Sunday, 1 October 2023

We are shifting our daily news to Gutzy.Asia Support us there!

Singapore – a nation or merely a state?

Singapore has a nascent national identity despite being lacking the depth of culture, linguistics and history which many other nations possess, said a group of panelists representing academia, the legislature and civil society.

And while this represents good progress in the country’s 45 years of existence, significant challenges still remain in its developing of a strong and coherent sense of nationhood, they said.

This was the consensus the four panelists reached on the question of whether Singapore was a nation or merely a state during the Singapore Forum on Politics, held on Saturday (15 May) at the National University of Singapore. Organised by the NUS Political Science Alumni, the bi-annual event – in its sixth edition this year – was attended by over 80 members of the public.

While Singapore may not be considered a nation in a cultural sense of the term, it could be regarded as one in the political sense, Associate Professor Kenneth Paul Tan of the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy. Singapore does exist as a political community, in which the State articulates a common will and shared destiny and thereby seeks to “concretise” a national identity, he said.

Social and communal ties between citizens have also fostered a unique Singaporean identity, NUS Associate Professor Paulin Tay Straughan said.

The sociologist and Nominated Member of Parliament said that existence of such an identity is evident from the sense of otherness and the awareness of differences from foreign communities and countries, something which Singaporeans feel when they travel overseas.

For People’s Action Party Member of Parliament Hri Kumar Nair, the fact that Singaporeans are concerned with issues like immigration and influx of foreigners shows that there is a growing sense of national identity. Rather, it would be a problem if no such reaction occurs, as it would indicate that citizens had no sense of belonging and identity.

He added that nation building in Singapore is a “work in progress”. He noted that similar debates over national identity are occurring in countries with comparatively longer and richer histories and cultural identities, such as Germany and the United States.

The panel also included Mohd Nizam Ismail, chairman of the Association of Muslim Professionals and banking professional, who focused on offering the perspective of a member of an ethnic minority and civil society activist.

The 80-strong audience raised concerns on various factors that could undermine the development of a strong national identity, such as immigration, S’s economically-driven corporatist ethos, lack of space for political activism and unstable race relations.

With regards to the corporatist nature of Singaporean society, Professor Tan acknowledged that the focus on tangibles and quantitative approach to decision-making in Singapore “may be too technocratic, too narrow and not democratic enough”.

He also agreed with the observation by a member of the audience that political activism was an important expression of citizens’ sense of ownership and national identity, noting that that there have been signs of growing civic action and grassroots activism. These include the petitions against the demolition of the old National Library and the redevelopment of Chek Jawa.

Mohd Nizam agreed with Professor Tan on the potential pitfalls of an economically-driven Singaporean ethos, saying that it may result in greater resentment from minorities against government policy. This was especially so on the labour front.

Many top employment opportunities and scholarships have been taken up by foreigners, especially from China, as a result of foreign talent schemes and the meritocratic system. This creates an impression that minorities have to face greater competition from both the majority group and foreigners when seeking top-level opportunities, which in turn could damage race relations, he said.

Race-based policies may too undermine the efforts to build a strong national identity, Mohd Nizam said. These include racial categorisation on identity cards and the ethnic in public housing, with the latter placing undue disadvantages for minorities in terms of a limited market size when selling flats. This is because flat owners from ethnic minorities are forced to sell their flats to members of their minority group, in order to preserve the quotas.

In response to these concerns, Hri Kumar acknowledged that the system of meritocracy and some of the race-based policies, such as the various ethnic self-help organizations and Special Assistance Plan schools, may result in lack of interaction between people of different races and thereby inadvertently foster racial intolerance.

While acknowledging the problems the existing model throws up, he said that “meritocracy is what we settle on”, as a “not perfect, but sensible system”. He also emphasised the need for the government to govern within the context of the situation on the ground, citing the recent debate over mother tongue education as an indicator of strong feelings on the importance of cultural education in Singapore.

Nonetheless, race relations in Singapore and the progress made in this area is at the same time something to be celebrated, Hri Kumar said.

He related an experience he had whilst travelling in Thailand with two Chinese friends. As the trio approached a drinks stall on the streets of Bangkok, the vendor immediately identified them as Singaporean, even though they had not yet spoken to him.

“He said, ‘People of different skin colour walking together must be Singaporean’,” Hri Kumar said. Racial diversity and harmonious race relations have become a significant aspect of the Singaporean identity, locally and abroad.

“That’s our branding in the eyes of a Bangkok drinks seller,” he said.


By Wong Chun Han


Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

Latest posts

Election surprises and certainties: Dissecting Tharman’s presidential win

In the 2023 Presidential Election, Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam secured a stunning 70.4% landslide victory, surprising many, including himself. Despite expectations that TKL would win the opposition votes, voters from both camps showed a preference for Tharman's charisma and perceived competency. As Singapore reflects on the outcome, questions arise about the election's fairness and the real implications of Tharman's dominant win.

Volunteer as a Polling and Counting Agent for Singapore’s 2023 Presidential Election

For the upcoming Singapore Presidential Election on 1st September, members of the civil society have spearheaded an initiative to strengthen our democratic fabric. We invite committed individuals to join us as Polling and Counting Agents, standing together for a transparent, fair, and just election. This vote counting exercise, organized by members of civil society, is not specifically in support of Mr Tan Kin Lian, a candidate in the upcoming Presidential Election. It's an exercise in active citizenry. Nonetheless, Mr Tan endorses this initiative, which hinges on his candidacy, championing transparency, and has given permission for the results to be shared publicly.

Reflections from the Centenary: The Legacy of LKY and Singapore’s Future

Gilbert Goh reflects on the LKY centenary event: an inspiring showcase of a leader's global legacy juxtaposed against current challenges, urging Singapore to continue its path of progress.

Lim Tean advocates for Tan Kin Lian: A visionary leader for Singapore’s Presidency

In his speech at Mr Tan Kin Lian's launch of his presidential bid, Mr Lim Tean passionately championed the need for a truly Independent President. Highlighting Mr Tan Kin Lian's unique credentials and genuine concern for the wellbeing of Singaporeans, the Peoples Voice leader emphasized the pressing challenges of rising living costs and job insecurities faced by the public. Mr Lim depicted Mr Tan Kin Lian as a beacon of hope for the nation, advocating for a leader who genuinely understands and represents the people’s aspirations.

Tan Jee Say endorses Tan Kin Lian for President: A courageous, genuine, and humble...

In advocating for a truly representative leader, Tan Jee Say underscored Tan Kin Lian's humility, courage, and genuine dedication. Highlighting the pressing need for restored public trust and effective independence, Tan Jee Say emphasized that Tan Kin Lian, as the 'People's President', would bring back hope to Singaporeans and champion true democracy

Tan Kin Lian’s pledge: Rekindling unity and charting a vigorous future for Singapore

In the press conference to announce his bid for the Singapore presidency, Tan Kin Lian emphasizes safeguarding Singapore's reserves and strengthening public service integrity. Drawing on his 30-year leadership at NTUC Income, he envisions a future with affordable living, accessible housing, and job stability, pledging collaboration with the government for a united nation.

Strengthening Singapore’s political foundations: A call to action by Leong Mun Wai on Singapore’s...

Leong Mun Wai urges Singaporeans to strengthen political checks and balances, emphasizing, 'The best is yet to be for Singapore if we dare to make the right decision in upcoming elections.

Trending posts