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The mainstream media in Singapore during the National Day Rally in September 2013 observed the country as one that has undergone radical changes. The day was a defining moment and a mark of how significantly the administration had reformed. The change was observed as the result of the government listening to its people. The Premier has stated that the country is in a new political dispensation.
The younger generation has recently been actively participating in politics since the entry of Lee Hsien Loong. The succession of his father was a milestone for the entire country as the older generation had been shaped to submit to the authoritarian rule of Lee Kuan Yew.
The retirement of the patriarch significantly changed the political arena augmented by the improvement of e-Governance that is given high priority by the current administration, which values the contribution of the younger generation in propelling the country’s economy and politics forward.
The younger generation’s aspiration for better governance has pushed youthful activists to take advantage of Loong’s reluctance towards freedom of expression to consolidate support and urge other youths to participate in politics.
The overwhelming presence of the internet has made the efforts by press censors futile. The attitude of the older generation in the ruling party called PAP has been a force that pushed the younger generation to other political parties.
- Does the younger generation actively participate in political processes in Singapore?
- What has shaped the attitude of the younger generation towards politics?
- Is the attitude of younger Singaporeans towards politics globally universal?
Whenever one inquires from a youth about what they think regarding the older generation, the most likely answer to receive is the phrase ‘generation gap’ (Thang 2012). The generational breach has enlarged on account of scientific progression within the last two decades and transformation in political perceptions among individuals.
Democratization of politics has significantly increased the participation of the young generation in determining the destiny of their countries, social welfare, economic endowment and governance. Unlike during the older generation’s years, individuals are able to participate in politics from the comfort of their houses and offices using technology, including the internet.
In fact, the internet has changed the view of the younger generation regarding politics. By exploiting social media platforms, youthful aspirants are able to reach out to the younger generation with the aim of influencing policies.
In Singapore, the inauguration of the incumbent Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong saw a new dawn for the country’s politics. During the opening speech, Loong conceded that the government should evolve in line with the society and in accordance with the spirit of the times, ambitions and the expectations of the people (Tan 2012).
In this regard, the Premier was addressing the older generation in view of the younger generation. Loong recognized the desire of the younger people to be involved in active politics.
This desire was evident during the 2011 general election that marked a radical approach of past politics, given that it was influenced by the younger generation. This political development is expected to bring forth new forces, dynamics and approaches to governance.
There is evident aspiration among Singapore citizens, particularly the younger generation for a more democratic, open and lively political system due to the growing political awareness among the youth (Tan 2012).
The youthful aspirations were reflected during the appointment of the cabinet after the 2011 general election. The government refrained from the previous populist style of administration by reflecting the aspirations of the youth in appointments.
Ellen Quintelier (2007) highlighted the point that people always whine regarding the perceived indolent and clumsiness of the Y-generation. They are demonized for lack of reverence to customs and seniority of the older generation. These perceptions are not novel. Individuals such as Plato and political researchers hold the same view. They feel that the younger generation does not adequately engage in politics.
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Quintelier supports this view by stating that younger people are the least likely to cast their ballot. The younger generation’s participation levels are diminishing with youthful political membership taking a nosedive. The Y-generation is less bothered by politics, have little or no knowledge of politics, are apathetic and do not participate in political activities (Quintelier 2007).
The author points a finger at the media as a contributor to the development of negative discourse for youths to participate in politics. The author admits that youths are likely to engage in other political activities instead of queuing to cast a ballot. Although the author does not explicitly state that the younger generation was at the time of writing the article engaging in politics through social media and the internet.
The Singaporean younger generation found it challenging to participate in traditional political styles given the tight grip and intolerance inherent in the Yew’s administration. The patriarch’s administration did not tolerate opposing opinions, which is often the driving force for youths to participate in politics to introduce changes.
Additionally, the Y-generation held the position that Yew’s conventional political style carried problematic image for the Y-generation to associate with either in the end or short run. In the Singapore context, the Y-generation was disproportionally attracted to other forms of politics such as ‘cause-oriented’ styles.
Quintelier asserts that particular forms of political participation are on the increase among the Y-generation. These alternatives include youth parliaments, political consumerism, youth campaigns, disruption, single-issue politics and peer group support. These informal types of political participation are more attractive to the younger generation in the Singapore context and almost all global locations.
These forms of political engagement are popular amongst Singaporean youths, albeit more informal than casting a ballot. If the younger generations were able to talk about politics in their terms, political analysts would see more evidence of an active young generation citizenry and increasing levels of the entire political engagement.
There is emerging a middle-class Singaporean youths with increasing political awareness according to Chengju Huang (2012). This class includes the educated, more technologically oriented and western-influenced Y-generation. In the Singaporean context, the younger generation refers to the individuals born after the country attained independence in 1965.
Huang argues that unlike the less literate and more conventional older Singaporean generation, the Y-generation is apparently more decisive and independent in view of politics.
Unlike the older generation that had lived under the leadership of Yew, the younger generation does not consign similar faith in Yew’s authoritarian politics. However, the older generation was more susceptible to Yew’s authoritarian heritage (Huang 2012).
According to Huang, the younger generation of Singaporeans is likely to have a significant impact on local politics as they increasingly become eligible to vote. This is bound to become a reality, according to this article if the past trend is anything to go by. During the 2001 general election, only one-fifth of the electorate was born after independence.
During the 2006 election, the same age group accounted for more than fifty percent of the voters (Chin 2007). In the last days of Yew’s administration before handing over to his son, the opposite was alive to this realization and had ever since been making vigorous efforts to win the younger generation to its side. This realization has not escaped the attention of the current Prime Minister Loong.
His administration has been making significant effort to wipe away the perception of the younger generation that his administration holds onto older generation politics. However, bureaucrats of the older generation politics in his government curtail his effort to incorporate the younger generation in his administration.
Most of the information used in this report has been collected from published journals, research reports, the internet and mainstream press. The research method employed in the study is qualitative. It involves the evaluation of findings by academicians and political analysts and placing the findings in context.
The relevance of the claims in these articles is analyzed to investigate whether they reflect on the contemporary political attitudes of both the younger and the older generations.
The analysis of newspapers and internet sources of information has contributed to the development of the report. By using the interpretive model of the qualitative method, the research was able to distinguish facts from fiction regarding the actual situation of attitudes towards Singaporean politics by the two generations.
The researcher’s knowledge of the current state of Singapore politics has also been a contributing factor to developing a well-researched report.
Findings and Discussion
The argument that the media negatively contribute to the participation of the younger generation in politics is contemporary obsolete. This view may have been true before the last five years.
In fact, during the last five years, there have been immense changes in politics globally contributed to by the participation of the youth, the departure of the older generation due to age and the desire by society to have youthful leadership with new vibrant ideas for the prosperity of the society.
For the older generation, engaging in politics was mostly determined by the social and economic status of the individual. The individuals who participated in politics were often the affluent. They had the means to engage with people across the wide geographic locations, as they would easily move across counties and towns. Prior to Y-generation, few youths would afford to spend money on pursuing political interests.
Instead, they would direct their resources in establishing a lifestyle, including building a house and have stable residence. They usually did not have much left to move around and meet the electorate. Additionally, most of their time was dedicated to seeking a livelihood working for the older wealthy generation.
The youth in those communities were also required to submit to the preferences of the elders, including the candidate or party membership. This would discourage the youth who saw no essence in participating in a process that they would not have any substantial significance in determining the outcome. The older generation would hence be left to determine the political future of the society.
The unavailability of the communication and interaction network and platforms was another challenge that shaped the views of the older generation in politics. They would largely depend on a controlled source of information that was designed by those in authority. The population would be fed with information no matter how misleading.
The way the older generation political mentality was molded is still evident in some global locations, especially where democracy is inexistent or is in its early stages. The older generation had been converted into political sycophants. They believed that youths should never participate in active politics.
The Y-generation has not been substantially exposed to the factors that shape the political mentality. Besides, technology has played a central role in presenting the younger generation with the opportunity to be exposed to political activities and information. The internet has played a central role in places such as the Arab countries in the recent years. The Arab Spring experienced in Africa and the Gulf region reinforce this argument.
The mistrust of political processes by the older generation has resulted in the young generation coming up with novel strategies for new political dispensation. The youth do not meet in public rallies but contemporary meet on social media platforms where political activities are organized. Singapore has not been left behind.
The youths in Singapore born between 1977 and 1997 have had the opportunity to observe political activities in the authoritarian administration. This generation has had the opportunity to grow up in an omnipresent digital technology environment. The generation displays a universal mindset founded on shared set of experiences in the political arena (Smith 2009).
The available technologies have become the natural fundamental tools for communication. The technologies were initially meant to improve the delivery of services by the Singaporean government. The use of technology by the Y-generation in the country has influenced their views on local and global politics.
According to a survey carried out by Renee Smith (2009), Singaporean Y-generation use e-services to look for information, update themselves on politics and communicate with friends and like-minded youths across the country. A survey conducted by World Value in Singapore indicates that 44 percent of Y-generation finds politics important in life. This is only 1 percent less than the older generation (Smith 2009).
It is unlike the assertion by previous researchers whose information may have been overtaken by events. This is a clear demonstration that the Y-generation is actively interested in politics. However, casting ballots during elections is substantially lower among the Y-generation.
The research concluded that the youth generation participates in politics through social media and the internet to influence others to participate in other means of political engagement instead of casting ballots.
The Y-generation pushes political discussions on the internet. The technologies offer the younger generation the new internet applications that promote novel types of civic roles by using technological tools as a medium of interactions. The highest percentage of younger generation is conversant with the internet, particularly Facebook and Twitter.
These are the most popular platforms that the younger generation uses to communicate political ideas. In fact, Loong’s administration reckons this reality. Despite the previous effort by the government to regulate the internet, little has been achieved, as the younger generation is able to circumvent these restrictions and express their ideas to the rest of the younger generation.
The upwardly mobile Singaporean younger generation voters a big number of whom have received education overseas claim that, the leading party sidelines the aspirations of the younger generation. These upcoming younger generation politicians are rapidly encouraging the younger generation to change the political attitude and participate in bringing the new and vibrant political leadership they desire.
This political awareness has been at the center of debates in the country’s political communication. In one of the controversial writings by Hao (1996), he warned that the younger well educated with increasing critical audience might question the credibility of the government control of the press. Current, this seems to have happened. The younger generation has become more outspoken.
In 2010, 24-year old Bernard Chen openly organized events and attended meetings in several locations across the country. He is part of the generation that is contemporary agitating for the People’s Action Party (PAP) to relinquish the country’s leadership (Mauzy & Milne 2002). The party has held power for 54 years and currently under Premier Loong.
Before the 2012 general elections, the participation of Singaporean younger generation was evident through active public rallies and presence on social media. The attitude of the Singaporean younger generation has changed rapidly with the majority of youths on social media, including Twitter and Facebook coming together on the social platforms to discuss politics.
There is increasing participation by the younger generation in criticizing PAP. This is done by the younger generation despite occasionally getting in trouble with the authorities and media censors (AFP 2010).
The opposition has realized the potential in the Singaporean younger generation to alter their political fortunes. The opposition has strived to keep up with the speed of the youths to use the internet and social media to realize political aspirations. In this regard, the opposition continuously ramps its presence on the internet.
The younger population in the country has indicated strong interest in opposition politics requiring the government to loosen its rule on media censoring and wooing the youth to register with PAP. The PAP overshadows the opposition and youth groups with resources.
However, the youths do not seem to be wooed by the party’s financial endowment. The leadership of the party has acknowledged that the younger generation is actively being involved in other political parties.
The ruling party has led the country for decades. It has managed to create wealth making the country one of the globe’s wealthiest societies. However, the youths argue that the country lags behind in terms of egalitarian freedom. This appears to be the driving force behind the participation of younger generation in the city-state. In fact, Jeyaretnam founded the Reform Party.
By the year 2010, the party membership composed of over forty percent of the younger generation aged below thirty years. The older generation members in PAP have contributed significantly to the youths’ urge to join the opposition parties.
The members do not give the younger generation an opportunity to be in leadership positions. Their attitude is founded on the fact that the founders and top echelon of the party are believers that the youth do not have much to contribute towards the improvement of the party performance.
There are countries that have entirely embraced technology, particularly the internet, to push political agenda, reach the public and influence policies. The United States under the Obama administration fully utilizes technology for political gains. The country sought to engage the Y-generation in politics through technology at the dusk of the Bush administration.
The social media was flurry of political activities during the campaigns with Y-generation noted to have influenced the voting trend in a number of states. Currently, President Obama makes his speech and uploads them on YouTube when addressing the nation. This offers the Y-generation an opportunity to contribute through commentaries, sharing and rating the content of his speech.
In the United States, there is little if any difference in how the older and the younger generations participate in politics. Majority of the population has access to computers and technology. The main differences in political attitude amongst the American population are on policies as opposed to generational gap.
The Y-generation is engrossed in computers, digital media, mobile phones, the internet and social media for most of their time. The constant contact with technologies, particularly computers and the internet has promoted their reliance on the technologies for communication, collection of information and making decisions.
This creates new demands for the politicians who recognize that the younger generation is in constant contact discussing political issues. This has led the incumbent to change the style of politics to reach out to the Y-generation through technologies.
The older generation is, however, still held up the old political styles that significantly differ from that of the young generation. The older generation holds the view that the young generation is naive, lazy and unreliable when it comes to the issues of politics.
However, the last few years have seen a radical shift in the youth’s participation in politics. The young generation does not necessarily participate in the field of politics but are busy influencing policies through technologies. This is often achieved by youths influencing others to join a particular course with a premeditated outcome such as the Arab Spring in Africa and the Gulf region.
AFP, 2010, Young generation turning more political in Singapore. Web.
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Mauzy, D & Milne, R 2002, Singapore politics under the people’s action party, Routledge, London, New York.
Quintelier, E 2007, ‘Differences in political participation between young and old people’, Contemporary Politics, vol.13 no. 2, pp.165-180.
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