When I read about 15 yr old Joshua Wong; student leader of Scholarism – a student group – protesting with thousands of other Hong Kong students and residents outside their government HQ, many questions came to my mind. I could not help comparing Hong Kong to Singapore and their students with our students.
Hong Kong and Singapore have got many similarities in size, population and culture. We are both Asian based societies formerly under British rule. We inherited the rule of law from the British. Many of our institutions and governance are also inherited from the British. We became self-government in 1959 and then independence in 1965. Whereas, Hong Kong returned back to the China only in 1997. We are so similar and yet so different in so many ways.
I notice that the citizens in Hong Kong would protest and demonstrate every now and then against the government policy or over some events. June 4th will always see peaceful demonstration by Hong Kong residents lighting candles keeping vigil to commemorate those killed in Tiananmen Sq. What about the protest against the GST hike which was aborted; among other protests. On every July 1st – the handover date in 1997, there will also be mass protest demanding for universal suffrage. We know that Hong Kong citizens do not directly elect their own Chief Executive and half of the MPs in parliament or council are nominated by the Chinese communist. Hong Kong is still under Special Administrative Zone of China where they are only allowed autonomy for most things except defence and foreign affairs. One country with two systems is how they describe it.
Politically, Hong Kong citizens do not have much voting rights. Unlike us, Hong Kongers do not elect their own MPs directly to represent them. But if they do not have voting rights, then why they still have 4 main political parties – some pro Beijng and others not. In Hong Kong, I was told that there are more than 30 major and minor newspapers in Chinese or English. The newspapers there are free to report whatever they want without any restrictions. Even their TV and radio stations are full of live commentary with debate on social issues and current affairs. If you read about Hong Kong news often, the people there are frequently seen marching on the streets shouting slogans and protesting against some government policy. For example when the Hong Kong government wanted to tear down Queen Pier, so many took to the streets to protest.
I am no expert on Hong Kong’s complicating social and political systems. But I do know that they could suka suka protest and march on the streets if they are not happy with government policy. Mind you, their protests are very orderly and peaceful with no riots. No damages to public property. No deaths or bombs at all. Their peaceful protests and demonstrations are as seen in those 1st world countries, unlike those in middle eastern countries, Afghanistan or Pakistan where bloodshed often followed.
In view of the above facts, could we say that there is no democracy or freedom of expression in Hong Kong? Some of you may say ‘yes and no.’ In short, it’s quite an interesting phenomenon happening in Hong Kong. Even that 15-year old student could speak so bravely and eloquently to reporters when interviewed by so many TV and radio stations. He is leading a protest against the government introducing compulsory National Education (NE) in all schools. They feel that it’s a form of “brain-washing” by the Hong Kong government acting under instruction from Beijing. The students detested such programme. The reason given by the student leader, Joshua Wong is that NE discourages critical thinking and it glorifies a certain political party which they do not blindly adhere to.
Now if we compare our students to Hong Kong students, the differences are quite obvious. I do not think our students would be that daring and bold like their counterparts in Hong Kong. There was a time in our early years of history when Chinese stream students protested against the government. It was never those English educated students. That period of our brief history is well documented if you care to read up.
We also have GE every 5 years to choose our representatives from different parties to form the government. We also choose our president once every 6 years. In fact, all our leaders in government are chosen by us. We do have universal suffrage. Why then we are still not satisfied with our system? We are still complaining about lack of freedom and rights of protest. We are telling the whole world that we have limited democracy.
I feel that maybe the answer lies in our government having strict controls on our press and MSM. I don’t understand why we still have the ISA when Hong Kong never had it even though both were formerly under British colonial rule. Is the ISA – Malaysia already repealed it recently – curbing the freedom and rights of expression of ordinary law abiding citizens? We can’t just go to the street and march in protest unlike in Hong Kong or those advanced first world countries. We have already reached the living standards of first world standard, yet socially and politically we are still in the 60s or 70s! As citizens of this country unlike in Hong Kong, we really can’t do much if we really feel that the langgar policy is unfair or not right! There is no say on how our lives ought to be governed except once in every 5 yrs. Wonder no more, why opposition political rallies attract throngs of listeners whereas the incumbents so miserably few spectators!
Does it mean that allowing peaceful demonstrations and orderly protests will lead to chaos, social upheavals or anarchy? Just look at Hong Kong. Did it collapse and fall apart? Need I say more? The government need to closely examine this aspect if it wants to earn the citizens’ respect and trust. Hopefully, this government will change cuz I believe most of them – 61% of citizens at least, do not want to change this government. They want the government to change – that is the difference.