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The Future of Singapore Values and Identity

Saturday 21 March 2015, 0900 – 1100, Auditorium 2

PJ Thum
University of Oxford

Sudhir Vadaketh

In the first 50 years of Singapore’s existence as an independent state, Singaporean identity has been shaped by, and in response to, varying expressions of Malayan and Malaysian nationalism. As memories of Singapore’s Malayan identity fade, the question of Singaporean identity and values is thrown into increasing focus. The government has repeatedly attempted to define Singapore’s shared values, but the public has rejected attempts to impose a definition. Equally a vigorous debate on the values of the nation has arisen among Singapore’s public.

The state, as only one voice among many, cannot unilaterally impose a definition of values on the nation. Nor is it desirable that they should choose between different visions of Singaporean identity. Instead, for widespread acceptance, Singapore’s identity needs to arise organically from a debate and discussion among Singaporeans, formed through consensus and compromise.

This roundtable seeks to make a start on this debate. It looks to establish common terms of reference for Singaporean identity and values through a debate between representatives of different interest groups. It seeks to connect with the future of Singapore by inviting five Singaporeans representing a wide variety of different perspectives to participate in the discussion. While such a debate will not be exhaustive, it will offer one starting point by which common ground and values can be established. It will ask four questions:

a) How do we come to a consensus on Singapore identity?
b) What is your vision of Singaporean identity?
c) What should the shared values of the Singaporean nation be, and why?
d) How does a Singapore identity contribute to the future of the nation?

(25 min) Each member of the panel will have five minutes for opening remarks.
(70 min) Questions from the audience.
(25 min) Each member of the panel has five minutes for a closing statement.


  • Vanessa Ho (Project X)

Vanessa Ho is the Programme Coordinator of Project X, a human rights organisation that believes sex work is work and advocates for the end to violence and discrimination against sex workers in Singapore. Vanessa holds the view that if people can speak about sex, gender and sexuality in open and in non-judgemental ways, society will become a safe place for everyone. 

Vanessa graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Economics from the University of Warwick in 2009, and a Masters of Arts in Gender, Society and Representation from University College London in 2010. In 2014, she was awarded Young Activist of the Year by the Association of Women for Action and Research (AWARE).

  • Zakir Hussain (The Straits Times)

Zakir Hussain has been a journalist for the past 10 years and is a deputy political editor at The Straits Times. He was formerly the paper’s Indonesia Bureau Chief, based in Jakarta, from 2011 to 2014. He has reported on general and presidential elections in Singapore and Indonesia, as well as the 2013 general election in Malaysia. He has also written on community, religion and security issues, and is the author of Keeping the Faith, a biography of the mufti of Singapore from 1972-2010.  Zakir has a bachelor’s degree in history and politics from Oxford University and a master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University.

  • Gillian Koh (Institute of Policy Studies) 

Dr Gillian KOH is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of Policy Studies (IPS) which is part of the National University of Singapore (NUS). She is the head of the Politics and Governance Research Cluster at the Institute which focuses on analysis relating to party and electoral politics, the development of civil society, state-society relations and citizen engagement in Singapore. The cluster has conducted surveys on political attitudes of citizens as well as scenario-planning exercises on Singapore’s future which she will draw upon at the Roundtable. She regularly publishes articles on the development of civil society in the country.

Dr Koh obtained her Master of Arts in Third World Studies from the Department of Sociological Studies from the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom in 1989 and her PhD from the same in 1995. She has been at IPS since then.

  • Viswa Sadasivan (Strategic Moves Pte Ltd)

Viswa Sadasivan is CEO of Strategic Moves, a strategic and crisis communications consulting practice with a special interest in policy issues.  He has trained over 7,000 top executives in Singapore and the region. A former current affairs  anchor,  Viswa has interviewed leaders such as Tunku Abdul Rahman, Lee Kuan Yew, and  Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Viswa served a term as a Nominated Member of Parliament in Singapore. He has a Master in Public Administration (MPA) degree from the Kennedy School of Government and Administration, Harvard University.

Viswa is also the founder of IQ (Inconvenient Questions), a sociopolitical site that strives to be the conduit for honest engagement between stakeholders and the government in Singapore.

  • PJ Thum (University of Oxford)

Dr Thum is co-ordinator of Project Southeast Asia, University of Oxford, and a Research Associate with the Oxford Centre for Global History. His work centres on decolonisation in Southeast Asia, and its continuing impact on Southeast Asian governance and politics. Recent publications include ‘The Fundamental Issue is Anti-colonialism, Not Merger’: Singapore’s “Progressive Left”, Operation Coldstore, and the Creation of Malaysia (ARI Working Paper Series 211) and “The New Normal is the Old Normal: Lessons from Singapore’s History of Dissent,” in Donald Low and Sudhir Vadaketh (eds.), Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus. Singapore: NUS Press (2014).