Thursday, 9 October 2014

A tale of 2 protests – Hong Kong & Hong Lim Park

Political news over this past weekend have brought into further prominence two different activists in two different countries, fighting for two different causes.

On Saturday, Singaporean blogger Roy Ngerng led a protest march at Hong Lim Park that led to controversy due to its clash with a YMCA charity event involving special needs children. Their antics and heckling were lambasted by many members of the public for being disrespectful and downright rude.

In the other Asian country of Hong Kong, pro-democracy protests snowballed into one the largest demonstrations over. At the time of this writing, many streets are being filled with such activists occupying key positions and installations like train stations. This weekend, I came across the story of a 17 year old student in Hong Kong, Joshua Wong, one of the key leaders of the opposition movement.

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Why Singapore will not replicate Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests
On 27 September, hundreds of people staged a ‘Return Our Central Provident Fund’ (CPF) protest rally at Hong Lim Park, Singapore. Simultaneously in Hong Kong, the Occupy Central movement, combined with student-led classroom boycotts, morphed into a bigger and broader pro-democracy protest — paralysing key financial and administrative locations such as Admiralty, Civic Square and Harcourt Road

Some internet commenters were quick to draw similarities between the Hong Lim Park protests and the larger protests in Hong Kong. On the surface, there are commonalities. In both countries, discontent has been fuelled by a cocktail of rising costs of living, high property prices, an influx of foreigners that are seen as threatening local geographical, cultural and social spaces, and the rise of a more vocal and politically conscious youth.

In Singapore’s case, a series of protests at Hong Lim Park were organised and spearheaded by two relatively young activists — Roy Ngerng (33 years old) and Han Hui Hui (22). The leaders of the protests in Hong Kong were even younger, with one of the main protesters Joshua Wong a mere 17 years old.

The supposed similarities have led some to ask will — or when will — Singapore do a ‘Hong Kong’? The short answer is it won’t. There are three main reasons why the protests in Hong Kong will not be replicated in Singapore.


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Hong Kong, Hong Lim Park Protests: Same Same, But Different Shame

Meanwhile, in Asia’s other top city, a protest against the Central Provident Fund (CPF) in Singapore’s Hong Lim Park Speakers’ Corner on Saturday (Sep 27) ended with heads hung low after the Hong Lim Park protest protesters “heckled” special needs performers at a YMCA event also held at the park.

Led by bloggers Han Hui Hui and Roy Ngerng, some 100 ‘Return Our CPF’ protest participants went on a “protest march” through the carnival organised by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA), frightening the teens on stage.

If the latter of the blogger duo sounds familiar, it is because Mr Ngerng is currently facing a defamation suit by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong for earlier comments he had made on his blog. Ms Han refused to comply when NParks and police officers asked her on Saturday to move out of the lawn allocated to YMCA.

Hong Kong's Pro-Democracy Protests Unlikely to Reappear in Singapore
Singapore Won't Likely See Protests Like Those in Hong Kong

First, the institutions and structures present in Hong Kong are supportive of democracy, as opposed to Singapore’s, which inhibit it. Prospects for democracy in Hong Kong are supported by three key factors: a vibrant and relatively independent media landscape, an autonomous intellectual and academic community, and fiercely independent unions.

Second, Singapore lacks the capacity to mobilise mass protests. Unhappy as some Singaporeans may be, discontent is ultimately not sufficiently strong enough to catalyse the small sporadic protests in Hong Lim Park, and the faceless online demonstrations, into a bigger and broader movement.

Finally and most importantly, the root of the problem in Hong Kong and the chief reason for acts of civil disobedience is the absence of fair and transparent universal suffrage. With no such option, and facing the prospect of political limitation, the only way to affect change is to turn to the streets.

The YMCA Vs #ReturnMyCPF Fracas - When protests cross the line
Mr Roy Ngerng (with flag) and Ms Han Hui Hui (right) encroaching on the YMCA’s Proms@the Park event at Hong Lim Park last Saturday

The rallying cries of activist Han Hui Hui at Hong Lim Park could be heard two blocks away at Hong Lim Complex at 4.05pm, on a particularly hot day when the thermometer hit 34 deg C.

With a charity carnival by voluntary welfare organisation YMCA called Proms@the Park going on at the same time last Saturday, the 22-year-old organiser of the fourth Return Our CPF protest at the park yelled into a microphone a laundry list of her misgivings with the Government. She was dogged in making herself heard from an elevated mound at one corner.

Several hundred people, largely retirees, turned up to hear Ms Han and blogger Roy Ngerng, 33, speak about Central Provident Fund issues.

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Democracy. Can Singapore take the next step?

The next step - No one person can say what the next step for Singapore could or should be. Hong Kong, despite never having universal suffrage under British colonial rule, in fact has a significant history of enjoying other freedoms – of personal expression, to protest, of the press, of judicial independence – that are all part of the democratic model, and which do not exist in mainland China. Pro-democracy marches have over the years attracted hundreds of thousands onto the streets, long before the current “occupy” movement started.

As for Singapore, no such tradition of upholding democratic principles seems to exist, and a fundamental appreciation for such matters appears to be lacking. In many respects Singapore is in the opposite position of Hong Kong – having elections but none of the personal and civil freedoms that empower the democratic model. And while Hong Kong is protesting ostensibly to add universal suffrage to their list of freedoms, in many cases people have supported the movement because they detect and wish to resist a growing desire in Beijing to erode those freedoms that Hong Kong does have.

If we follow the symmetry of this argument, then perhaps the next step for Singapore is to build a deeper understanding of the non-voting, personal freedoms that we currently lack, but which are enjoyed in Hong Kong, and are the essential building blocks if we are to “build a democratic society” as described in the National Pledge.

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Vigil at Hong Lim Park in solidarity with Occupy Central
A candlelight vigil was organised by Singapore activists on Wednesday (Oct 1), in a show of support for pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong

Those who showed up wrote messages of support. Some wore yellow ribbons and carrying umbrellas - symbols of Hong Kong's pro-democracy movement.

An estimated 300 people turned up for the event at Hong Lim Park. They wrote messages of support and sang Cantonese songs to show solidarity with the protesters in Hong Kong.

Earlier in the evening - police were on site to remind organisers about rules regarding foreign participation, and also that no foreign flags should be displayed. The organisers had announced at the start of the event that it is against the law for foreigners to participate in the vigil.


Police investigating participants in HK protest vigil at Hong Lim Park
Supporters pose for a group photo during after a candlelight vigil at Hong Lim Park on Oct 1, 2014

A candlelight vigil was held at Hong Lim Park last night. More than 100 people had turned up by 7.45pm, reported The Straits Times

Police are investigating several people who participated in the "Singapore in Solidarity with HK event" at the Speakers' Corner on Wednesday night. In response to media queries, police released a statement to the press to confirm that several foreigners are currently assisting with investigations into offences under the Public Order Act.

No arrest has been made, said the police.


Return our CPF protesters 'assisting with police investigations'
Yahoo Newsroom Videos - Bloggers Roy Ngerng and Han Hui Hui lead a protest march against CPF policies around Hong Lim Park, while performances at a YMCA event were taking place concurrently

Organisers and some participants of the Return our Central Provident Fund (CPF) Rally were called in for questioning by the police on Friday afternoon.

Yahoo Singapore understands that the rally’s main organiser, Ms Han Hui Hui, was questioned for seven hours at the Police Cantonment Complex as part of investigations into whether the protest, held at Hong Lim Park on 27 Sept, had been an unlawful assembly.

The Return our CPF protest had caused an uproar when it clashed with a YMCA charity carnival held on the same day and at the same time.

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Fiery confrontation at Hong Lim Park over use of speaker’s corner
Confrontation with National Parks Officer and Police officers

A heated dispute between a National Parks officer and organiser of the Central Provident Funds (CPF) protest event took place last afternoon at Hong Lim Park over the shared use of the speakers’ corner.

Confrontation - When Chia Seng Jiang, National Parks’s director of the Parks division approached Han Hui Hui, the organiser of the CPF Protest just about 30 minutes before the start of her event. Ms Han was taken back by his request as he had requested that she shift her event to another part of Hong Lim Park beside the park’s toilet. He explained to her that the location is the allocated space for her event by National Parks as there is already another event taking place at Hong Lim Par. However, Ms Han refused to budge and rebuked that there was no such demarcation for her event when she applied for the permit.

When Mr Chia failed to get Ms Han to cooperate, he gathered a group of people (who were introduced as plain clothes police officers) and approached her as seen in the video below.

Singapore watches its twin city from afar, and considers its own future

On the night of October 1, a candlelight vigil lit up Singapore's Hong Lim Park. Roughly 300 people dressed in black, and wearing yellow ribbons in solidarity with pro-democracy demonstrators in Hong Kong chanted slogans and sang Cantonese protest songs. It was a lively event -- but not without a touch of irony.

Hong Lim Park is a 2.3 acre patch that is currently this semi-authoritarian city state's only space for legal public demonstrations (some have called it a token pressure valve). The vigil itself unfolded peacefully enough. But in the days since, the event -- staged to show support for those fighting for democratic freedoms in Hong Kong -- has found itself facing the business end of some of Singapore's less-than-liberal institutions.

Foreigners were barred from participating in the night's event -- organizers need a police permit for foreigners to join protests, even within the designated free-speech area (on Facebook, event organizers encouraged foreign residents to come and "observe"). Several non-Singaporeans who attended -- some of them from Hong Kong -- have reportedly been questioned since by police investigating "offences under the Public Order Act." And the Singapore police force has issued stern-sounding warnings: Foreigners, a spokesman said, "should not import their domestic issues from their countries into Singapore and conduct activities which can disturb public order," and "those who break the law will be seriously dealt with." 

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From tear gas to talk: A Hong Kong policeman chats with protesters
A Hong Kong police officer casually talks to protesters across a metal barricade in the early hours of Oct. 6 outside the offices of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. (Julie Makinen / Los Angeles Times)

A week earlier, the officer may have been among Hong Kong’s finest in riot gear, firing tear gas canisters into crowds of pro-democracy protesters. But in the wee hours of Monday, standing sentry outside government headquarters in the Admiralty district, he was in blue shirtsleeves, engaging a dozen or so demonstrators in a much more cordial fashion.

“Let’s say the police got it all wrong,” said the officer, no name badge on display, a light breeze blowing in the night as the protests entered their ninth day. Just behind him stood the offices of Leung Chun-ying, the Beijing-backed chief executive of this semiautonomous city and one target of protesters’ ire; in front of him stood young protesters just on the other side of a chest-high metal barrier.

The officer’s hypothetical retreat from his position, ideological if not spatial, invited a prompt rebuttal. “The government had it all wrong,” a young woman interjected. “If only Leung Chun-ying would come out to talk to us on the day we started the student strike....”

The Hong Kong Protestors and Orderly Disobedience

The world has become all too familiar with protest movements that turn chaotic and sometimes even violent. Almost everybody has seen media images from around the world of protestors hurling rocks at security forces and vandalizing property. However, we find a starkly different picture when we see media reports from the “Occupy” protests that are currently going on in Hong Kong.

If you watch the coverage of the student protests in Hong Kong, you are very likely to see the civil discussion of their political views rather than the common picture of the angry protestor shouting and acting aggressively. Other scenes that have become common are those of students finishing their schoolwork or cleaning up the litter that has been left in the streets. Many people find this to be a refreshing change from the protests that we have become used to and it seems that other protests could learn from this disciplined form of civil disobedience.

Part of the answer to why these protests are much more civil than many others are, lies in the fact that the protest organizers set rules for what type of behavior will be acceptable as part of the movement. By educating their fellow protestors on how they should act, they have taken steps to avoid violence and disorder and this has helped their movement to gain wider support in the HK community.

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Protestors’ triumphs merely highlight the travails of Hong Kong’s democracy

Just before midnight on 2 October, CY Leung, Chief Executive of Hong Kong, agreed to negotiations with student protest leaders on the issue of political reform. The protesters, as well as the people of Hong Kong, can be very proud of what they have achieved so far.

They have occupied not only the Admiralty area, but also several districts and ensured that the police cannot charge for another crackdown. The attempt on 28 September backfired; the use of tear gas against peaceful student protesters provoked an enthusiastic response. Many more people have taken part in the protests.

Despite months of official propaganda against the Occupy Central campaign, describing them as an illegal activity disrupting the local economy and plotting in vain to exert pressure on the central government, the Hong Kong people finally forced the CY Leung administration to negotiate, implicitly recognising the legitimacy of the protests.

Heckling YMCA @ Hong Lim Park

– Real S'pore: Exclusive Interview with 3 Sporeans Charged for Speaking on CPF
– Tweety: #returnourCPF
– The Singapore Beacon: Antiestablishmentarianism
– The Singapore Beacon: Freedom Is Not Free
– Aligheri2014: Of Law and Order
– The Singapore Beacon: In Search Of An Idiot’s Paradise
– Singapore Notes: More Fun Than A Barrel Of Monkeys
– Osman Sulaiman: Our police force a bully?
– Tots of a Cynical Investor: What Hui Hui & WP have in common
– Just Speaking My Mind: Disappointed with Our Police Force
– My Singapore News: The silence of the sheep
– Singapore Notes: Good Cop, Bad Cop
– The Nanyang Chronicle: Dissecting the Hong Lim Park fracas
– Tots of Cynical Investor: No need to change Hong Leong Park rules
– Second November: Downright Embarrassing
– Evergreen Bamboo: The Chee Defense of HLP Commotion
– Singapore 2B: And a child shall lead them
– Salt * Wet * Fish: Growing pains and collateral damage
– Thoughts of a Cynical Investor: Roy’s & New Citizen H3 should go to HK
– Singapore in General: Missing: The authoritative voice of NParks
– Musings, thoughts, life.: Singapore’s dissidents…too self-righteous?
– Barisan Kuning: Learning Points
– PetuniaLee™: Need to Fight for Freedom meh?
– Chemical Generation Singapore: The CPF Protest and Bad Manners
– The Temple Of Thoughts 3: Roy & Freedom vs YMCA & Special Needs Kids
– Five Stars and a Moon: Return of The Gorblok – Part 2
– Iron Bowl: YMCA fiasco
– Dewdrop Notes 露语: Human Shields & Political Pawns
– Cheryl Marie Tay: Come, We Clap For Them
– Basis Of Singaporean Spirit: Hong Lim Park Crash – Who is Right?
– My Singapore News: Teo Ser Luck apologised on Facebook
– Singapore Notes: Our Very Own Zapruder Clip
– Mindspur: Fiasco @ Hong Lim Park
– The Lycan Times: The Fracas at Hong Lim Park
– Five Stars and a Moon: Return of The Gorblok – Part 1
– Blogging for Myself: Ropes or Petard for Roy Ngerng
– Onthesannyside: What if it had turned out uglier?
– Singapore Notes: Suffer The Little Children

Occupy Hong Kong
– Foreign Policy: Where Hong Kong Hits Home
– The Lycan Times: Current Affairs – Hong Kong
– Limpeh Is Foreign Talent: HK: making the best of a messy situation
– Lukeyishandsome: RE: The Umbrella Revolution
– Musings From the Lion City: Get Rid Of The Man
– Asia Hacks: Quit while you’re ahead
– Chemical Generation Singapore: Hong Kong from Another Lens
– Limpeh Is Foreign Talent: HK vs China: a clash of minds and culture
– Just Speaking My Mind: A Chinese Opinion on Hong Kong Protest
– CPF broken promises: Interview with Student Protestors

Hong Lim Park #ReturnMyCPF Protest

Hong Kong Protest

Heckling YMCA
Several people asked to aid in probe into Hong Lim Park protest
A tale of 2 protests – Hong Kong & Hong Lim Park
It's about the kids with special needs
The YMCA Vs #ReturnMyCPF Fracas