Singapore—Despite frequent comparisons between Singapore and Hong Kong due to their inherent similarities, one activist writes about why Singapore will not follow in Hong Kong’s footsteps, which were marked this year by increasingly widespread and violent protests over the last six months.
While Singapore has benefited economically from the turmoil in Hong Kong—in terms of investments and hotel occupancy rates, fears of Singaporeans erupting in similar protests have also made the rounds. Civil disquiet in a particular country is, after all, not unknown to spread in neighboring ones.
Activist Kirsten Han, who, in an article for foreignpolicy.com, says that during a visit to Hong Kong earlier this year she thought that the media in Hong Kong would end up becoming more like Singapore’s—that is, under the strict control of the government.
Moreover, she quotes a senior official telling the Financial Times that the PAP government “is terrified that something similar could happen in Singapore,” to the point of making contingency plans should this come to pass, something Ms Han calls “a bizarre fear”.
The primary reason for this is that Singapore does not suffer from the same political crisis as Hong Kong does. Ms Han explains, “At the heart of Hong Kong’s struggle is the disenfranchisement of its people. The political process is explicitly rigged—a reality starkly demonstrated by the disqualification of both political candidates and elected pro-democracy legislators in this month’s local elections.”
This is not true of Singapore, where its citizens are still able to make wishes known through casting their ballots. “While the fairness of the electoral system leaves much to be desired, there is still universal suffrage, and Singaporeans do still have the opportunity to make their feelings known at the ballot box,” Ms Han writes.
Furthermore, the PAP has enjoyed popular support and will most likely continue to do so. “Many continue to credit the ruling party with Singapore’s stability and solid international reputation, and the provision of more social welfare schemes ahead of the 2015 election is likely to have calmed frustrations over cost of living.”
Ms Han also points out the vast difference in how resistance and dissent are viewed in Hong Kong and Singapore. In Hong Kong, protests have become a part of tradition, whereas, in Singapore, the stringency of laws makes organizing acts of resistance extremely challenging. She cites the case of the pro-establishment restauranteur from Hong Kong who was repatriated after holding an assembly for citizens from Hong Kong last month. This restauranteur will not be allowed to re-enter Singapore without express permission from immigration.
Ms Han ends her article by emphasizing how the turmoil in Hong Kong can actually be used to the advantage of the ruling party, since its prevailing message is to value stability above all else, to the detriment of Singapore’s own pro-democracy activists.
She quotes PAP stalwarts such as Education Minister Ong Ye Kung, Trade and Industry Minister Chan Chun Sing, and even former PAP MP Goh Choon Kang, who have all, in different ways and occasions, issued warnings over what may happen to Singapore or pointed to what lessons Singapore can learn from Hong Kong’s present troubles, which are aimed at making Singaporeans fearful of political contagion.
She writes, “Over the years, the Singaporean political discourse has been skewed to value stability above almost everything else. The Hong Kong protests offer the PAP the opportunity to again perpetuate a siege mentality, prompting anxiety about the country’s supposed fragility in the face of any political shake-up. Talk of fears of contagion is thus more about political mileage than any immediate danger.” -/TISG
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