Sunday, 9 June 2013

Another protest rally in Singapore – what else is new?

Not so long ago, criticisms of Singapore's ruling party figures were typically voiced only in hushed tones. For good reason: critics feared defamation law suits which often ended only once the defendant declared bankruptcy. Soon enough, some of Singapore's fiercest opposition activists were either bankrupt or preoccupied with trying to keep their heads afloat. Meanwhile, ordinary citizens were too busy pursuing the coveted 'Five C's,' leaving little spare time for any political activism.

That was the last century. Much has changed in Singapore since the dawn of the new Millennium. The River Safari, Esplanade, Singapore Flyer, Gardens by the Bay and Marina Bay Sands now grace Singapore's limited land mass.

A view of Singapore's skyline in the new Millennium
However, the real changes have been in the Singaporean's psyche.

The list of subtle though significant changes in Singapore is endless. Corruption cases originating in the public sector elicit no more than shrug – although if sex is involved then all details must be made public in the name of 'transparency!' Crime, including loan sharking, is more common than at any time in recent memory. And, horror of all horrors, even labour unrest and strikes have resurfaced in Singapore.

One of the most apparent changes is a willingness to challenge official government policies openly. Today, Ex-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong's famous 'Out of Bounds' markers are slowly but surely becoming obsolete.

There is no more hiding behind anonymous social media monikers or whispering behind closed doors. Instead, opposition is expressed directly at the ballot box and, more surprisingly, through regular demonstrations at Singapore's own Speakers' Corner located at Hong Lim Park. (The Hong Lim Park 'haven' of free speech was itself an innovation of the new Millennium, inaugurated in the year 2000.)

During the last few months, Speakers' Corner has been the venue for several rallies. A couple were directed at the government's immigration policies while the most recent gathering expressed participants' disapproval at the government's new media regulations which came into force a few days ago.

Humans are fascinated by new and original activities, especially if they include an element of 'shock value.' This certainly seemed the case with the recent string of protests at Singapore's Speakers' Corner. Many joined the demonstrations not only to express displeasure but also to experience something novel.

However, humans also get bored easily. People tend to move on to the next new thing quickly – unless there is a glue to make the activity stick sustainable. The Singapore government must wait to see if there is any glue binding Singapore's social activists together; particularly once the novelty of raising anti-government placard and slogans fades away.

Nevertheless, recent events have established one fact: protest rallies at Hong Lim Park are no longer the exclusive domain of political activists. In fact, protest gatherings may soon become just another Saturday afternoon bonding activity for Singaporean families wishing to visit a park.
Imran is a business and management consultant. Through his work at Deodar Advisors and the Deodar Diagnostic, Imran improves profits of businesses operating in Singapore and the region. He can be reached at

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