By Vignesh Louis Naidu
Thank you Roy, Hui Hui and Return our CPF protesters for your disgraceful behaviour on Saturday. Your actions have forced many, who have been politically apathetic, to speak up. Over the weekend many of my peers, who rarely comment on political issues, took to Facebook and other social media networks to criticise your actions at Hong Lim Park.
Politics is like a sport – and just like a sport, if political discourse is to be constructive and goal orientated, there needs to be defined rules.
Unlike many Western democracies, Singapore does not have a long defined tradition of free speech and expression. Singapore has achieved much of its quick success because of an autocratic government that used a top down, paternalistic approach.
Today, modern innovations — such as the internet and social media platforms — have forced the government’ to liberalise its stance and allow for greater and more vibrant political discourse and involvement.
The government is still grappling with how to define this new, more open field of play. What rules should be enforced? What are the no-go areas, OB markers? The government has made it clear that accusations and speech that may inflame racial or religious tensions will not be condoned. But we must not simply sit by passively and allow the government to craft the rules. We have to provide our input. Judging by the reactions to Saturday’s protest – by people of differing political and ideological leanings – I would venture to say that the bullying of the most vulnerable in society is certainly unacceptable.
The impact on the special needs children from all the shouting is the greatest tragedy of Saturday’s incident. I have had the good fortune of meeting many people with special needs and they are some of the most loving and caring people I know. But for many of them building self confidence is a genuine struggle. Going up to perform on stage is not only about mastering their performances, it is also about having the courage to stand up in front of a large crowd – many of whom are strangers – and to perform with confidence and grace. I do hope that the children will regain their confidence and once again perform in public to entertain and enthral us with their talents and bravery.
NParks could have certainly handled the matter better. It should not have allowed for the double booking of the venue – especially in light of the nature of the two events. Having watched the video of the confrontation between Hui Hui and Chia Seng Jiang of NParks, I do have to commend the director of parks for his patience. Although NParks should have resolved the matter earlier, he displayed immense patience when dealing with the protestors. In the video Hui Hui is heard repeatedly saying, “tell me which law?. A society cannot simply be governed by laws, we must also respect cultural and societal norms.
I am a young Singaporean who strongly believes in the need for a greater liberalisation of the public sphere. I would like our country to transit towards being a democracy that values and protects the rights of individuals to free speech and expression, but that can only be achieved when we have the courage to speak up and condemn unacceptable behaviour. We must also be careful that we do not create folk heroes out these jokers, as the late Margret Thatcher once said we must deprive them ‘of the oxygen of publicity’.
We must never allow the struggle for greater liberties to be hijacked by those who have no regard or respect for the most vulnerable in society. Righteousness acts never in its own interest, but in the interest of fellow men.