Political and Social Attitudes of the Second Generation after Independence

Lim Siew Yea, MA

By the 1980s, Singapore had totally transformed itself into an economically developed, socially progressive society -- the result of the PAP's effective implementation of a pragmatic and regulated rule. Ironically, the socio-economic successes of the government's policies produced a better-educated, confident, and affluent generation that regarded the process of politics as important as the benefits that it might provide.

Instead of supporting the former style of governance, which "disdains the need for conciliation and trusts in the se and judgement of the leadership to plan and implement with complete and irreversible power" (Chan, 1975: 5), the new generation began to see its limitations: firstly, when the question of power is pre-decided and power is placed fully into the hands of the ruling political party, leading to its hegemonic control of all institutions, public affairs, and individuals, there is no way in which the people can assess the legitimacy of that power. Moreover, such a political rule offers little opportunity for intellectually competent and mature Singaporeans to play a bigger role in the decision-making involving the nation's social policies.

Many among the new generation thus feel that now is the time for the next logical move -- the promotion of a new relationship between politics and the individual, in which political liberties like "freedom of debate, freedom to form political organizations, freedom of assembly, freedom of the press" (Tingsten, 1965: 92) are allowed to extend their parameters. A corresponding change in the distribution of power relations therefore is required, whereby central control and individual initiative are granted their legitimate places.

Many have come to believe that although pragmatism benefits the economy, it can create stagnation and lack of initiative if creative possibilities, existential mobility, individualism, and the exercise of conscious choice are not given greater room for manifestation. More than ever, Singaporeans are beginning to feel that politics and economics belong to the realm of means, not ends -- one cannot be content with material possessions; there is a need to live vigorously and creatively. A contention by Bertrand Russell is useful in putting this need in perspective:

For this the State can provide a part of the necessary conditions, but only zif it does not, in the pursuit of security, stifle the largely unregulated impulses which give life its savour and its value. The individual life still has its due place, and must not be subjected too completely to the control of vast organizations. To guard against this danger is very necessary... (Russell, 1949: 106)

[This essay has been adapted, with kind permission of the author, from Politics and Self: Gopal Baratham and Suchen Christine Lim, her 1996 National University of Singapore Master's thesis. GPL]

[Main Web Page] [Singapore] [Politics] Literature