Nationalism in Singapore?

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Anyone who takes History in Junior College would tell you that Nationalism in the context of Southeast Asia during the colonial era meant a fervent desire for self-determination and freedom from colonial rule. Nationalist movements were a series of efforts by the native peoples to free themselves from colonial domination, achieve self-rule and political autonomy. In essence, nationalism entailed attempts by a subjugated people to free themselves from political, economic and social oppression under an alien power.

Fast forward to Singapore, 2008, and we see that nationalism means something entirely different. Nationalism, as portrayed in the National Day Zeal, is merely a glorification of the PAP's political dominance and a perhaps willing acceptance of the status quo. (National Day or MP Day?)

If the desire for self-determination is any basis for what nationalism requires to be truly called nationalism, then I doubt that nationalist sentiment would truly be a feature in this year's National Day celebrations.

Ruled by an increasingly alien politcal elite (the PAP) and with little prospect for self-determination (gerrymandering, supression of politcal dissent, buying votes with lift upgrading, the list goes on...), one might think that the idea of Nationalism in pursuit of self-determination might be particularly relevant to us. Sad to say however, no such Nationalism on as fervent a scale as that during the colonial era in other Southeast Asian countries can be found in Singapore now. All that remains for us plebians is a PAP brand of nationalism. Alas, this National Day simply marks another year of PAP's political dominance and a new year for the PAP to continue consolidating their power and entrenching their rule.

I wonder when. When will we ever achieve self-rule, achieve independence, achieve freedom. When will you, my country, be free?


Onlooker said...

When we make choices based on what transpired and What we felt is good for our nation in the long run.Then we can achieved what is long overdue in Singapore. Political Maturity. In case no one noticed, our politics is still in the infant(Take care of my elite's need) state.

Anonymous said...


Just to let you know I am currently a H3 history student in RJC. I would like to point out that National Day is a celebration of our self-determination from the British. WHile the PAP may be dominant in Singapore with an entrenched influence but they are always willing to subject themselves to the vote every general elections which and the reason why they continue to dominate is that Singaporeans continue to support them. They are dominant not because they have the rule of the military but because they have the support of the people even if not all of us(myself included) agree with their every policy.

Raffles Institution (Junior College)

cy said...

Dear RJC History student,

You are right to point out that the PAP is always willing to subject themselves to the vote every general elections and are dominate because they still largely have the support of most Singaporeans.

But I have two questions for you.

1) To what extent are our general elctions free and fair? Considering that the PAP uses their incumbent advantage quite well - gerrymandering, sticking to a GRC system which has proven to disadvantage less established opposition parties, and pork-barrel politics (i.e. lift upgrading)

2) Even if the elections, procedural-wise are fair, is what happens in between elections really democratic? Are Singapore's defamation suits against prominent opposition leaders not attempts to weaken the opposition such that eventually the people vote for the PAP it is more because there is little alternative rather than because the PAP deserves it?

And if you are studying Singapore's history, perhaps you might want to consider the contrast in the level of democracy our nation actually enjoyed pre-independence and now. It might be interesting to note that ever since the PAP came into power, there have been many revisions to our constitution to limit civil liberties like free speech and assembly.

P.S. Thank you for commenting. I've always wondered whether anyone would bother to read the stuff i write.

Anonymous said...

I find your post very interesting, but I must say that I disagree with the view that nationalism, even in a restricted Southeast Asian context in colonial times, should be confined to such a narrow definition. Nationalism very well exists in Singapore in the form of individual identification with the state of Singapore, albeit in a different form than a desire for independence. Furthermore, I would say that other types of nationalism can be identified even in JC level History. For instance, economic or ethnocentric nationalism occur in several cases throughout Southeast Asia, just as an example. Nevertheless, I enjoyed reading your post, and identify with some of your frustrations, though I still do support the PAP fully.