Monday, 18 February 2013


18th February 2013

By Nizam Ismail
In the aftermath of the Hong Lim Park Civil Protest against the White Paper, here is why the Government must listen to the voices at Hong Lim Park.
PM Lee had earlier unequivocally stated that the public debate on the White Paper must continue, despite Parliament passing a motion approving the White Paper.
Yet, Singaporeans have,  to-date, not received any information from the Government as to how and where the public debate proposed by the Government can (or will?) take place.
Putting aside the skepticism of SG Conversation for a moment, there has also been no indication as to whether the White Paper will be discussed at this state-sponsored platform.
And so, it should not surprise anyone that a group of Singaporeans took it upon themselves to organize a platform for this public debate at Hong Lim Park.  These are Singaporeans who felt that their voices were not heard.  Hong Lim Park thus provided the setting for the expression of the collective voices of a significant number of concerned Singaporeans.   It is thus a no brainer – the wet greens of Hong Lim Park must be considered as part of the space for public debate.
Here, to dismiss the voices at Hong Lim as “emotional” , “unbalanced” or “not shedding light on important issues” smacks of arrogance.  Worse, it can only reaffirms the perception that there has been no sincere attempt at listening to Singaporeans (arising from the manner in which White Paper was rushed through Parliament), and that Singaporeans are dis-empowered from taking part in charting their destinies, and making their own decisions.
This was no ordinary gathering.  It was the biggest civil protest gathering in Singapore post-independence.  And one which was noticed and covered by major global news media.
I had commented at Hong Lim Park that Singaporeans have a right to be emotionally persuaded.  To dismiss and mock any emotional reaction is regrettable.  Because the issues in the White Paper talks about our future – the physical and social space that we live in.  Because the White Paper talks about our identity as Singaporeans. Singaporeans have every right to feel emotionally aggrieved when their voices are not heard on these important issues.  And worse,  to be summarily dismissed.
At the intellectual level (a level that the Government is apparently more comfortable with), many spontaneous discussions over social media and elsewhere have brought out certain fundamental problems that have been overlooked or insufficiently addressed in the White Paper.  These issues were also touched upon at Hong Lim Park.  Again, for the Government to take a broad-brushed dismissal on Hong Lim Park does nothing to persuade Singaporeans that these important issues have been considered, and that there are solid grounds for the proposals in the White Paper.
The current situation presents an opportunity for the Government to demonstrate that it has, in fact, changed and that it will listen.
This presents an opportunity for the Government to show that it is open to accepting and even encouraging a diversity of views –  diversity that is important for Singapore’s resilience.
But will the Government seize this opportunity to make amends for the White Paper, which, by the Government’s own admission, had its shortcomings?
The longer the Government takes to respond to Hong Lim, the greater the risk of growing chasm between the Government and Singaporeans.
Already, some Singaporeans have called for a sequel to Hong Lim Park.
In the meantime, Singaporeans will continue to ponder whether they are placed at the Core.

About Nizam Ismail: 
"I set this Blog up in the belief that there must be space for independent voices and perspectives in Singapore. I am currently Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Centre for Research on Islamic and Malay Affairs (RIMA). I am have been a  member (since 2006) and formerly Chairman (2009-2011) of the Board of Directors of the Association of Muslim Professionals (AMP).  I was the founding President of Young AMP from 2004-2009. I was also Chairman of the Convention Steering Committee of the 2nd Convention of Muslim Professionals in 2012. I have been doing voluntary work in various capacities since 1997. The thoughts herein are my personal views and may not necessarily reflect those of RIMA and AMP.

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