Sunday, February 17, 2013

Listen, Listen, Listen ... to the Common People!

Update on the protest against the Singapore Population White Paper 2013.
Here's a second part of a write-up on the objections against the government's policy:


Photo credit: Julius Yang
This article is a continuation of Part 1 of the article which was published yesterday. In Part 1, I had discussed that we need to be clear that in our disagreement with the 6.9 population figure thrown up by the government that we need to be cognizant that the unhappiness that we face shouldn’t be directed at the foreigners and that if we reflect further, we would know that the inequalities that has been created by bad government policies was what had resulted in further segregation among the people, and thus the negative emotions which we had thus misplaced on the foreigners. It’s time to shift the focus back onto the government for their bad policies, and not misdirect it on foreigners, who have become the inadvertent scapegoat, on both sides.
In this article, I will delve deeper into the social and political landscape of Singapore to help us understand the dynamics and complexities that exist in our landscape and how it affects our psyche. I would finally like to remind Singaporeans that the current sea wave of change is part of a larger shift in the awakening among Singaporeans to the realities of Singapore, and how if we believe that change needs to happen, we must ride the wave of change and create the possibilities that we want to become reality. We must take back the rights that are ours, and create a Singapore that we believe in.
So, What Were Singaporeans Protesting About?
On Saturday, when more than 5,000 Singaporeans descended onto Hong Lim Park yesterday, what were they really protesting about? This, in fact, wasn’t just what the media was asking, but I believe, what many Singaporeans were thinking about. If you take a look on Facebook on some of the reasons why people had decided to go to the protest, there was a multitude of reasons – because they were unhappy with the government, because they didn’t think the government is listening or because they feel that the cost of living has become increasingly too high. There really wasn’t one common thread that ran through why Singaporeans had wanted to attend the ‘protest’ for. They might be attending this protest against the 6.9 million figure, but was it really this figure that had evoked their feelings for participation? And as I’ve discussed, it’s not.
But to the foreign media, they do not understand the complexities that are rooted in the psyche of Singaporeans. To the foreign media which had come down, they wanted to know – if you do not want 6.9 million people, then what are your solutions? What are your alternatives to growing an economy without 6.9 million people?
But to the people who didn’t adequately understand their feelings towards the 6.9 million, they were simply unhappy and they were gradually realising that it could perhaps be the government that they are unhappy about, and actually not the population, or the proportion of foreigners itself. And that’s why at the ‘protest’, the speakers spoke about how Singaporeans felt, and the feelings of how we no longer we that we are at home, where we feel that we do not have a stake in this country. We do not feel that we belong.
How Do You Understand The Unhappiness of Singaporeans?
To the foreign media, they might not understand how Singaporeans feel because – so, Singaporeans, you are telling me that for a country recently ranked 6th in terms of governance by the Economist, where you have the world’s highest per capita income and which is an envy of so many other countries, you are telling me that you are not happy? Seriously?
But, you see, not everything is measured in terms of money. Well, of course the foreign media would know this! Their own governments also pander to capitalistic interests. But their governments are not capitalists themselves – not to the extend that ours are. Their governments do not sideline the people so much so that the people are accorded as little social welfare as the government can afford, where the only so-called pension that the people have – the CPF – has also seen withdrawals decline since 2001 even as more people would need to withdraw from it.
On the surface, Singapore seems to have a perfect government where the government has fine-tuned a system that has worked so well for the people, and where the government continues to maintain a non-corrupt and secure environment. But when surveys by Gallup show that Singaporeans are the least happy people in the world and that we show the least positive emotions in the world, this is only the tip of the iceberg.
The Trappings of This PAP-Led Government
As much as government might have perfected the system, this perfection disappeared more than a decade ago. The golden years of policy-making by the PAP-led government has long pass and this current government has lost the art of balance in policy-making more than a decade ago. From 2001 onwards, their policy-making, or rather, policy-tweaking has become more firmly rooted in their profit-making motives, that it has resulted in an imbalance in the way they manage their policies, such that the policies are increasingly disadvantaging the people, and diverging away from the people’s needs.
And unfortunately, this government continues to believe that it knows what is right and what needs to be done for Singapore. This government continues to think that Singaporeans do not know what needs to be done and slights them as “noise” – this, even as the think tanks set up by them, such as the Institute of Policy Studies are also quoting articles which are contrary to what they have purported in the population white paper.
As I’ve mentioned before, the second fundamental problem with PAP is that they’ve also let power rule them. You can tell, by their behaviour and their resistance that this is a government which is increasingly scared that they will lose their power. Having very few ideas on how they can curb the participation of the opposition parties at the election and in parliament, they know that their control and time as government has become very precarious and because of that, they are starting to withdraw into their tortoise shell. PAP is now operating on a state of semi-shock where they are trying to continue to cruise on the firm institution built by Singapore’s founding leaders, but yet not knowing how to oil this institution anymore. They fear of losing their power and their denial of this happening and their resultant delusion, has caused them to unwittingly cripple themselves in their ability to govern.
What we now have in the PAP-led government is a very lethal combination of a government which has styled itself as a business and monopolized the competition in our economy and one which has allowed the almost-50 years of power to get into its head that at this time of mid-life crisis, it’s now suffering from pangs of anxiety and withdrawals, that has led it to become ineffective.
Making Ourselves Heard, Whether They Want To Or Not
Now, when Singaporeans were ‘protesting’ on Saturday, these were all that we were protesting about. But not all of us could articulate this. Not all of us know that this was what we want to articulate because some of us haven’t thought thoroughly about the issue at hand yet, or even if many of us have, we are still trying to come to terms with how this government might actually be using us to further their own means. We are also living in our own state of denial.
To the foreign media, as a reporter, you want clear outcomes. You want to come to a protest, know what the agenda clearly is, look out for a clear trend and await an outcome which you can write about. But today, when they came, they didn’t see that. They couldn’t see a clear message or a clear outcome. Most of the speakers spoke about how they felt and what their concerns were, which were very diverse. At the end, when asked if the government would take note of the protest or the petition that will be submitted, no one could give a definite answer because we know that the government will most probably slight us, once again, as “noise”. Then, what is the point of holding a ‘protest’? To the foreign media used to seeing protests in their countries and possibly seeing protests lead to affirmative action by their governments, what were these Singaporeans trying to get act with their protests? What were we hoping to achieve if not to pressure our government into changing at least the content of the white paper?
I’ve been asked many times as well why, in spite of the education that so many Singaporeans have received, that we allow our government to run us down with whatever they want to do. People talk about how Singaporeans are such pushovers because we allow our government to steamroll over us. Indeed, some speakers said at the ‘protest’ that they do feel defeated or are at their wits’ ends. To non-Singaporeans, it’s very hard to understand this because how can anyone with such a good education (qualified by the number of years of education) be so seemingly incapable? This is because you have to understand the education that we’ve been through, which as much as it produces students with good mathematics and science scores, are only as much a factory of robots, packaged to be unthinking and unquestioning, that are churned year after year for the Singapore factory.
Understandably, the foreign media might have expected much more – for the people to push the government into action. Give us 3 years. When we put a new government in place, we will make sure that this government works for us. We will make sure that this government listens to us and do what we want. We will make sure that this government makes decisions that will be for the good of all, and even businesses. We will make sure that this government reprioritises itself and not allow themselves to become so bogged down by their profit-making needs that they sacrifice both the interests of businesses and the people to protect their own power and wealth.
But This Is Not A Protest, It’s An Awakening
The truth is that the ‘protest’ on Saturday isn’t really a protest. The ‘protest’ today is only part of larger awakening that Singaporeans are undergoing. It’s part of a realization of our rights as people, learning what is truly wrong with our government and trying to find new ways of thinking, working and developing solutions for ourselves and for our country. Today is only part of a larger awakening that has been ongoing since prior to the general election in 2011, and which intensified from the SMRT bus drivers incident, the Aim-AHTC saga, the by-election, the release of the white paper, finally the protest now, then later, Budget 2013 and then back to the Aim-AHTC saga, with the review of the town councils and possibly a report on Our National Conversation. Today, we might have organized a protest. But, for many of us, this is an awakening. The protest should really have been called an awakening, a realization – a realization that there are many other Singaporeans who feel the same as I do, that I am not the other one, that the unfairness I feel that I’ve been feeling is common among my fellow Singaporeans and slowly but surely, we are all realising that we are suffering from our unfair treatment under a government which has lost its bearings and is using us for its own wanton wants. And today, we will continue to be spurred to find out more and to push them to admit the truth, and to push them out of power, because we need to protect ourselves and our future generations.
In the last few months, the raising of our awareness has been fast-tracked. This is not a matter of whether we are want to be awakened. We will be awakened even if we are not ready to, because at the pace things are changing, we can only expect to be carried with the winds of change. Even the heavens are playing their part by not allowing us to let up in our learning, where we are left catching our breath, with each new incident – straight after the by-election, we have the release of the white paper and immediately after that, the protest. We are now given an excellent opportunity to understand the workings of Singapore. Each new incident has uncovered new understands of how this government operates and the inherent flaws. The more we know, the more we will be able to take them on at the next general election and the more we will be able to form a government, that together with the rest of Singaporeans, will be able to run on the ideals and principles that we truly believe in. When we put the next government in power, we will make sure that we will also be the ones to govern together with them. Governance is not the sole propriety of an elected group of people. If we want our rights to be respected, then we need to learn to exercise our rights and learn to govern ourselves.

The ST reported a 'large turnout' of more than 1,000 while yahoo news defined a 'huge turnout' at more than 4,000. Whatever it is, the Singaporean working class, whose worst fears are losing their jobs to foreign workers, suppressed wages, rising cost of living and housing braved the drizzle to protest the government's policy on hiring and giving citizenships to aliens.
Compared to the street savvy Malaysian demonstrators, the Singaporean crowd appeared tame with their umbrellas and hand-written placards and posters. They looked like regular Chinese, Malay and Indian families with Mums, Dads, kids and Gramps out for a picnic at the Padang. Only this Saturday afternoon, they weren't sitting around a picnic spread. While their feet sank into the muddy ground, they lent their ears from 4-8pm to 12 speakers, namely former NTUC chief Tan Kin Lian, former presidential candidate Tan Jee Say, SDP's Vincent Wijeysingha and NSP's Jeanette Chong-Aruldoss. The speakers who were given 10 minutes each to address the crowd slammed at the 6.9 million population target stated in the White Paper.         
The protest was organised by, a support site for unemployed.

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