By Ariffin Sha
Our former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong once warned the writer Catherine Lim that she ought “to join a political party if she wanted to air political views in public.”
I disagree. We don’t have to be members of political parties to be able to air our views and comment on politics. National policies affects us all in our everyday lives. The decisions made in Parliament do not only affect politicians, but they affect every single one of us in one way or another.
Article 14 of our Constitution also protects our right to freedom of speech. It is our constitutional right to speak about national issues, on policies, on the politicians and problems which our society faces. We shouldn’t leave the discussion to only the politicians. And I firmly believed that we had to be the change that we wanted to see in this world. We need to walk the talk.
It was for this reason that I started speaking up and getting involved in “politics”. I may be too young to vote, but no one is ever too young to make a difference. Students in Singapore are stereotyped to be “politically apathetic”, but a quick look-back in history would easily explode that myth.
Students of Singapore are not politically apathetic, in fact we do have a rich history of Student and Youth activism in Singapore. The student activists were instrumental in our fight against Colonialism too. It didn’t matter if they were English-educated, Chinese-educated, middle school or University students, they all united in the anti-colonial struggle.
If it weren’t for the student activists, we would probably still be singing “God Save the Queen” instead of “Majulah Singapura” today.
former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who was also the students’ legal consultant then, told the crowd that they (the student activists) would come to play a vital role in the Malayan independence movement. He praised the Chinese school students for their discipline and organizational skills.
It is unfortunate that many of them were suppressed, attacked and destroyed in the midst of a political struggle by the same PAP that they helped bring to power.
Indeed, as Dr Lim Hock Siew, then a founder-member of the University of Malaya’s Socialist Club (USC) and a leader of the university’s student union, once revealed:
“Like a gigantic tidal wave these student activists swept the PAP into power in 1959, hoping that the newly formed political party would bring about political freedom and social justice to our people.
But it was not to be. Subsequent repressions conducted by the PAP after it came to power proved to be more ruthless and relentless than those carried out by the colonial rulers and they have to be seen through and through as a massive political betrayal in Singapore’s history.
Today, “emergency” laws have become the “normal” laws of Singapore. Political dissent can result in double and even triple decade without trail. Restrictions imposed on the mass media, on public assembly and freedom of expression are, if anything, more severe than during the colonial days.
But it has to be said that no political situation can forever remain static and unchanged. The time will soon arrive when our people will free themselves from the five decades of political oppression in Singapore.”
At that time, it was fairly common to see students playing leading roles in the trade union movement and in political organisations, as they graduated from school. Also, cultural and civic organisations were sprouting up like bamboo shoots after spring rains, staffed by hitherto student activist.
The student movement gave rise to leaders like Lim Chin Siong, who co-founded the PAP, Dr Lim Hock Siew, Soon Loh Boon and Dr Chia Thye Poh, just to name a few.
The student movement was thriving in Singapore and it gave birth a new dawn after a successful fight with the colonial rulers, but that is of course until the PAP started clamping down on student activism more ruthlessly than what the colonial rulers did. They witnessed the power of the students first-hand and they were afraid of it.
Student and youth activists leading the way for change is becoming increasingly common all over the world. Leaders all over the world, like Nelson Mandela, Gandhi and Obama were all once student leaders. The student activists played a vital role in the Bersih Movement in Malaysia, the fall of Suharto in Indonesia and more recently, the Protests for Democracy in Hong Kong. And I believe it is time that the youth of Singapore step up to the plate.
According to the Ministry of Esducation’s social and emotional learning framework, it wants students who are competent in:
- Civic Literacy, Global Awareness and Cross-Cultural Skills
- Critical and Inventive Thinking
- Communication, Collaboration and Information Skills
We should eradicate this climate of fear through education. We want to present youths with appropriate avenues to get involved, educate themselves and express their views which is not limited to the Youth Wings of Political Parties alone.
I am sure students themselves have a lot to say about issues pertaining to our education system, such as the rising costs of tertiary education, the lack of focus on creativity and the uneven playing fields. Who knows, they might even start questioning the “official” version of Singapore’s history which contradicts declassified British documents.
We are not talking about a radical and violent movement here. This whole movement can and will be conducted in an organised, peaceful, constructive and effective manner.
Students should be allowed to take charge in issues that they feel passionate about and not be prosecuted for doing so, deterring leaders-to-be to mellow down and conform to the system. Singapore’s current shortage of good leaders might be a result of the overly well carried out plan to deter student activism since the early 1960s.
Students should also be encouraged to express themselves, no matter what their political views may be. This can only be good for the education system and the future of our nation.
The student movement from our past and the leaders it produced have inspired me greatly. I believe it is time that the youth of Singapore rise up and take responsibility for our own future.
Don’t be afraid and conform to “social norms” any more. We are the future of this nation. We can choose what kind of future we want to create. The power is within us, fellow young Singaporeans. It is time to be the change that we want to see in Singapore!
This article is an edited version of the original from Ariffin Sha’s blog. TOC has earlier sent a query to MOE and Ariffin’s alma mater asking if he has indeed been bared from entry due to his “political activities”. It has been 12 days since, and we are still awaiting a response from MOE and First Toa Payoh Secondary School.