Taking photographs with well-wishers, accepting bills thrust into his palms, shaking the hands of crowds which had gathered wherever he went before the event… This was Mr. Roy Ngerng in the spotlight. “I am only an ordinary Singaporean. I want to speak up because I care for our country”, he said during his 40-minute speech. “It is time to awaken. It is time to rise. It is time to take control. And take back our lives, our money, our pride, and our dignity”.
At the end of his speech there were chants of “saviour”, “thank you Roy”, “well done Roy”. They were there for him.
Billed as a protest against the problematic management of the Central Provident Fund (CPF), it would appear that many of the 2,000 #ReturnOurCPF protestors had turned up to hear from Mr. Ngerng. After all the last population white paper protest only attracted 500 people, and sole organiser Miss Han Hui Hui conceded that her previous events only drew less than a hundred. Some participants have identified Mr Ngerng’s legal run-in with the Prime Minister as symbolic of their own displeasure with the government, even if the defamation is hardly in question. “The CPF has come to symbolise the government’s relationship with the people”, civil activist Vincent Wijeysingha argued. “It is not a good relationship”.
Critics will maintain that the accusation of PM Lee Hsien Loong misappropriating funds is completely unfounded, that Mr. Ngerng has been petulant, but these are the politics of perception. With ripostes against The Heart Truths gaining momentum I thought the misinformation could be countered by netizens. Now instead of gathering for spontaneous causes the Hong Lim Park faithful have an individual – a martyr of sorts – to rally behind.
Yet aside from the Roy-factor nothing has really changed at the Speakers’ Corner.
The anger persists. Maybe even paranoia. There were pre-made placards at the tentage area, and claims that certain printers had refused to process the event signs and paraphernalia. During speech pauses members of the crowd – most beyond their 30s – eagerly blasted the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). Flyers of “alternative websites” and the #ReturnOurCPF proposals were distributed. When the Red Lions were parachuting down for a rehearsal for the National Day Parade a lady exclaimed “Look up, they are recording our event!”
The speeches from the political parties were familiar. Reform Party (RP) Secretary General Mr. Kenneth Jeyaretnam, perhaps in preparation for the 2016 General Election, concluded that “I am not going to stop asking questions. I will not be deterred by defamation suits. If the government refuses to give us the truth, then it is time to replace the government”. In a speech read by a young representative Singapore Democratic Party Secretary General Mr. Chee Soon Juan said that without a proper opposition in Parliament in the 1980s, the CPF minimum sum has become a “most egregious breach of promise to the Singaporeans”.
The usual suspects arrived. Former presidential candidate Mr. Tan Kin Lian reiterated the four CPF proposals – for higher rates of return, the option to opt-out of the system, greater transparency of the sovereign wealth funds, and bigger pay-outs – and was sure that the protest turn-out was evidence that “the people of Singapore do not like the way the CPF is managed, as well as the defamation suit”. Financial advisor Mr. Leong Sze Hian lamented the lack of publicity of the CPF enhanced nomination scheme.
“What are the solutions [to the lack of transparency and accountability]”, Mr. Leong also quipped rhetorically. “We have to keep protesting, keep writing, and be like Roy and Hui Hui”.
In a smattering of English, Mandarin, and Hokkien, Miss Han must have lived up to Mr. Leong’s expectations. Former Minister Mentor Mr. Lee Kuan Yew was not supposed to be our Prime Minister, the event organiser insisted. “The Lee family must go, because they are not giving us the transparency and accountability we need”. She called for more to turn up at the protests in the future, because the supposed attendance of 6,000 out of three million Singaporeans will not worry the PAP. “We will still be here on July 12”.
And it seems like the three young speakers did take pages out of Miss Han’s book – unfortunately. In angry fits RP’s Miss Tyeisha Syaquilla, online writers Mr. Prabu Ramachandran and Mr. Ariffin Sha lambasted the ruling PAP for its perceived incompetence. Listening to the demagoguery in the middle of the crowd, and despite cognisance of the government’s missteps and shortcomings, one cannot help but wonder: what for?
For instance, this is what Mr. Ramachandran said to cheers from the crowd: “My next rebuttal is on ‘Singapore belongs to everyone’. So does our CPF belong to everyone as well? Anyone living and working in Singapore? So if Singapore really belongs to everyone, Singapore should not be known as Singapore. We should be known as ‘International Island’ [to be run by the United Nations]. Why do we need the Cabinet for? Stop talking nonsense”.