Skip to main content Accessibility help
Hostname: page-component-5bf98f6d76-gckwl Total loading time: 0.389 Render date: 2021-04-20T14:55:09.954Z Has data issue: true Feature Flags: { "shouldUseShareProductTool": true, "shouldUseHypothesis": true, "isUnsiloEnabled": true, "metricsAbstractViews": false, "figures": false, "newCiteModal": false, "newCitedByModal": true }

Popular Nationalism in the Wake of the 2011 National Elections in Singapore

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  24 April 2015

School of Humanities and Social Inquiry at the University of Wollongong
E-mail address:


This article is about the contestation of two different forms of nationalism in Singapore during and after two elections in 2011. Manufactured nationalism is top-down, state-defined and economically driven, concerned mainly about accumulation of national wealth through globalization that would eventually ‘trickle down’ to the masses. This view is promoted by the ruling People's Action Party (PAP). The PAP projects Singapore as a state born out of the party's triumph over colonialism, racial violence, and communist insurgency. Popular nationalism, on the other hand, is bottom-up and people driven, concerned about local issues concerning national identity, social cohesion, and an appreciation (or at least an understanding) of local heritage. Proponents of popular nationalism emphasize a common beginning (birth of independent Singapore on 9 August 1965), shared historical memories (local heritage), several elements of a common culture (such as the use of Singlish), and an association with a specific ‘homeland’ (born and raised in Singapore and, for males, the completion of conscription). They view Singapore as a nation-state with a unique and evolving identity destabilized by a liberal immigration policy. The elections generated considerable attention due to the gains by the opposition parties and the public airing of frustrations against the PAP government. These frustrations are strongly driven by the influx of new migrants, especially those classified as ‘foreign talent’ by the PAP government. In this article, I argue that popular nationalism has emerged in twenty-first century Singapore and examine the debates over the future of Singapore during and after the elections.

Research Article
Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2015 

Access options

Get access to the full version of this content by using one of the access options below.


Adam, Shamim and Tan, Andrea (2012), ‘Ferrari Deaths Fuel Anti-Foreigner Anger as Singapore Votes’,, 25 May (accessed 20 November 2013).Google Scholar
Anderson, Benedict (2006), Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origins and Spread of Nationalism, revised edn, London: Verso.Google Scholar
Au Yong, Jeremy (2013), ‘Population – Plan Review Nearer 2020: PM’, The Straits Times, 9 February (accessed on Factiva).Google Scholar
Billig, Michael (1995), Banal Nationalism, London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
Birch, Anthony H. (2007), The Concepts and Theories of Modern Democracy, 3rd edn, London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Breuilly, John (1982), Nationalism and the State, Manchester: Manchester University Press.Google Scholar
Chan, Heng Chee and ul Haq, Obaid (2007), S Rajaratnam: The Prophetic and the Political, 2nd edn, Singapore: ISEAS Publishing and Graham Brash.Google Scholar
Chee, Soon Juan (2001), Your Future, My Faith, Our Freedom, Singapore: Open Singapore Centre.Google Scholar
Chew, Soon Beng (1991), Trade Unionism in Singapore, Singapore: McGraw-Hill.Google Scholar
Chng, Huang Hoon (2003), ‘“You See Me No Up”: Is Singlish a Problem?’, Language Problems and Language Planning, 27: 4562.Google Scholar
Chong, Terence (2011), ‘Manufacturing Authenticity: The Cultural Production of National Identities in Singapore’, Modern Asian Studies, 45: 877–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Chua, Hian Hou (2011), ‘Foreigners Help Create Good Jobs for S'poreans: PM’, The Straits Times, 22 April (accessed on Factiva).Google Scholar
Department of Statistics (2011), Census of Population 2010 Statistics Release 1: Demographic Characteristics, Singapore: Department of Statistics.Google Scholar
Goh, Chin Lian (2013), ‘Economy Faces Major Transition: Iswaran’, The Straits Times, 8 February (accessed on Factiva).Google Scholar
Goh, Chok Tong (2004), ‘Groom Our Young to be Bicultural’, The Straits Times, 18 December, p. 11.Google Scholar
Gopalakrishnan, Raju and Lim, Kevin (2011), ‘Singapore Ruling Party Retains Power but PM Eyes Change’,, 8 May (accessed on 20 November 2013).Google Scholar
Kassim, Ismail (2001), ‘Malays Still Worry over Future Direction of Singapore’, The Straits Times, 10 March, p. 30.Google Scholar
Koh, Leslie (2006), ‘New Agency to Build Ties with Overseas Singaporeans’, The Straits Times, 14 March, p. 3.Google Scholar
Kwok, Kian Woonet al. (eds.) (1999), Our Place in Time: Exploring Heritage and Memory in Singapore, Singapore: Singapore Heritage Society.Google Scholar
Lim, Jason (2014), ‘A Question of Identity: Ethnic Chinese from the People's Republic of China and the Republic of Singapore’, in Chan, Yuk Wah, Haines, David, and Jonathan, Lee (eds.), The Age of Asian Migration: Continuity, Diversity and Susceptibility, Volume 1, Newcastle-upon-Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing, pp. 348–63.Google Scholar
Lim, Selina (2015), ‘Images of the New Citizen and Permanent Resident in Singapore's Mainstream News Media’, in Teng, Yap Mui, Koh, Gillian, and Soon, Debbie (eds.), Migration and Integration in Singapore: Policies and Practice, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 192213.Google Scholar
‘Lucky Tan’ (2011), ‘Diary of a Singapore Mind: Discrimination Against Singaporeans’,, 4 November (accessed 15 January 2014).Google Scholar
‘Lucky Tan’ (2013), ‘Diary of a Singapore Mind: Xenophobia Label Used to Attack Opponents of Bad Policies’,, 20 February (accessed 13 November 2013).Google Scholar
MacGillivray, Alex (2006), A Brief History of Globalization, London: Robinson.Google Scholar
McVeigh, Brian J. (2004), Nationalisms of Japan: Managing and Mystifying Identity, Lanham: Rowman& Littlefield.Google Scholar
Naruse, Cheryl Narumi (2013), ‘Singapore, State Nationalism, and the Production of Diaspora’, CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture, 15 (2): article 5.Google Scholar
Nasir, Kamaludeen Mohamed and Turner, Bryan S. (2014), The Future of Singapore: Population, Society and the Nature of the State, London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
National Archives of Singapore (2012–2013), The Papers of Lee Kuan Yew: Speeches, Interviews and Dialogues, 19 volumes, Singapore: Gale Asia and Cengage Learning Asia.Google Scholar
National Solidarity Party (2011), ‘National Solidarity Party Manifesto (GE2011)’, (accessed 20 November 2013).Google Scholar
Neo, Chai Chin (2013), ‘Nature Society Proposes Alternative Route for Cross Island Line’, Today, 19 July (accessed on Factiva).Google Scholar
Nirmala, M. (2000), ‘Buck Up, Poor English Reflects Badly on Us: PM’, The Straits Times, 30 April, p. 4.Google Scholar
Onesingaporean (2011), ‘Janil Puthucheary, Please Volunteer for National Service’,, 22 March (accessed 13 November 2013).Google Scholar
Ong, Justin (2013), ‘In Search of True-Blue Singaporean Glory’,, 23 December (accessed 24 December 2013).Google Scholar
Oon, Jeffrey (2012), ‘A Bronze Medal, But at What Cost for Singapore?’,–but-at-what-cost-for-singapore-.html, 2 August (accessed 24 December 2013).Google Scholar
Ortmann, Stephan (2009), ‘Singapore: The Politics of Inventing National Identity’, Journal of Current Southeast Asian Affairs, 28: 2346.Google Scholar
Özkirimli, Umit (2000), Theories of Nationalism: A Critical Introduction, Basingstoke: Macmillan Press.Google Scholar
People's Action Party (2011), Securing Our Future Together, Singapore: People's Action Party.Google ScholarPubMed
Quah, Jon S. T. (1990), In Search of Singapore's National Values, Singapore: Times Academic Press.Google Scholar
Reform Party (2011), ‘Election Manifesto’, (accessed 20 November 2013).Google Scholar
Saul, John Ralston (2005), The Collapse of Globalism and the Reinvention of the World, Camberwell: Viking.Google Scholar
Seah, Chiang Nee (2013), ‘Diluting Singapore's Sense of Identity’, The China Post, 29 December, p. 4.Google Scholar
Seah, Nicole (2013), ‘Why I Oppose the White Paper: Nicole Seah’,, 9 February (accessed 22 November 2013).Google Scholar
Singapore Democratic Party (2011), ‘Singaporeans Come First’,, (accessed 20 November 2013).Google Scholar
Singapore Election Watch (2011), ‘Foreigners and PRs Make up Almost 40% of Our Population’, (accessed 13 November 2013).Google Scholar
Singapore Government News (2011), ‘Transcripts of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's National Day Rally English Speech on 14 August 2011 at the NUS University Cultural Centre’, 14 August.Google Scholar
Smith, Anthony D. (2001), Nationalism: Theory, Ideology, History, Cambridge: Polity Press.Google Scholar
Smith, Anthony D. (2000), ‘Theories of Nationalism: Alternative Models of Nation Formation’, in Leifer, Michael (ed.), Asian Nationalism, London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
Spencer, Philip and Wollman, Howard (2002), Nationalism: A Critical Introduction, London: Sage Publications.Google Scholar
Tan, Cheng Bock (2011), Presidential Elections 2011: We Took Them On, Singapore: Tan Cheng Bock.Google Scholar
Tan, Charlene (2012), ‘“Our Shared Values” in Singapore: A Confucian Perspective’, Educational Theory, 62: 449–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tan, E. K. B. (2012), ‘Singapore: Transitioning to a “New Normal’ in a Post-Lee Kuan Yew Era’, in Singh, Daljit and Thambipillai, Pushpa (eds.), Southeast Asian Affairs 2012, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, pp. 265–82.Google Scholar
Tan, Jee Say (ed.) (2011), A Nation Awakes: Frontline Reflections, Singapore: Ethos Books.Google Scholar
Tan, Kenneth Paul (2012), ‘Singapore in 2011: A “New Normal” in Politics?’, Asian Survey, 52: 220–6.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
Tan, Qiuyi (2013), ‘Immigration Policies Must be Managed in Sustainable Way: PM’, Today, 30 October (accessed on Factiva).Google Scholar
Tan, Kevin Y. L. and Lee, Terence (eds.) (2011), Voting in Change: Politics of Singapore's 2011 General Election, Singapore: Ethos Books.Google Scholar
The Economist (2011), ‘The Men in White are Always Right: Singapore's General Election’, 399(8730), 23 April, pp. 45–46.Google Scholar
The New Democrat (2013), ‘We Cannot Have 7 Million People’, Issue 1, pp 1–2.Google Scholar
The Straits Times (1992), ‘Move to Draw Talented Malays and Indians’, The Straits Times, 30 October, p. 1.Google Scholar
The Straits Times (2002a), ‘Stayers or Quitters?’, The Straits Times, 20 August, p. 2.Google Scholar
The Straits Times (2002b), ‘2 in 10 S'poreans Have Thought of Leaving: Survey’, The Straits Times, 31 August, p. 6.Google Scholar
The Straits Times (2011), ‘How Singapore Punches Above its Weight’, The Straits Times, 23 July (accessed on Factiva).Google Scholar
The Workers’ Party (2011), Towards a First World Parliament – Manifesto 2011, Singapore: The Workers’ Party.Google Scholar
Wong, Tessa (2008), ‘Speak Good English? 4 in 10 S'poreans Say “No Need Lah”’, The Straits Times, 27 August, p. 33.Google Scholar
Xu, Terry (2011), ‘Population White Paper: Still Not Listening to Us’,, 4 February (accessed 24 January 2014).Google Scholar
Yap, Daniel (2013), ‘Save the Hawkers, Save Our Heritage’, Today, 26 July (accessed on Factiva).Google Scholar
Yap, Mui Teng (2015), ‘Immigration and Integration in Singapore: Trends, Rationale and Policy Response’, in Teng, Yap Mui, Koh, Gillian, and Soon, Debbie (eds.), Migration and Integration in Singapore: Policies and Practice, London and New York: Routledge, pp. 2538.Google Scholar

Full text views

Full text views reflects PDF downloads, PDFs sent to Google Drive, Dropbox and Kindle and HTML full text views.

Total number of HTML views: 62
Total number of PDF views: 200 *
View data table for this chart

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 20th April 2021. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Send article to Kindle

To send this article to your Kindle, first ensure is added to your Approved Personal Document E-mail List under your Personal Document Settings on the Manage Your Content and Devices page of your Amazon account. Then enter the ‘name’ part of your Kindle email address below. Find out more about sending to your Kindle. Find out more about sending to your Kindle.

Note you can select to send to either the or variations. ‘’ emails are free but can only be sent to your device when it is connected to wi-fi. ‘’ emails can be delivered even when you are not connected to wi-fi, but note that service fees apply.

Find out more about the Kindle Personal Document Service.

Popular Nationalism in the Wake of the 2011 National Elections in Singapore
Available formats

Send article to Dropbox

To send this article to your Dropbox account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Dropbox.

Popular Nationalism in the Wake of the 2011 National Elections in Singapore
Available formats

Send article to Google Drive

To send this article to your Google Drive account, please select one or more formats and confirm that you agree to abide by our usage policies. If this is the first time you use this feature, you will be asked to authorise Cambridge Core to connect with your <service> account. Find out more about sending content to Google Drive.

Popular Nationalism in the Wake of the 2011 National Elections in Singapore
Available formats

Reply to: Submit a response

Your details

Conflicting interests

Do you have any conflicting interests? *