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Vandalism and political defiance




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By Trinity Chua and Tan Yong Heng

Defiance and dissent is taking on a slightly violent streak. Vandals have struck by scrawling anti-PAP words on top of a Toa Payoh block of flats, painting on the war monument and attacking posters at bus stops.

We spoke to a lawyer, sociologist and a political science lecturer for their views. Is there something more than meets the eye, we asked sociologist Chua Beng Huat.

He warned about over reading into these incidents. “There are always more ‘deviants’ than there are police; the likelihood of  ‘crime’ being solved is generally low in every society. Also, they are willing to take their chances for their commitment or pleasure,” said Chua.

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Still, others were worried that isolated or not, vandalism was part of a show of defiance following the lifting of a less authoritarian political climate.

It may not be clear to some that vandaslism is a criminal act – willful destruction of public property –  which carries the painful punishment of three to eight strokes of the cane. Not to mention the social stigma which will destroy one’s career. Plus, for a number of its ex-perpetrators, a psychological scar they may bear for the rest of their lives.

For example, ex-vandalism offender American youth Michael Fay, 18, returned home and could not adjust to a normal life. In Singapore, he was found guilty of theft and the vandalising of a number of cars and was jailed four months and given four strokes of the cane. After his release, he went back to the United States and had trouble with the trauma.

Academics and lawyers The Independent Singapore spoke to said that this is because it has become fashionable to be anti-government, or oppositional.

Associate Professor Bilveer Singh of the Department of Political Science at the National University of Singapore (NUS) said: “There could be real grievances on the ground like poverty and getting short-changed because of foreign labour.

“At the same time, I think many of them believe they have a right to express themselves, and some of them might believe the government will accept it.”

Much of this notion could stem from sentiments from online media.

Peter Low, who leads his legal practice, said: “Of late, more people have been emancipated from political apathy; especially, the younger [Singaporeans] who have taken advantage of social media to express, in particular, their criticisms of, and dissatisfaction with, government.”

Singapore is transitioning from a more authoritarian model of governance to a democratic one, Bliveer said.

To the government’s credit, Bilveer said, it has been tolerant of most of the criticisms against the PAP, unless the criticism becomes libellous or when people break the law.

He said: “I believe the government is not perfect. The population is not perfect. I think we are still not familiar with how we can manage these expressions or criticisms.”

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