Vandalism incident signals mounting public dissatisfaction in Singapore
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Vandalism incident signals mounting public dissatisfaction in Singapore

The Singapore Police Force reported that the roof level of a public housing apartment was broken into and vandalized on Tuesday morning. The roof level of Block 85A in the heartland of Toa Payoh in Singapore was spray painted with vulgarities directed against the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP). The police are investigating the case.

Vandalism is rare in Singapore and the punishment for such an act is tough, hence every case tends to draw the eyes of the public.

The highest profile vandalism case was the Michael Fay Incident in 1994. The American and a group of expatriate students were charged with vandalizing vehicles with hot tar, paint remover, red spray paint and hatchets. Some other cars had their tires slashed. The teens also removed road signs. Fay was eventually sentenced to four strokes of the cane, jailed for four months and fined SGD3,500 (US$2,800 at current exchange rates).

In 2010, Swiss expatriate Oliver Fricker was sentenced to seven months jail and three strokes of the cane after he and a British accomplice slipped into a train depot and vandalized public trains.

While the former two incidents could have been said to be the work of childish adults who did not know where to draw the line, so to speak, the latest incidents suggests that local acts of public vandalism may have a more insidious cause – indignation.

In 2005, the National Kidney Foundation headquarters was vandalized after an incensed public found out that the local dialysis charity and its CEO TT Durai used public donations to install gold taps in his office and fly first class.

Just a year ago the steps of Cenotaph (a war monument commemorating World War 1 and 2) were defaced. The years 1914 to 1918 were written over with the word democracy and then crossed out. The culprit was sentenced to three months jail and three strokes of the cane. Also in 2013, Singaporeans mass protested for the first time against a Population White Paper, Singapore also saw its first May Day protest that same year.

Back to the latest act of violence.

On the walls were the words, “Fuck the PAP”, “wake up SG”, “Singapore government can’t give us freedom”, as was the symbol for Anarchism.

A local gang called Omega seems to have taken credit for the act.

Some locals condemned the act. “We should condemn such act of vandalism. It is a behavior that we should never allow to exist in Singapore. Regardless of which party you are supporting, protect our beautiful country,” wrote Thomas Teng. Wan Razak added, “vandalism is not the way you show you’re angry with the government.” Others questioned how the vandals found their way to the rooftop.

The comments from the general public however betrayed deeper feelings that could be defined as passive-aggressive acts of defiance. Abdul Rahim Ibin Osman wrote, “this is a sign [that] the PAP has lost the trust of Singaporeans”. Zubaidah Rahiman prayed that the authorities would not be able to find the culprits.

Others had a more cynical view of the event, “The cleaning up was very fast…super fast… why MRT so slow,” said Jason Yeoh. Sasha Azhar sarcastically remarked, “wah on the spot paint… If we complain [about something] to town council must wait [long long]”.

A substantial number of readers questioned the main local news outlets as to why they had pixilated both the vulgarity and the political party’s initials, joking that the political party must be a vulgarity too. Alternative news sites and social media have since shared the un-pixilated images. Others remarked that the pace of the response was in stark contrast to the efficiency of the police in the Little India Riots in 2013.

When the NKF was vandalized, locals reacted by supporting the vandals who expressed general contempt. When the cenotaph was vandalized, Singaporeans were vocal against the act that desecrated a national monument. The recent act of vandalism seemed to be directed at the ruling party.

The caustic nature of comments is in contrast with the vitriol with which PM Lee Hsien Loong has been recently attacked.

At a constituency event to celebrate the Indian New Year, Lee was quoted as saying, “Singaporeans, new arrivals, people who are on permanent residence here, people who are on employment pass here, all participating in one big Singapore family… So that we feel that this is a place which is special, which belongs to all of us and where we all celebrate one another’s festivals and happy events together.”

While the phrasing was awkward, the intention probably was that all people in Singapore should integrate harmoniously. Netizens reacted furiously. Former opposition candidate, Goh Meng Seng wrote on his blog, “With all due respect, my Dear Prime Minister, you are an Army General and trained to protect, defend and die for our country’s sovereignty. You have allocated over 10 billion dollars EVERY YEAR in our National Budget to defense spending and male Singaporeans have spent years in basic military training and suffered disruptions to their work and businesses… just to defend our home country. I really cannot understand why, as a Prime Minister, you would not only willingly allow foreigners to trespass our sovereignty but on top of that, chided our own patriotic brothers and sisters for trying to defend our country’s sovereignty and dignity! (sic) “

Goh continued, “I also cannot understand why you could just GIVE AWAY our country by telling foreigners working and staying on this land that this country also belongs to them willingly without anybody firing a single shot! Aren’t we wasting our billions of dollars in defense spending and the time, effort, sweat, blood and even lives of our Singaporeans in National Service when your government is so readily to allow foreigners trespass our sovereignty or even own our country?”

Goh was not alone in venting his anger; a petition has been set up to demand that Lee resign. The petition has garnered over 2,000 signatures in four days.

The PM was also attacked over his defence of the right of Filipinos to apply to celebrate their national day with a carnival along Orchard Road.

At a public Nominated Member of Parliament Eugene Tan pinpointed immigration as the “dog that did not bark” and the “elephant in the room” arguing that all the major sticking points of dissatisfaction could be traced to this singular issue. His point was met with widespread agreement in many quarters including by local celebrity and prominent PAP member Tay Ping Hui, who said, “unabated, imported population growth is akin to using steroids. Great muscle gain, but the internal system overloads and the damage is irreversible.”