Peaceful protests can help build a more robust society

A mature, productive political environment benefits from an active participatory culture that involves the inclusion of and respect for public acts of political expression.

While Mr Elliot Taylor Hong correctly reminds us that peaceful protests may not necessarily entail peaceful outcomes (Don't exclude 'peaceful protests' from public order Act; April 29), we need to be mindful not to always see peaceful protests as potential threats to the stability and cohesion of our nation.

Peaceful protests are not merely "protests".

Instead, they represent peaceful acts of political expression, which are essential building blocks in constructing a more robust political and civic infrastructure in our nation.

A fresh set of opinions from the citizenry allows governments to better understand the needs and concerns of the people.

This creates a closer and reciprocal relationship between the people and their government.

We also need to be cognisant of the possible repercussions of including peaceful protests in the Public Order and Safety (Special Powers) Act.

Having a law that targets free political expression may send the message both at home and abroad that the Singapore Government has little or no appetite for political dissent. This can undermine Singapore's reputation as an open and free society.

At the same time, we should recognise that this is not only a question concerning law and order.

A peaceful protest underlines the existence of a fault line in the society.

Rather than focusing on shutting down or controlling the protest, perhaps it may be more beneficial to consider how we can bridge the differences and disagreements that are responsible for the fault line.

A peaceful protest will spiral into violence only when we fail to solve the underlying problems that motivated it in the first place.

It is important that we have our eyes on the right side of the picture.

Michael Zhou Xizhuang

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 07, 2018, with the headline 'Peaceful protests can help build a more robust society'. Print Edition | Subscribe