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“First march in S’pore since independence”? Not quite

Roy Ngerng, the blogger at the centre of a defamation suit filed by Lee Hsien Loong and who is also involved with the CPF protests in recent months, posted the following on his blog on 27 September.

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Mr Ngerng might have been carried away by the adrenalin from the previous day’s rowdy protest at Hong Lim Park (Speakers’ Corner), and made the erroneous – and rather inflated – claim that the protest was "the first march in Singapore since independence."

The claim is not quite true, actually.

In fact, there have been not a few marches – whether at Hong Lim Park itself or in other public areas - in Singapore throughout the years, post-independence.

We highlight here some of the more prominent ones.

Barely one and a half months after our independence on 9 August 1965, Nanyang University students took to the streets and attempted to march in protest for the expulsion of 85 students from the university.

The police, however, halted the march before it started.

It was 30 October 1965:

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Then, a year later, on 12 October 1966, there was a protest march by some 1,000 University of Singapore students to “demand for university autonomy , academic freedom, and withdrawal of suitability certificates for freshmen.”

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Protest marches were not limited to those who were protesting against the authorities here.

The Singapore Government-affiliated National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) has mounted several protests too.

In June 1973, the NTUC organised a protest march to the French embassy here to express its concerns over the French’s nuclear tests in the pacific.

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And on May 11, 1988, “the (NTUC) staged a massive protest involving 4,000 workers in Shenton Way to signal its unhappiness with the United States for interfering with Singapore's domestic politics”, a Straits Times report in 2012 said.

“While some saw it as a strike, it was more of a public protest, said NTUC president emeritus John De Payva, who participated in it.”

Another report said the NTUC “drove buses around the U.S. embassy, held a rally attended by four thousand workers, and issued a statement deriding the U.S. as ‘sneaky, arrogant, and untrustworthy’.”

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In more recent times, perhaps the group most known for holding public protests and marches (attempted or otherwise) would be the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).

The most famous attempt by the SDP at conducting a march would be the one in 2006, during the meeting of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) at Suntec City.

The SDP had planned to march from Hong Lim Park to the convention centre and Parliament house. However, they were surrounded and stopped by the police from doing so.

What transpired was a 3-day stand-off between the authorities and the political opposition party.

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While the SDP may have failed to hold the march as it had planned that day, the party and its supporters were more successful three months later – when, wearing yellow t-shirts, it commemorated International Human Rights Day with a Freedom Walk from Speakers’ Corner to the Istana and to Changi Prison where the SDP leader, Dr Chee Soon Juan, was being incarcerated for speaking in public without a permit.

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Two years later, on 15 March 2008, the SDP held a march and protest on World Consumers’ Day (WCD), from Orchard Road to Parliament.

Along the way, however, the group was stopped and eventually arrested by the police.

Here is a video of the march:

The SDP’s WCD march was similar to the one held the previous year by the Consumers Association of Singapore (CASE), also on World Consumer’s Day, in the downtown area.

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The manner in which the two similar events were treated by the authorities gave rise to questions by members of the public. (Read here: “A CASE of double standards?”)

But Singaporeans were not the only ones who have held public marches and protests.

One example of foreigners getting in on this was the Orchard Road march-cum-protest by Burmese nationals in 2007, when Burma was in political turmoil as the military junta massacred its own people, including monks.

A group of Burmese working in Singapore decided to show solidarity with their countrymen back home and held a march in Orchard Road in December.

As for marches and protests in Hong Lim Park itself, well, Mr Ngerng is wrong as well, for Saturday’s CPF march/protest at the park is not the “first march since independence” held at the park either.

In 2013, the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE) commemorated International Women’s Day with a march and protest at the park calling for equality.

The news gave it scant attention but here is a video which The Online Citizen took of the event:

It is understandable that in times of great emotional controversy that things will be said and many claims made.

But it is equally important, after the emotions have settled, that we know what is fact, and what is driven by adrenalin and which may not necessarily be accurate, or true.

As for Mr Ngerng's claims that Saturday's protest was also "the first protest in front of a minister", that too is not quite true, but we'll leave that for another day.