There were 400 registered speakers during its debut year and the number dwindled to a mere 26 in 2006. The Speaker's Corner at Hong Lim Park was established by the gahmen on 01 Sep 2000 to allow members of the public (registered first, of course) to give speech and engage in debate with the general public.
I remember that very day when I first got wind of this initiative.
My very first question was.
Er.... where is Hong Lim Park ah?
Granted that it was technically in the town area, it was a relatively obscure part of town where it felt like the gahmen gave us a place to scream and yell all you want but no one will hear you.
I call it the Phua Chu Kang Croissant where the croissant, pronounced by our favourite Rosie Phua as "kosong", is defined as the Ang Moh Curry Pok - curry pok but inside no curry.
It was not exactly accessible (by proximity to MRT station yardstick) considering the fact that both the Chinatown and Clarke Quay MRT stations of the NE-Line didn't exist back then until June 2003.
I did question why not have the Speaker's Corner at some place with more human traffic like Orchard's Youth Park (I think they renamed it to .scape) or the lawn directly above Raffles Place MRT Station outside Singapore Land Tower, Ocean Tower & Chevron House or better yet Istana Park directly opposite the official residence of our dear President?
On one hand, it seemed like the gahmen is afraid that these folks be heard and hence paid the lip service of having a Speaker's Corner (Hey! Look everyone! We support freedom of expression as long as you are a registered Singaporean and don't talk about race, religion with a microphone or loud speakers) at some bladdy obiang location. On the other hand, perhaps it is a place away from the foreigners/tourists while we wave our dirty laundry all over the place for our own viewing pleasure?
According to Wikipedia on the said location, "It was chosen as it was a popular venue for political rallies in the 50s and 60s."
Let me translate this. It means that it was chosen as it IS a bladdy ulu venue in the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s and possibly 2010s for political rallies. Yes? No?
Sure, registered speakers at the corner has dwindled to a mere handful these days but perhaps it is a matter of quality over quantity?
04 Oct 2008 marks the vigil held in memory of the late JB Jeyaratnam. Perhaps one of the more significant events of the Speaker's Corner history.
Circle your calendar for 11 Oct 2008, 5pm to 7pm where ex-CEO of NTUC Income is slated to address the public on the petition to the gahmen with regards to the current credit link securities issue. I foresee a big turnout that day.
Are we seeing a revival of the Speaker's Corner? Perhaps so as more and more people are beginning to stand up and voice out their opinions to the gahmen rather than being the senselessly obedient sheep that we used to be. The Red Dot Awakens as penned in July 2006.
The Speaker's Corner in the past is like polenta on the menu of an Italian restaurant here in Singapore. It is possibly the least popular dish on the menu not because it is no good but rather, we don't know anything beyond the usual pizza and pasta to order it.
People don't see the current Speaker's Corner is of any use not because it is redundant but perhaps we don't really know how to ultilise it as a speaker as well as understand what can come out of it as an audience.
Given time, this will slowly change for the people will eventually learn how to put the Speaker's Corner to good benefit for the people.
Looking forward into the distant future, I see the Hong Lim Park location as Phase I of the Speaker's Corner as I foresee this platform to voice out eventually moving to the new media. By then the local gahmen-controlled newspaper like the $traits Times shall be reduced to the status of a party newsletter.
In the mean time, thanks for the two MRT stations along the NE-Line.
Image Credits: Flickr - Singapore National Album of Pictures