Inspired by the Occupy Wall Street movement, last week saw hundreds of protests against corporate greed and economic inequality spring up around the world. In Singapore, similar action was organized in the financial district to highlight the widening economic gap in the country and to ‘engage the public in creating a new form of democracy.’ But it seems Singaporeans had other things on their mind, because nobody showed up in Raffles Place. Even the organizers didn’t identify themselves to the media, which went there to document the protest.
Is this a sign that Singapore’s ‘99 percent’ is satisfied with the economy? Did the protest fail because the obscene accumulation of wealth by a few corporations that provoked the Wall Street protest is a non-issue in prosperous Singapore?
The ‘Occupy Raffles Place’ flop shouldn’t allow us to forget that Singapore has by some measures the highest rate of inequality among developed nations. It was the first city in Asia to experience recession in the wake of the global financial crisis in 2008, and while its economy has already rebounded, ordinary Singaporeans continue to suffer from stagnant wages, job losses and the rising cost of living. In fact, last May’s election results saw the ruling party suffer its worst-ever electoral setback.
So, if there are valid reasons to ‘occupy’ Singapore, and if the people are searching for alternatives, why did the protest fail? The threat issued by the police against the organizers of the ‘Occupy’ event could have discouraged any interested Singaporeans (and even foreigners) from joining the protest. Singapore might have the most open economy in the world, but it has restrictive laws that make it difficult for its citizens to organize and participate in political assemblies. (Of course, the nameless organizers should also be blamed for their poor planning and failure to offer creative methods of circumventing Singapore’s repressive laws).
Still, the organizers and believers in the ‘Occupy’ movement shouldn’t lose faith over the zero attendance in their initial attempt to introduce a more assertive form of political action in Singapore. They must appreciate the fact that they were able to rattle the Singapore government, especially the police, with a simple announcement posted on Facebook. Also, both local and foreign journalists were there to cover the protest, which highlights the newsworthiness of the action. Netizens were prepared to popularize the protest in cyberspace. If a non-event could generate such a surprising reaction from the government and the public, imagine the political impact of a well-attended ‘Occupy Singapore.’
The opposition and other dissident forces should seize the potential of the ‘Occupy’ idea and transform it into a reality.