berthahenson

Hong Lim Park event no. 2 – The protest

In News Reports on May 2, 2013 at 1:47 am

The red balloons were replaced by placards emblazoned with angry slogans. Young smiling faces were replaced by older ones, sterner-looking. No cupcakes were given out but tee-shirts were sold as well as hard-to-find books by political dissidents and such like.

It was a sea change in mood, from a carefree picnic in the morning to a carefully orchestrated protest in the evening. Organisers of the alternative May Day rally put the crowd figure at 5,000 to 6,000, more than their first protest in February which they said numbered about 4,000.

But it seemed less than that, with the crowd thinning as the evening wore on.

From 4pm, speaker after speaker took to the microphone, including an assortment of “lay’’ people as they were described – a single mother of an eight-year old, a stay-at-home mom, a 66 year old retiree, a 35 year old graduate who is a cab driver.

They were there to say no to the 6.9 million population figure, a repeat of February’s theme. Each “lay’’ person had a personal story to tell, stories full of anger and angst. About bringing up children single-handedly, about not being able to find a job despite a degree (the young cab driver by the way served in the army for 10 years before he got out into the private sector and couldn’t find employment), about discrimination against older women who want to rejoin the workforce.

Here is anger: “I challenge the minister to a debate on television about the CPF!’’ said a 66 year old self-employed man upset at CPF rules which do not allow full withdrawal at age 55. His “hati panas already’’,  he declared.

Here is angst: “Why are the smiles on the faces of foreigners here bigger than mine? When can I put the smile back on my face?’’ was how a single mother concluded her speech which were peppered with anecdotes about single mothers not being eligible for baby bonuses or a HDB rental flat.

Several times, speakers reiterated that they were not being xenophobic. It was like a mantra. They were just against the G’s policy on the use of foreign workers which were squeezing locals out of a job.

The crowd paid rapt attention, breaking out into shouts and applause. Every time the G was “whacked’’, they cheered. A heartland crowd it was, who lapped up the speeches made in dialects. One grandmother who spoke actually sang a few lines in Teochew, much to the merriment of the crowd. What was missing was a full Malay speech. Mr Nizam Ismail, formerly of the Association of Muslim Professionals, had pulled out at the last minute. As for Tamil, lawyer M Ravi obliged with a speech hich few understood but most appreciated going by the sustained applause he received.

Meanwhile, people with placards walked round.

“Singapore needs public transport, not world class transport’’

“It’s dangerous to be right when the Government is wrong.’’

“What do you call the natives of this wealthy island? Singapooreans.’’

There were less polite ones as well.

At another corner, a 20m long white cloth had been laid out for people to pen their feelings about the 6.9million.

The better-known speakers had more to say about policy.

Financial consultant Leong Sze Hian pointed out what he saw as contradictions in G statistics, especially on employment figures. Why weren’t they broken down further to make clear the number of both employed citizens and PRs? And what about a proper breakdown of the cost of building HDB flats?

Organiser Gilbert Goh, who counsels the unemployed, wants a quota set for employment pass holders, like for S passes and work permits. He maintained that he knew of companies with 100 per cent foreign workers 

Lawyer M Ravi referred to recent warnings to bloggers as an example of civil society being “under threat’’. There is no freedom of speech nor of assembly. There is no parliamentary ombudsman nor  a human rights commission. He told the crowd to give the G a “red card’’ at the next election.

Former presidential candidate Tan Jee Say, the last speaker, was more explicit. The Population White Paper, he alleged, was a PAP plot to tighten its grip on Singapore by adding new citizens to swell the pro-PAP voting ranks.

He called for the People’s Action Party to be booted out at the next general election, maintaining that the opposition was ready to form the next Government or at least, more ready than the PAP itself was in 1959 when it took power. He rattled off some figures: nine opposition figures who held senior positions in G agencies, seven PhD holders. There were about 25 to 30 people in the opposition ranks, he said, ready to take over – as a coalition Government.

“You can only change policy, in the political way,’’ he said during a press conference later. As for the formation of a coalition government, he wouldn’t be too pessimistic about the willingness of political parties to collaborate, he said responding to a question.

When organiser Mr Goh pledged that the May Day protest would be an annual event, members of the public pressed for more such protests. What about National Day, someone asked? It was the grandmother, a member of Function 8, who replied. She thought it was a good idea.

Looks like Hong Lim Park is coming alive.

The G is probably regretting designating Speakers’ Corner a free speech space.

Pse go to www.breakfastnetwork.sg for report on event No. 1 and plenty plenty pix of both.

 

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  1. I’m not really bothered about the protesters and their well-known concerns. Shame on the ST for ignoring the rally on the front page. It’s one thing to be partial, and another to completely ignore reality.

    Nobody reading the Straits Times today will care that the PM says that an expanding economy will create better wages. The way that the government is trying to develop the economy, it won’t.

    The government’s on-going obsession with the “knowledge-based economy” will really hurt us in the long run. One of the most worrying global trends is rising youth unemployment, which is especially severe in university-educated youths who refuse to work “beneath them”. The US and China are two very different economies, and yet share a 15-20% youth unemployment rate. This number is much higher when you consider only college educated youth.

    By working to increase the university intake and the PMET proportion – already the highest in the world – we’re causing problems for ourselves. Wages will stagnate when there is an oversupply of university educated students, all with the exact same set of skills. Apparently, 30% of our university students major in business administration, which is ironic.

    What we could and should be doing is to improve the prestige of our vocational schools – and we do have some very good ones. But we’re not. We’re demeaning them, telling them that they should work in an office or risk being poor. More than half of Germany’s students choose the vocational route because there’s no inferiority complex attached to it. Compared with the US and China, Germany’s youth unemployment rate is barely 8%.

  2. “The G is probably regretting designating Speakers’ Corner a free speech space.”

    The G had not choice. The fact is that a significant number of Singaporeans seem unhappy. These Singaporeans were going to vent their anger in one way or another. The Speakers’ Corner allows for such expression of frustration to be “controlled” (for now). It is obvious that the rapid transformation of Singapore’s society in the last decade has created the conditions for such growing frustration. I just hope this discontentment does not grow too rapidly. At least we have universal suffrage that allows for changes to be made if necessary (but too drastic a change is probably not a good thing too). And I agree that Singaporeans are generally not xenophobic; but rather disoriented by the rapid transformation that has occurred around them.

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