ST Sep 16, 2006Paul Wolfowitz never gave up, and now the Singapore government has given in. 22 of the 27 banned activists will be "un-banned", after all.
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 ...
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.
Technorati: Singapore; civil society; civil rights; World Bank; IMF.