Lessons from HK protests

Lessons from HK protests
Demonstrators hold umbrellas in support of Hong Kong's pro-democracy marches.

Like Singapore, Hong Kong is a modern, thriving and vibrant city, except that it operates on the "one country, two systems" concept.

The ongoing mass protests in the territory offer several learning points on modern society and democratic governance.

The first lesson is the importance of the "one man, one vote" democratic process. As Singaporeans, we must value, appreciate and uphold this process.

The fact that tens of thousands in Hong Kong took to the streets to demand "genuine" universal suffrage reminds us of how easy it is to forget that we have had this right for almost 50 years.

Let us not take our freedom to vote and decide our future for granted. In many countries, being able to vote is not a right at all.

The second lesson is the importance of establishing meaningful dialogue with protesters, and how tear gas and pepper spray are not "magic bullets".

Unfortunately, in most mass protests, behind-the-scenes negotiations often fail and the authorities would resort to force to bring about an end to the situation.

Dealing with young and eager student protesters calls for tempered solutions that do not harden their resolve and encourage sympathy from the masses.

The third lesson is on harnessing social media, which has become the most convenient means of communication in times of social unrest

The fact that it is so convenient and widespread could also give rise to disinformation, which could stir up trouble.

So how then does one learn to not believe everything one hears or reads, and to sift out truth from lies?

We have seen in recent times how elected leaders are engaging the public through Facebook and Twitter. In difficult times, they can come out on social media to counter untruths and clarify issues with the masses.

Chow Meng Yoon

This article was first published on Oct 4, 2014.
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