Shrewd Politics 101: Make Token Concessions

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Much has already been said about how tokenistic the recent concessions to permit demonstrations at the Speakers Corner are. I agree with these sentiments and understand that we are still a far cry away from the liberal freedoms we deserve. However, it is imperative to recognise as well that this is probably the furthest any shrewd government will go for now.

Best to avoid contradictions
The only ones campaigning formally for these freedoms are the ones whom the government denounces as being a poor opposition whose policies will lead the country to economic ruin. Given that most people also therefore associate the campaign for greater civil liberties with the opposition camp, what good would it do the PAP to concede that the opposition was right? Thus it is unlikely that the PAP would do anything drastic, anything that would be seen as a victory for the opposition camp and elevate their credibility.

Yet, there must be a reason why the PAP has even chosen to make this tokenistic concessions in the first place. The reason most likely has to do with increasing recognition within the PAP itself that traditional restrictions on civil liberties are no longer acceptable amongst an increasingly exposed people who are aware of and desire the level of civil liberties afforded in other countries.

I personally find this prospect of the government even opening up to the notion of granting civil liberties, and even agreeing in principle that Singaporeans have a right to demonstrate, quite heartening. Slow as the changes may be, they are likely to continue.

Why create demand when you can pretend it doesn't exist?
On top of the above, the other problem with Singapore is that the government has been rather successful in creating the illusion that no one, apart from the Chee siblings, wants to make outdoor demonstrations. Untrue as this may be, I believe that much of the electorate buy this story because they rarely see demonstrations being held, hence perceiving it as a reflection that the PAP is right to say that the economy matters more than civil liberties. Ironically, it is the existing ban that prevents people from holding demonstrations, not the fact that they really do not care about civil rights. On the contrary, I'm quite sure the hardest hit classes would take to the streets with unfair GST hikes for instance, issues which ARE economic in nature.

It is a sad fact though, that the government continues to obscure the link between exercising civil liberties and wanting economic growth. For the poor who grow poorer despite overall economic growth, civil liberties are all the more important for they are a portion of society, discriminated against, and therefore is in ever greater need of having a voice that doesn't come in dollars or cents.

Alas, it is probably the PAP's job to remain in power, just as it is the monopoly's job to maximize profits. This link will probably continue to be obscured for as long as this vested interest remains.


Anonymous said...

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