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The Sad State of Political Activism in Singapore

Looking at the faces above, I fear for the future of Singapore politics.

For a political system to flourish, you will need a vigorous, rigorous and mature political discourse where opposing ideas are discussed, policies challenged and most importantly the hearts and minds of the people whom you intend to influence, win over.

You will need a certain amount of sophistication to navigate a system that has been entrenched for fifty odd years. You will need style, guile and above all, the character that is attractive to the masses. Nobody will listen to what you’ve got to say if you are hated. And certainly nobody will take you seriously if you are shallow.

Take the `return our CPF’ movement for example. It started well. It seized the moment when people were generally unhappy at the announced increase in the CPF minimum sum. And then in got ugly when, perhaps due to their political immaturity, instead of organising themselves into a more credible force, they started to revel in the limelight and believe the hype.

They gave what their audience wanted; political entertainment. Instead of educating the masses about alternative ideas, they shouted abuses and popular anti-government slogans because they love the roar and the applause from people who had nothing to do on a Saturday afternoon. And then they jumped the shark by heckling special needs children.

And now the movement has become something of a national joke.

She who speaks loudest isn't always heard accurately.
The same could be said of the `population white paper’ movement. 5000 people attended the first rally. And during the last rally, only 200 attended. They couldn’t even afford a proper tent. And five of their invited speakers refused to come. Why?

Because the people were turned off by the way the movement had veered away from its original intent. It has now become a hotbed for xenophobes and racists, something that most Singaporeans, themselves sons and daughters of immigrants, simply could not identify with.

And the death of LKY has again shown the lack of depth inherent in the political activists’ arsenal of ideas and philosophies. What are they fighting for? For whom?

Looking at the outpouring of grief by Singaporeans, they (the activists) should at least try to understand this torrent of sorrow shown by Singaporeans towards a man they had spent their entire lives complaining about. Instead, these so called activists with their so called big ideas to sell to the people who were then caught up in mourning hysteria, decided to commit political suicide by lambasting the man who was the focus of the nation’s anguish.

They could perhaps get away with it in some western countries, but certainly not in an Asian society. You don’t show disrespect to a dead man. By doing so, they have jumped the shark.

I feel sorry for them. Because now whatever they say, will be seen in the context of what they did say or didn’t say during the state’s mourning. I will be surprised if they will be taken seriously. I will be surprised if they will be heard at all.

For quiet sometime, the PAP government has given some room for political activism to flourish in Singapore. Some might argue that the room could have been bigger. Some would argue that the room was too big. Nonetheless, the space has been allocated. Some of the things said and done by the activists now would have gotten them in deep trouble in the past.

Unfortunately, the activists have failed to seize the opportunity. Instead of using it to expand the political landscape, they have used it as a stage for political song and dance.

I feel sorry for the future of Singapore politics. Now, at least for the foreseeable future, we will have to make do with the usual old bickering between the PAP and the WP over some petty cash.



This story was written by B. Goode and first published in The Singapore Beacon.
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