Hundreds turn up at Hong Lim Park for silent protest against reserved presidential election

Nigel Chin
A silent sit-in protest against the reserved presidential election was held at Hong Lim Park on 16 September 2017, which was attended by former presidential candidate Tan Cheng Bock (middle). (Photo: Nigel Chin/Yahoo News Singapore)

Two former presidential candidates were among hundreds of people who turned up at Hong Lim Park on Saturday (16 September) for a silent sit-in protest against the recent presidential election.

Tan Cheng Bock and Tan Jee Say, both of whom took part and lost in the 2011 presidential election, attended the event five days after former Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob was declared on Monday as the only candidate eligible to run in the presidential race. Halimah was inaugurated on Thursday as Singapore’s first female president, and the first from the Malay community in 47 years. This year’s election was reserved for Malay candidates.

Yahoo News Singapore arrived at Hong Lim Park around 4:30pm, and estimated a crowd of about 200 people. Around 6:00pm, it grew to about 800 people, according to this reporter. Organisers, however, estimated that the attendance was 2000 people at its peak.

Tan Cheng Bock was the main attraction of the protest, with a large crowd gathering around him when he turned up slightly after 5pm. Many of the attendees took photos with him and chanted his name. The former Ayer Rajah MP did not speak to reporters at the event.

Tan Jee Say told Yahoo News Singapore that the walkover in the reserved election has set a “bad precedent”.

“It’s bad democracy, it’s bad for meritocracy. Prime Minister (Lee Hsien Loong) has told us there are lots of people who can qualify, but yet we are disappointed that Halimah ended up as the only one who was eligible to stand,” said the Secretary-General of Singaporeans First Party.

When asked if the government would pay a political price as a result of the reserved election, he said most Singaporeans would forget about the issue by the time of the next General Election.

“The next General Election is still far away – about two, three years (more). I don’t know whether Singaporeans’ memory will last that long. A lot of things will happen along the way. There will be a lot of ‘goodies’ given by the government,” he added.

Gilbert Goh, who was one of the event organisers, explained that the protest was a silent one as the organisers felt that they would not be able to secure a police permit if there were speeches at the event.

Lim Tean, the former Secretary-General of the National Solidarity Party and a co-organiser of the protest, said, “There was no need for any speeches today because I think over the past few days, Singaporeans have made their own speeches on social media, which have been heard very loud and clear.”

Singaporeans have been disenchanted with the presidential electoral process and wanted to signal that the “manipulation” of Singapore’s Constitution cannot continue, Lim added.

“I think the silent protest today was a very powerful message to the PAP government.”

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