October 14, 2011, 4:13 PM SGT
Protesters Plan to Occupy Singapore
By Shibani Mahtani
Occupy Wall Street members staged a protest march near Wall Street in New York earlier this week.When Singapore's ruling People's Action Party received a historic low of 60% of the vote –- what would be considered a landslide for any U.S. president –- in elections earlier this year, political analysts said it marked the beginning of a more-competitive political system in the city-state. And when opposition rallies were attended by tens of thousands of people, many residents were shocked.
Now, in the latest sign of increased political activity in the once-sleepy island, the Occupy Wall Street protest has inspired Internet-savvy citizens to organize their own protest in Singapore, more than 9,500 miles away from Wall Street.
A Facebook page for the protest, named Occupy Raffles Place after the city's financial district, first appeared on Oct. 10, calling for Singaporeans to occupy Singapore's central business district to "demand accountability and change." The page singled out government-owned Temasek Holdings and the Government of Singapore Investment Corp. for what it described as a lack of transparency and accountability.
The protest is planned for Saturday, Oct. 15, at 2 p.m., in concert with similar movements around the region. People attending the protest are encouraged to later march toward the Singapore Exchange center.
In a state where political protests are almost unheard of, Occupy Raffles Place has raised eyebrows and prompted a flurry of responses from all over the Twittersphere and blogosphere -– and, inevitably, a warning from the police.
"Police urge members of the public not to be misled and participate in an unlawful activity," the Singapore Police Force's Public Affairs Department said in a response to media queries, explaining that it had received reports of a "netizen…instigating the public" to protest at Raffles Place. It remains unclear who is organizing the event.
The statement also pointed out Singapore's strict and oft-criticized protest and public-gathering laws. In Singapore, citizens are free to hold demonstrations without a permit at the Speakers' Corner in Hong Lim Park, a small patch of grass near the city's center –- provided the gatherings are on matters unrelated to race or religion. Demonstrations or protests elsewhere require government-issued permits, which can be rejected for any perceived threats to "public order and safety."
The Facebook page urged those planning the event to "make as much noise as possible," but also encouraged those attending to be peaceful and relaxed, and to refrain from bringing political party or trade-union banners, alcohol or drugs.
The police statement didn't elaborate on whether authorities will indeed take action if the protest goes ahead, or whether they planned to investigate the administrators of the Facebook page.
"The police can certainly act against the participants," said Eugene Tan, a professor of law at the Singapore Management University.
Protesters at the Occupy Wall Street demonstration, which inspired the Singapore event, have reached a hurdle of their own. Protesters have been told to vacate Manhattan's Zuccotti Park by 7 a.m. Friday for landlord Brookfield Properties to clean the area. Protest organizers sent an email to supporters on Thursday urging them to "defend the occupation from eviction."
According to the Facebook page in Singapore, organizers and at least a handful of Singaporeans remain undeterred. A post made after the police issued its warning against the "unlawful" event was defiant, with the group Occupy Singapore posting: "#OccupyRafflesPlace is still HAPPENING!" The guest list on the Facebook page is now disabled, but at last count, at least 75 people had indicated they would attend. Comments "in solidarity" were also posted around the region, particularly from Malaysia and Manila, which are holding their own Occupy protests Saturday.
A vast majority of people on Twitter and Facebook, however, were dismissive of the action. People criticized the protest for "not being original" and said they doubted it would be successful in a nation of "armchair critics." One Twitter user called the event a "massive joke."
Observers of politics in Singapore say that the foreign roots of the protest are partly to blame for the antipathy.
"The movement lacks organic roots," said Mr. Tan, who has long been an observer of politics in the city-state. "The foreign roots make it lack traction here." He added that a "cloak of anonymity" undermines the credibility of the attempt.
Not all were as skeptical. "I have my own reservations about how… it is being planned and what the outcome will be," said Kirsten Han, a Singaporean blogger. "But it is their right to be doing this… At the very least, let them try."
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