Saturday, September 24, 2011

The role of peaceful protests in society...


The picture above is that of a protest that occurred in Philippines. The protesters were 'planking' using a new, somewhat crazy, phenomena that has swept the world thanks to the Internet and YouTube.

"Planking" (or the "Lying Down Game") is an activity consisting of lying face down in an unusual or incongruous location - Wikipedia.

They were doing it for what you can call a good cause. The Aquino govt had decided to cut education spending and that made university professors and students unhappy[Link]. Perhaps the protesters were thinking it would be better if they produce more graduates because there are always jobs in a neighboring country which does not believe in encouraging more of its own people to pursue a university education and rather import graduates from other countries to fill jobs. For the purpose of this article it is not relevant whether the Aquino govt is right or the protesters are right because much of it is a judgement call that has to be made because state does not have infinite resources and either side can be correct depending on how the local economy evolves and how wide  one of the neighboring countries will open its doors to graduates from Philippines.

My main point is Philippines used to be ruled by a strongman that disallowed protests, controlled the media and ran undemocratic elections. In facts, 20 years ago, Singapore was far more democratic than the Philippines. Singapore was also far more democratic than S. Korea and Taiwan. Today, these countries are fully democratised. Our immediate neighbor Malaysia is moving along the same direction to abolish ISA and allow public assembly so that peaceful protests can be conducted. Where is Singapore today relative to these countries? Is the Philippines or S. Korea worse off after they moved from authoritarian govt to become democracies?

Peaceful protests allow like minded people to get behind a social cause to get together and express their views more strongly. It levels the playing field for the masses as the monied class and corporations influence decisions in govt. One thousand people separately writing to the Straits Times expressing their unhappiness are not be equal to the 4 property tycoons expressing worries about how they will make a few million less next year due to the slowing economy.

"The more successful you are, the wider your sphere of influence"
- LKY to NTU PhD student, Joan Sim

In LKY's Singapore it is not the more morally correct you are influential you will be. He likes to keep his hierarchical authoritarian system in place. If ordinary Singaporeans cannot assembly and express their views, it is much easier to manage away their concerns and ask them to be more resilient and live with it. A few weeks ago, 500,000 Israelis peacefully marching together to express their unhappiness over the cost of living and the rising inequality in society moved their govt to act with greater urgency. The right for people to assemble to support each other for a worthy cause brings about a more cohesive society,  motivate govts to put the interests of ordinary above everything else and accelerate the positive changes to society.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Protests, peaceful or not, happen only when majority of people (say over 60%) are not satisfied or happy with the government.

But when majority of people are happy and satisfied, naturally the opposition will not get enough support and so will also not be strong.

Therefore, not only no protests, but the ruling party can also win majority of the votes (a least 60%) at elections because the opposition is not strong.

To repeat, if governments don't want protests to happen, they must first make majority of people in their country happy.

Anonymous said...

We were educated to think that protest is wrong and a waste of time. Its only recently that i learnt that it is not wrong to do so, as long as its peaceful and its for the better of our society. I am already in my mid forties now.

I do hope that more will be aware and not be oblivious to what is happening in our country and around the world. As i believe if we stand united and do our part ( eg : vote for change), we will be able to change for the better.

Thanks for your article, Mr Tan.

Anonymous said...

Could you write about the latest black hole construction in the big bang collider at the franco swiss alps and how we could soon be going back in time to see our tumultuous past was just a hoax.

Anonymous said...

Filipinoes have lots of democracy, but at the end of the day, they come to Singapore to become our maids. And our cashiers. And our IT technicians. And now, to compete directly with Singaporeans for jobs.

Anonymous said...

National bonding occurs only once in 5 years when the opposition holds election rallies. We should have elections more frequently to build a cohesive society.

Anonymous said...

"The right for people to assemble to support each other for a worthy cause brings about a more cohesive society, motivate govts to put the interests of ordinary above everything else and accelerate the positive changes to society."

When the majority are happy not to protest, why will those in control allow the right of assembly so that they have to put your interests above all else when they can now take care of their own, exclusively? Why be transparent with GIC and Temasek when they can lose big now and still be paid big$$$? Why bother to do away with the ISA when 60.1% are happy with the PAP crippling the opposition with it?
Thank you Lucky.

Saycheese

Anonymous said...

I look forward to the day for all men to assemble in padang in protest of monogamy. if the laws don't change, down with the government or they ll kill all the grass in padang.

And I also look forward to the day when all married women will gather and demand their right to keep toyboy because they can't get enough. Except, they gathered at istana and kill the grasses there if the government becomes unyielding.

runroad said...

Protests, peaceful or not, happen only when majority of people (say over 60%) are not satisfied or happy with the government. - Anon 24/9/11 15:12

Meh. Going by that impeccable logic then 100% of the people of North Korea must be ecstatically happy with Kim Jong Il and their government for there has never been a single protest in Pyongyang - ever. Not even when economic mismanagement caused widespread famine and people died by the thousands from drought and starvation with a smile on their face. Not so much as a squeak of complaint. Happy, happy people. We Singaporeans should accept no less than an equal amount of happiness from our leadership at the very least.