The last three months have seen at least three ‘protests’ at Hong Lim Park, which has no doubt encouraged some civil society activists and pro-democracy types. They probably think this marks a coming of age for political expression in Singapore.
But the reality is that the Hong Lim Park protests won’t change anything at all. In fact, if anything it could make things worse.
Protests work only if enough people believe in the cause and are willing to take affirmative action if the Govt does not give in.
When tens or hundreds of thousands of people occupy an airport for months, as they did in Thailand, the Govt has to make a choice– forcefully disperse the protesters, which has grave political consequences– or give in to their demands.
When thousands and tens of thousands of people march on the streets, shouting their demands, the Govt has the same choice– arrest the protesters and make the people more angry, which will cost it dearly in political terms– or offer dialogue and concessions.
Having a bunch of people attend three hours of speeches in Hong Lim Park does not have the same effect. Particularly if half of them are there for the entertainment value only and none of them are repeatedly shouting any demands or slogans.
Whether protests are a legitimate way to force policy change or political change is a separate matter. What is important is that Singaporeans should realize that Hong Lim Park style ‘protests’ will not change anything.
The PAP knows that too, which is why they allow it.