Friday, 3 May 2013

Photographs from THE MAY DAY PROTEST 2013 / SAY NO TO 6.9 MILLION

I am not a person of political inclinations, but when Singapore's first mass protest took place on 16 February this year, drawing almost 5000 people to Speakers Corner in Hong Lim Park on a drizzly afternoon, my curiosity was piqued. Protests and demonstrations are banned in Singapore, that is you can be imprisoned if you are deemed to have formed an illegal assembly of five or more people. 

Indeed opposition politicians have willingly gone to jail on this account, marking themselves to be prisoners of conscience, and possible martyrs for the cause of free speech. The only exception is in Speakers Corner, a down-scaled version of London's Hyde Park Speakers Corner, where previously the petitioners have mostly been from the lunatic fringe. Still one needs to get a permit to speak, and have the contents of one's speech scrutinised by some bureaucrat from the Parks board and possibly the police.

The last protest, organised by Gilbert Goh of, was about Parliament's passing of a White Paper tabling a staged increase of Singapore's population to a staggering 6.9 million heads by 2030, over half of which would be peopled by foreigners. This is Singapore's own version of welcoming the "tired, poor huddled masses, yearning to breathe free", paving the way for economic migrants and opportunists to cash in on the "Singapore dream" while boosting the nation's GNP. "Nay," say the Singaporean public, whose hitherto timid voices have managed to come up with more than a squeak this time, perhaps summoning enough courage to constitute a "Hong Lim roar". 

May Day seemed like a good day to hold such an event, and so I made my way, attired in my socialist red Tak Boleh Tahan t-shirt (bought at a Singapore Democratic Party rally during the 2011 General Elections), to Hong Lim Park. The audience was smaller than I expected, almost the same size as what the Singapore Symphony Orchestra usually draws at its Botanic Gardens concerts. About 4000-5000 people, I guess-timated. There was no sign of police presence, but they would be in plain clothes anyway, ready to rear their heads and pounce on anyone who might cause trouble. There was no trouble, and everything was mighty civilised other than the odd slogan expressing unhappiness of a non-specific kind. 

There were at least ten speakers, dwelling on topics other than the 6.9 million. Not all were very articulate, but they spoke from their hearts. There was a 30-something unemployed man (former SAF), a single mother, a social worker, a NGO activist who sang in Cantonese (while bewailing the loss of identity through the government's Speak Mandarin policy), a past-65 man who has yet to get the full quota of his CPF savings, a retiree and others, each dwelling on their pet topics. 

Some of  the rhetoric came from the event's master of ceremonies, whom almost everyone knows as "Mr Kwan of Tower Records" (above), who was once a SDP candidate in a past general election. One of the most vociferous speakers was criminal lawyer and political rights activist M.Ravi (below), who brought up the football analogy of awarding the government a second yellow card, besides slamming the Law Society (presumably for declaring him of unsound mind to practise law) and the mandatory death penalty. 

There were many placards on display, none of which were particularly witty. If some were to be placed side by side, irony would be the result. One placard cried, "Kick Ah Loong Out", a twin reference to the Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and loan sharks (Ah Long), while another declaimed "We Need A New Dictator". I am not sure whether the two people ever got to meet.

The last speaker was Tan Jee Say, from the Singapore Democratic Party and one-time presidential candidate. His speech was unequivocal about removing the People's Action Party from power, claiming there were enough PhD holders, former government scholars, CEO types (he being one of them) and sensible brains in the opposition to form the next government. He hailed the possibility of a coalition government to rule Singapore come 2016. I wish I could be more optimistic on the plausibility or practicality of this point.

The protest came to a close when the crowd recited the Pledge and sang the national anthem Majulah Singapura. A more civilised event could not have been hoped for, and I suppose the government has to take some credit for making us all good, obedient and law-abiding citizens. Anyway, it was going to be bedtime soon and tomorrow is a working day. So there you have it, folks, this is a demonstration, Singapore style. Its as civilised as any National Day Parade.

Even as I left, I spotted no policemen or uniformed personnel anywhere near the scene. They're probably all at Esplanade, checking people's bags for cameras (not bombs), breaking up rowdy autograph queues and stopping people from taking photographs.


Find the PianoManiac
A relative of mine spotted this photo on a news website,
and forwarded it to my mother.
Now I am in deep trouble.

(Photo by Lim Weixiang)


Dr Marc Rochester said...

Perhaps the welcome I can expect from Singaporeans will not now be as warm as it once was. I come under that despised category of "foreigner"

Chang Tou Liang said...

Au contraire, you will be most welcome here! Immunity for all who play the piano, violin... and organ! Where would the Singapore music scene be without our treasured "foreign" friends?

Alysa said...

This is cool!