- is set to test Singapore's limits on freedom of assembly, as organisers merely suggest participants turn up at 4 p.m. at the Centrepoint mall, dressed "partly" in black.
Law student and online activist Choo Zheng Xi told Reuters he does not expect a strong turn-out, as other small-scale protest actions in the past months have drawn a massive police presence as well as plainsclothes policemen filming protesters.
This subtle protest was initiated by person with a nick "Thinkall" in Sammyboy forum a couple of weeks ago. There are number of respondents that heed to his call for a show of protest against the Compulsory Annuity planned by the PAP government by wearing black shirts to shop at downtown Centrepoint Shopping Centre. I am a bit skeptical about such activism at first basically because past experience has demonstrated that Singaporeans do not express their frustrations or disagreement against any government policies through such physical demonstration. However, if this subtle demonstration is "successful" (by any definitions, with a sizable turn out), it would mean that social-political activism by Singaporeans would have taken a bold step forward, from the cloak of anonymity provided by the internet virtual sphere to the physical reality sphere.
Naturally, the PAP government would be dead worry by such moves by members of the public who have no political affiliations to any organizations or political parties. They could possibly "fix opposition" but it would be seen as exceptionally harsh for them to "fix" citizens whom, on their own accord, decided to show their frustrations and disagreement with their policies. The state police might have drawn out a standard protocol to deal with organized political dissidents who take to the streets but it would be totally a different ball game if the initiative is taken up by citizens themselves.
Someone asks me whether I would be there or not. Beside the consideration of availability of time and space, I think there are more careful considerations to be made here. It would not be wise to complicate the event with partisan involvement. It would give the PAP government excuse to come down harsh on these citizens who decide to take up social-political activism to demonstrate their distaste of the policies, by linking them to opposition parties and thus, "fixing opposition" would naturally include "fixing" those who get involves with opposition.
Even at this instance, after the Reuters has reported on this "protest", one of the forummer has backed out. This latest development has just reinforced my initial skepticism. It is a well known fact that the Fear factor is well alive in Singapore. And I think it is a clear indication of the political culture of Singapore. There will be many people who sit behind their keyboards and make all sorts of "bold statements" and even question why the opposition parties in Singapore are not "doing enough". It is only when one is faced the crunch and the pressure of active participation in any social-political movement, he or she will realize that it is not that easy for us, as a people, to walk out of our political culture of FEAR.
I shall end this article with the following quote I have read recently:
Fear Can Ruin Our Life
Fear fills a person with perpetual mental
tension and anguish.
Fear progressively erodes life and debases the mind.
Fear is a potent pessimistic force which
darkens the future.
If one harbours any kind of fear,
his way of thinking will be affected.
Fear is capable of eroding one's personality
and making him landlord to a ghost.
Goh Meng Seng