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Future Proofing the Intelligent Island? Singapore Resilience as \'Tahan Lasak\' or \'Exceedingly Hardy\'
Published: 02 November 2011 by MDPI in The 1st World Sustainability Forum session Governance & Sustainability
Abstract: The entire hagiography of the \'Singapore Story\' is one that is framed as a siege or bunker mentality of a vulnerable nation susceptible to the myriad of both internal and external security threats to national cohesion. In this context, sustainability has developed as an evolving balancing act by the dominant People\'s Action Party (PAP) which has governed Singapore by virtue of \'clean and strong\' leadership, pragmatic policy formation and authoritative persuasion since self governance in 1959. Under the direction of the PAP, top-down or \'hard resilience\' has taken precedence over bottom-up or \'soft resilience\' which might be seen as the cornerstone of a healthy, organically structured civil society. Within Singapore, this soft or \'human resilience\' has struggled to be recognised within a dominant operational paradigm characterised by a framework of boundaries, limits and prescribed behaviour. Yet, moving towards an increasingly globalised future, it is the latter, more inflexible top-down structures which are now perceived to sit uncomfortably within the complex and hypermobile worlds of capital, commodities and communications which in themselves can foster multiple, domestic inequities. Confronted with these forces and amidst the fading promise of the Singapore \'prosperity consensus\' pact, official notions of national security have more recently embraced the wider \'threatscape\' of challenges to Singapore society in calling for a higher level of community engagement within an increasingly plural and assertive society in which the government \'does not have all the answers\'. This assessment was fostered by the forcefully articulated debate, assisted somewhat by a surge in social media following the relaxation of hitherto strict rules on media coverage, prior to the 2011 General Election. Grievances with the government surfaced as a delicate expression of bottom-up, or soft resilience, as popular support for the PAP dropped to its lowest level since the hotly contested 1963 elections. Certainly not an \'Arab Spring\' revolt against a longstanding leadership, this was a \'Singapore-style\' rebuke, not enough to overwhelm a political party that has been positively transformational but an expression of demographic change, delicate interaction and tentative negotiation of the two aforementioned and not necessarily mutually exclusive, resiliences. While the political response to this rebuke was immediate, as senior members of the government stood down from cabinet positions, this paper questions the limits to yet another potential remaking of the Singapore Story, this time within a local context of heightened expectations and a global context of sustainability amidst economic, political and social instability and unpredictability.
Keywords: hard resilience, soft resilience, PAP, Singapore