(Photo: Internet. SDP unveiled its candidates in GE 2011. L-R: Vincent Wijeysingha, John Tan, Teo Soh Lung, Michelle Lee, Jarrod Luo, James Gomez )
Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) member Teo Soh Lung who contested in General Elections 2011 under Yuhua Single Member Constituency has posted a note to express her disappointment with opposition political parties as they did not express support for activists who got into trouble with the law (The note is appended at the end of this post).
Teo is referring to CPF activists Han Hui Hui & Roy Ngerng, human rights activist-cum-lawyer M Ravi and gay rights activist Alex Au. She wrote that opposition political parties fail to speak up when civil society “is under attack”.
The term civil society has been misused by those who pushes agendas aggressively and got into limelight for the wrong reasons without considerations on how their public actions could taint civil society collectively.
Civil society is a space for non-governmental organisations, non-profit organisations, volunteer groups to express their beliefs & values to the public and most are independent from governments or businesses, and some cater to niche communities. Let me quote some examples: Cat Welfare Society , Action for Singapore Dogs , House Rabbit Society Singapore , Animal Concerns Research & Education Society (ACRES),
female-militant group AWARE, Humanist Society, Single Parent Support Group, Heritage Society and Purple Parade are part of civil society; the list goes on. I shall call this list “Group 1”.
The following list of organisations are also part of civil society, I shall call it “Group 2”: People Like Us, Pinkdot, HOME, TWC2, Migrant Workers Center, Function 8, Anti-Death Penalty, Think Center, MARUAH, “Return my CPF” movement.
Unfortunately, regular Singaporeans’ impression of civil society has been marred by members of “Group 2” which dealt with contentious issues and these groups are often vocal in demanding politicians to amend laws. Such head-on approaches have often resulted in political leaders clarifying such issues in parliament or addressing it openly.
The persons involved in movement in Group 2 are often associated with members of opposition political parties or they are active within political parties themselves that causes Singaporean public to misunderstand civil society and perceive it as quasi-political involvement. It is unfortunate that those in Group 2 are vocal and most of them are associated with civil disobedience which are unpalatable to most Singaporeans: Former SDP member Vincent Wijeysingha who stood in Holland-Bukit Timah GRC in GE 2011 was a member of TWC2, a migrant-worker help group and he is also active in gay-rights movement. Alex Au is active in gay-rights movement and he is still active in TWC2. The director of HOME, a migrant-help group is Jolovan Wham, who is also active in gay-rights movement and involved in other countries’ affairs. Lawyer M Ravi is involved in gay-rights movement as well as anti-death penalty movement. Teo Soh Lung is a member of Function 8 which advocates for the repeal of Internal Security Act.
(Photo: Facebook. This is Singapore lah! Not Chengdu or Chennai.)
Did you hear anything from Group 1? The lack of air-time in the press does not mean they are idling. They are likely to have chosen non-provocative ways to gather support for their causes.
Nearby, civil society organisations in Malaysia were actively involved in display of civil disobedience during the “Bersih” movement while Hong Kong civic groups portrayal of mass blockage on major roads in the recent Umbrella Movement are not helping to mitigate the negative impression of civil society in law-abiding Singaporeans’ mind whom in my opinion, are more keen to maintain the current order in the society and get on with their daily lives; massive disruptions to their daily lives due to civil disobedience movements are unthinkable. I doubt NUS, NTU and SMU undergrads are willing to miss their examinations for the sake of democracy, unlike undergraduates in Hong Kong who are actively involved in the standoff with Beijing.
(Bersih protesters venting their frustrations on government vehicle. Photo: Facebook)
With such bad press surrounding civil society, opposition politicians in Singapore are wise not to get involved in civil society and its activism. Opposition politicians lending hands openly to civil society groups and their pet topics reflects the party will & ideals opens itself to attack from political rivals and alienates genuine supporters who wants to see policy changes but values the peace and order that Singapore have.
By posting that note, Ms Teo has told Singaporeans that her own party SDP is not showing showing enough political support to Han Hui Hui, Roy Ngerng and M Ravi. Showing support to gay-rights is not likely to be openly part of SDP’s current agenda because they cannot afford to alienate the conservative voices from the Malay community.
Singapore’s political system is unique. The sexy western approach of using protests, disobedience & hunger strikes to carve a path into the Singapore parliament is not going to work. It took Workers’ Party two decades to secure a GRC because they are aware of Singaporeans’ psyche. You will hardly see WP politicians or its members post unnecessarily on Facebook or participating in Hong Lim Park activities unless all the residents in Hougang SMC have gathered there.
It is difficult to imagine WP throwing their support behind Han Hui Hui, Roy Ngerng, Alex Au and M Ravi openly or discreetly. I hope it never will.
(Workers Party rally crowd. Photo: Straitstimes.com)
Full text of Ms Teo Soh Lung’s note [Link]:
The opposition parties and activists
In Hong Kong, opposition parties actively support the young protesters, giving them encouragement, assistance and advice. They are by their side, assisting them and speaking up for them. They go on television in support of the protesters. Ms Emily Lau even took the trouble to go to the UN to champion their cause and London to speak on Hard Talk. In Malaysia too, opposition parties were involved in mass demonstration organised by civil society. They stood with them when tear gas and water cannons were fired. They went to jail because they stood up against injustice.
But in Singapore, where are the opposition parties? Do they exist? Do they speak up when civil society is under attack.
Where was the opposition when lawyer Ravi had problems with the professional body that was supposed to assist him and not persecute him? Where was the opposition parties when Roy spoke up for the thousands on CPF and got into trouble with the prime minister? Where was the opposition when Han Hui Hui, Roy and their supporters were harassed and interrogated for hours by the police? Where was the opposition when bloggers like Alex Au was charged for contempt? Did they speak up in parliament? Did they utter a word in support? Did they extend a hand to them?
All the news about political parties speaking up were about their own small trouble with ministers and ministries. What do you expect the opposition parties to do when they are maligned or suffer inconveniences? If they cannot defend themselves, who else can? Why should activists help them when they do not care about them. Is there anything commendable when they went to court to defend themselves for holding a trade fair?
But despite the opposition parties not standing up for activists, the latter are exceedingly generous. They went to their aid whenever the received news that they were bullied by some minister or other. The editors of TOC and TRE wrote articles. Their readers too wrote to support ad nauseum, as if the political parties had no voice of their own? Do they deserve such help when they do not stand up for civil society?
I don’t know. We better think carefully and watch what we do because no opposition parties are going to help us when we get into trouble. There is no more JBJs today. JBJ will mix with the crowd in Hong Lim Park and stand outside the Istana to protest against detention of prisoners under the ISA. He was charged in court for the protest but fortunately was acquitted. Today’s leaders of opposition political parties will never protest in public or in parliament! They will never stand up for activists!