16 September 2006

Change of Mind

ST Sep 16, 2006
S'pore agrees to admit 22 of 27 blacklisted activists

By Li Xueying

SINGAPORE will allow 22 of the 27 civil society activists it had objected to previously to enter the country after all.

In an unexpected statement last night, the Singapore organising
committee for the International Monetary Fund-World Bank meetings said:

'Based on input provided by the IMF and World Bank this morning, the S2006 Organising Committee has reviewed the list of 27 CSO representatives whose entry was subject to interview by Singapore. The S2006 Organising Committee has decided to allow the entry of 22 of the 27 CSO representatives.'

CSO refers to civil society organisations.

The remaining five activists will be 'subject to interview and may not be allowed in', if they try to enter Singapore.

As in previous statements, the 27 were not named.

Singapore had earlier objected to their accreditation to attend the
meetings, citing security and law and order concerns.

Hours before the about-turn, World Bank president Paul Wolfowitz said that Singapore had inflicted 'enormous damage' to its reputation. Describing its actions as 'unacceptable', he told a meeting with the CSOs that he had raised the matter with President SR Nathan and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.

In the afternoon, 164 CSOs announced a boycott of all official IMF-World Bank events.

Mr Wolfowitz said that Singapore would have to decide whether to show it was 'authoritarian' or 'at the stage of success they have reached, they would do much better for themselves with a more visionary approach to the process'.

His comments, the harshest yet, came after a week of wrangling between the IMF, the World Bank and Singapore over the issue ...
Paul Wolfowitz never gave up, and now the Singapore government has given in. 22 of the 27 banned activists will be "un-banned", after all.

Those who understand Asian culture and the Singapore government mindset will also be able to guess why five activists continue to be banned. At least part of the reason is called "saving face". Although the Singapore government has decided to concede, it can't allow itself to be seen as conceding completely.

Earlier this week, the blogger known as Chemgen referred to IMF's and World Bank's displeasure with the Singapore government as a "token rebuke". Chemgen wrote:
Both are just moving their prearranged pieces. The Singapore government is making its anti-protest move and the IMF / WB are reading their prepared statements in response. All don't want to see that much protest in Singapore. I don't think we should take the IMF and WB's "rebuke" literally as one for the masses and a slap in the face of the Singapore government.
I felt that Chemgen was wrong. Well, I think that my feeling was correct.

In my opinion, the Singapore government's real concern is not the demonstrations or other activities that the 27 activists might carry out while they are in Singapore. The government can always deploy another 100 police officers to follow the 27 activists wherever they go and keep them under control. And frankly the 27 activists have no interest in Singapore - their interest is the IMF and the World Bank, and after conference is over, they'll be gone for good too.

What then is the real concern of the Singapore government? This is it - if they allow these World Bank/IMF demonstrations to happen (under anything but the most controlled, prescribed indoor conditions), this sets a bad precedent. In the future, the Singapore government will find it much more difficult to provide plausible, convincing reasons why citizens (eg Chee Soon Juan) shouldn't be allowed to hold peaceful, orderly demonstrations in Singapore.

In fact, back in October 2005, I had already foreseen the possibility of this scenario arising and I had described this as a "potentially embarrassing situation" for the Singapore government.

We live in interesting times. Some of my less-perceptive readers may be surprised, but I personally don't fancy the idea of a "mass demonstration" culture developing in Singapore (emphasis on mass). If only we had a freer press; more opposition MPs in Parliament; a more consultative ruling party; less censorship, and so on .... then no one would even think that Singapore needs mass demonstrations.

Me, I prefer to work my own peaceful little corner of cyberspace, offering my opinions and analysis to all who are interested. By the way, my September readership is on track to hit another new all-time high again, so thank you for reading.

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30 comments:

John Riemann Soong said...

A demonstration's purpose is to help attract public attention to redress a grievance.

But it is true, the internet can make mass demonstrations obsolete - (though perhaps not innovative four-person teams).

But then a demonstration is in-your-face, using a central public space. The internet, by virtue of being decentralised ....

thor666 said...

Exactly the same thoughts here, Mr Wang.

However, I'm not too sure about not having mass demonstrations - even if it can lead to potential problems. We have an interesting case south of our country, where demonstrations were legalized after the downfall of Suharto. Perhaps mass demonstrations is the extreme answer to an extreme problem.

I think we're still lucky Singapore isn't in that kind of a situation.

veii said...

There is an elegant point in Mr. Wang's argument - that he does not like the development of a mass-protest culture. Such demonstrations usually indicate that the 'proper channels' have either failed or been rendered ineffective by the powers that be. Take a look at the unfolding political situation in Taiwan - the machinery of the state and party politics have allowed a President many would like to see gone, to stay, despite the widespread public discontent. The failure of a responsive, fair and principled government system usually paves the road for a potentially dangerous climate.

Anonymous said...

I don't know what transpired at the meeting between Paul Wolfwowitz and Lee Hsien Loong, but I thought the statement by Wolfowitz, that:

'at the stage of success they have reached, they would do much better for themselves with a more visionary approach to the process'

sums up everything that has been wrong with the PAP government for a long time and which we on the internet has been telling the government but the latter would not pay heed to.

Do remember, Wolfowitz is no 'bleeding heart' but one of the main architects of neo-conservatism before he was took up the post of IMF Head. If anyone understood the need for a tough response towards terrorist threats, it was Paul. He was the intellectual force behind America's response after 9/11, the Patriot Act, and the invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.

If anything, Paul would have shared the same strong conservative views as our government. But even Paul understands the need for a society to open up, to engage its civil society and allow dissenting voices to have their say in the form of peaceful gatherings or protests.

I never for a moment, like some cynics here, saw the IMF/WB as paying lip service to their aim of engaging global civil society. Our government might have thought that this was just a side distraction for the IMF/WB, and that what IMF/WB wanted was good meeting facilities and efficient service, things we can easily provide. Well, to put it mildly, our government has totally misread the IMF/WB.

The delegates are not here for Singapore 'escort' girls - they really have serious issues to discuss, one of which is to narrow the economic gulf between the rich and poor nations, and CSOs and their representatives help to do that. Yes, some of their tactics come across to Singaporeans as plain silly and pointless, but that's because we have been conditioned by our government since day to think that way.

Gandhi marching to the sea to collect a palm of salt - sometimes the smallest silliest act can move mountains, in this case the British Empire.

Anonymous said...

You prefer the internet; some people prefer using the streets tp get their message across. As mentioned by one of the commenters, it gets people (who do not read your blog) aware of their grievances. If we allow businesses to inconvenience us with their kiosks and road shows along pedestrian thoroughfares and allow their flyers to litter the streets, why can't we allow protesters who have a more serious message to sell?

Anonymous said...

Before anyone tears down my posting above because of a technicality, I admit making an error.

Paul Wolfowitz is President of the World Bank. Rodrigo de Rato is the Managing Director of the IMF.

My apologies.

Anonymous said...

This shows CSJ is right. The government only bows to foreign presure (particularly that from the international business community). The government does not change its mind for local dissent.

John Riemann Soong said...

There also has to be cause-and-effect here, veii.

For example, a mass demonstration can also be a medium to gain other supporters who would otherwise be timid.

For example, there could be widespread discontent, but the legislature might not be able to quantify it - impeachments rarely happen. The only incentive for representatives to initiate a move on an issue (such as say, impeaching a president) is to retain their constituency, but often actions like that have intangible benefits.

However, a demonstration can manifest the widespread discontent so for example, a referendum can be initiated based on this manifestation.

Of course, this could also be an issue with any representative democracy in general, as opposed to a more participatory one.

Lao Xin Zhou said...

I cheered for the Government to allowing those 22 activists to participate in this IMF-WB meeting.

I doubt they wouldn't dare create problems such as inflicting violents or rioting down the streets.

Afterall, we still have a strict law here, they have to obey.

I glad that our situation is not like the Taiwan's Dao Bian movement.

Anonymous said...

Indeed, Singapore seems to have got itself into a disagreeable situation with its guests, the World Bank/IMF over its strict enforcement of Singapore's laws on open air demonstrations and the banning of certain civil organisation activists. I don't know if the WB/IMF does not see any irony in their stance of allowing these civil organisations to hold demonstrations in the streets in the name of democracy and open-ness virtually all over the world where it has had its annual meetings, but have yet to address these organisation's issues and complaints enough all these years to make these demonstrations unnecessary. Does the WB/IMF see these demonstrations as validating its meetings and lending a high profile and newsworthy angle to the whole event, gaining it a self-generated importance without which these meetings will be a bore?

Anonymous said...

I wonder if you intend to comment on the other story on the ST front page, the one that begins: "His ambition is not to preserve PAP..."

I guess LKY is attempting to appear statesman-like for an international audience in saying the system is more important than who or which party will actually rule Singapore in future.

For the PAP to be overthrown, however, he can't see any outcome other than a military coup, since the opposition are only able to attract the incompetent and corrupt.

This is specious since, of course, he is the reason the opposition is unable to "'induce' [sufficient] people of top quality to join it". Thus, "The day we can produce an opposition of the same quality as us" will never arrive.

I don't think there has been a despot in modern history that has ensured their succession 40 years ahead. This is really breathtaking ambition, even for one who has already ruled 40 years.

But by giving a military takeover (which begs the question, is Singapore a police state anyway?) as the only alternative to continued PAP rule, I would ask you, Mr Wang, how would you propose to change things in your quiet corner of cyberspace? Or is your intention (to preserve the status quo by giving us a benign outlet for anti-PAP angst) at one with the MM?

What difference does a mass rally make when four people standing peacefully together is a riot; when the army would take over if the people ever voted out the PAP in a "freak" result? What do you say to people who can't wait 40 years?

i-witness said...

FYI, Chee Soon Juan is now at Speakers Corner, surrounded by police officers in-front of foreign reporters. Interesting scenes there...

Anonymous said...

If Chee is not arrested now, he will be arrested after the IMF and World Banks meeting are over. I apologise for my pessimism.

Galven Lee said...

"Perhaps mass demonstrations is the extreme answer to an extreme problem."
Extreme answer? Perhaps it sounds extreme to us because we have become so alienated from such a concept. I have seen a demonstration in Germany before where the police helped to escort the demonstrators through the streets (they had informed them beforehand). Life went on as usual, no violence, and the students got to make their point.

Anonymous said...

Please go http://forums.hardwarezone.com/forumdisplay.php?f=17 for all the news.

My analysis:

1) The Lees and PAP are getting desperate thus using a global event to talk about domestic events.

2) MM Lee is getting senile and more autocratic than before thus spouting rubbish about army, opposition=bad, coup, martial law etc. The markets will be shaken.

3) he means he wants to preserve the Lees and not PAP.


4) PAP can lose power but not in his or his son's lifetime. He will lose face.

5) He is becoming crazy.

6) Please add.

thor666 said...

galven - of course, the term extreme is subjective. it seems alien to us that demonstrations can take place in this country we live.

but we don't know the future. how will Singapore be 10, 20, 50 years down the road?

perhaps it will be better to open up earlier than later in that sense.

i agree with your agrument, but currently i'd believe most Singaporeans are still exposed to national media which portrays the worst sides of demonstrations (esp in Taiwan? democracy anyone?) as well as the violence that tends to be associated with such demonstrations. Such propaganda makes demonstrations unthinkable for people who are so accustomed to letting the top direct the show.

perhaps, if you take a PAP point of view, that is why they are so unwilling to loosen up fundamentally (cosmetically they do) and why people can be so negative about such a "world class" government.

Anonymous said...

Rally Photos of Dr Chee

http://singaporeelection.blogspot.com/2006/09/rally-photos.html

Whatever he did, u must give this man credit for passion and courage.

The power of courage..so liberating..

Anonymous said...

Newswire Reuters Report:

By Fayen Wong
Reuters
Saturday, September 16, 2006; 2:42 AM ET

SINGAPORE (Reuters) - Singapore police stopped an opposition politician from leading a protest march past the venue for the annual IMF-World Bank meetings on Saturday, again highlighting the city-state's restrictions on freedom of speech.

Singapore, which had hoped to show off its economic success by hosting the International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings this month, has instead attracted surprisingly strong criticism from the two bodies and from NGOs when it blacklisted accredited activists.

With some 16,000 delegates in town for the meetings, including central bankers and finance ministers from around the world, Singapore's curbs on its critics have come under scrutiny.

Opposition politician Chee Soon Juan, secretary-general of the tiny Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) and six other activists wearing white tee-shirts with slogans such as "Freedom Now" held a rally at "Speaker's Corner."

But police stopped their planned march to the convention center, where the IMF/World Bank meetings are taking place.

"The objective of this rally is to highlight that it is our right as citizens of Singapore to gather freely," Chee told a crowd of about 200 people, including journalists. "Singapore is the only economically developed country to oppress its citizens to this extent."

[More]

"Dr Chee, I have to advise you again that carrying out a procession without a permit is an offense," a police officer told the politician.

"We will try again to walk," Chee replied, wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with "Democracy Now".

"As citizens we have rights. Only slaves don't have rights. Only slaves are afraid of the government," Chee cried out.

"Today we will mark the birthday. It is the birthday of democracy."

Anonymous said...

I like the way you think. In your world, terrorism is probably a story cooked up by the developed world to scare its own citizens into putting more trust into them.




Mugster

Anonymous said...

Hmmm.... a quick Google trolled up this article dated way back 1st March. How interesting. One wonders if we were well and properly snookered by playing our game so predictably.

John Riemann Soong said...

There were a crowd of 200 that could easily march past police restriction, but they backed down?

March already, lah.

recruit ong said...

i went by speakers corner earlier too, the police action is really disgusting and shameful.

John Riemann Soong said...

*there was, oops

(I have a bad habit of changing my words halfway and forgetting to update the agreement.)

thor666 said...

john - remember marching means they are breaking the law, giving the police the right to justify arresting and using physical means to prevent protesters from breaking the law.

John Riemann Soong said...

What is a demonstration anyway? Where's the difference between walking in a large group to somewhere ensemble, with a t-shirt on, and organising a secondary school reunion of 200 friends and going places?

Remember, there are 16,000 political observers here. This is the perfect time to break the law.

John Riemann Soong said...

Nonviolent non-cooperation, after all.

tscd said...

So, are the activists allowed to protest outside the convention building or are they relegated to the 8x8 foot area still?

KiWeTO said...

Letting them in when the event is already halfway over, and confining them to an 8x8 area for protest (that is, when they are not in the meeting rooms actually trying to get some policy re-thought...)


Simply put, the people who recognize the reality in Singapore have 2 choices:

1. Accept that the state is doing its best in corrupting you, and enjoy the corruption. (co-opting, high salaries, comfy jobs, etc.)

2. Prepare to leave. It may take a few years, or a few tens of years, but the strategic objective is to become a 2nd-class citizen in another country, rather than remain a 2nd-class citizen in one's birth country.

Unfortunately, the above options are only available to those who have bested the streaming process in our state schools. For the rest, my apologies, the options are starker:


1. Become wildly rich (business, toto, 4-D whatever) and leave.

2. Stoic acceptance of 'economic slavery', and continue to practice saying "yes,sir/yes sahib/yes, milord" to foreign talent's requests, whilst continuing to enrich the state's coffers.


Such is the life in this silly megacorp, where the philosophy is "screw everyone else before they screw you."

E.o.M.

Anonymous said...

The PAP has indeed created a system when Singapore cannot survive in the short term without the PAP; they control the Preseident, police, the army, the media, the judiciary, the civil service, the unions, the universities, the GLCs, ... (did I leave anything else out?). All the checks and balances on the PAP government have been systematically removed. The system has been irretrievably corrupted.

Even if the PAP loses the elections, does the new government and its Parliament have any real power to implement any changes? Can it investigate any wrongdoing by the previous PAP government? And in a way, LKY is right. Look at our 'officially leading' opposition leaders. LTK & CST have been quiet as mice. They have been conditioned to faithfully think within the box set by the PAP's unjust laws, just like the basketball court (some say squash court) size protest box in Suntec City set aside for the protesters. CSJ had to appeal to them to join him in demanding more freedom, but there's still not a word from them. Are they afraid of offending the PAP? Or are they just waiting for CSJ to do the dirty work before stepping forward to reap the benefits? Isn't that how LKY came into power too?

The PAP has lost touch with the people and and its legitimacy. How is LKY different from Mahatir? Whatever good he has done for Singapore, he has more than reaped the rewards, and is now overstaying his 'hero's welcome. The more he remains active in politics, the more he makes a fool of himself and the more ridicule he accumulates.

John Riemann Soong said...

I already have a US green card and am currently living in another country, but I plan for this to be temporary ... but why in the world are so many people suggesting I stay here for good and take up US citizenship? In real life, especially.

In the end, I think they are the most insensitive ones - I recognise the situation, but they have no idea how it's like to be a TCK.

They say, "you're already so American, even got American accent one, what do you see in Singapore?"

Alors, I'm very much a passionate champion of reform, but in the end I think those who say that are the most blind.