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  • Identity Politics in Indonesia: Implications on the 2024 Indonesian General Election

    By Desiree (Editor) Potential Candidates in Indonesia’s 2024 Elections Indonesia’s 13th general election is scheduled to be held on 14 February 2024. As the Constitution of Indonesia places a two term limit on the Presidency, incumbent President Joko Widodo is unable to seek an extension to his leadership, paving way for a new contender to Indonesia’s administration. [1] With the fight for the Presidency gradually intensifying since the election announcement, several promising candidates have emerged. Amongst these candidates include Indonesia’s current Minister of Defence Prabowo Subianto, who accepted his nomination by the Gerindra Party. Prabowo’s third bid for the Presidency was met with support even before the official announcement was made and he emerged on top of opinion polls as early as in January 2020. Current Governor of Jakarta Anies Baswedan follows closely in popularity. The Independent politician had expressed his interest in his party’s nomination to run for the election. Having also served as Minister of Education and Culture under Widodo’s cabinet, his political experience has bolstered his credibility and his support base which have made many speculate a close fight in 2024. Rising Threat of Identity Politics Yet the immense popularity of both these political figures is symbolic of the growing embracement of identity politics in Indonesia. Identity politics, as agreed upon by sociologists, is commonly defined to be the development and alignment of political agendas to those who share similar identifying social characteristics, such as ethnic group, religion, socio-economic class and gender, with oneself. [2] It is rooted in the belief that these communities, referring to the majority Muslim native Indonesian population in this context, were historically subjugated and are owed justice. Often such justice manifests in the form of retaliation against these perceived subjugators, resulting in violent uprising and institutionalised discrimination. Prabowo is a controversial figure amongst the moderates in Indonesia for his frequent mobilisation of radical nationalistic and religious sentiments. During his previous Presidential campaigns, he reportedly encouraged religious and racial intolerance amongst his supporters and warned them of foreign (mainly Western and Chinese) influence which threatened to erode the country’s national values. His supporters were encouraged to root out those “disloyal” to the nation which has resulted in violent riots emerging sporadically. [3][4] Despite his claims to advocate for moderate political beliefs in Indonesia, Baswedan has expressed ethnically charged sentiments, exposing his nationalistic and extremist intents. Similar to Prabowo, he was also denounced for exploiting the fears of Muslim hardliners during his bid for the role of Jakarta’s Governor. Baswedan landed himself in controversy soon after being elected as Governor in 2017 for using the sensitive and legally prohibited term “pribumi” to discuss indigenous rights, calling for the native people to regain control of the country after years of historical oppression. His critics argued that his remark potentially alienated the non-indigenous minority groups in the country like the Chinese and Indians as it implied that non-indigenous people were not fully regarded as Indonesian by policy-makers. [5] Their divisive political campaigns have won them the support from the country’s vocal extremists over the years. At the same time, they have led to fears that mainstream moderate values such as respect for ethnic and religious inclusivity and secularism would be undermined under his leadership. [6] Their political perspective has been proven to be problematic in Indonesia as serves to validate radical measures in correcting perceived past prejudices through the use of discriminatory or even violent approaches. This has led to concerns that it would embolden the already vocal nationalist extremists in Indonesia, agitating existing religious and racial tensions and further crippling the already fragile peace between the different socio-political factions in Indonesia. Origins of Identity Politics in Indonesia Identity politics has been a staple of Indonesian politics, brought about by Dutch colonists’ policies which oppressed the indigenous population whilst creating a small entrenched elite. [7] These social divisions remained even after Indonesia gained its independence in 1945 partially due to the fact that they were exploited for the furtherance of some parties’ political agendas and were never allowed to be put to rest. Politicians looking to secure political clout often highlighted the present socio-economic difficulties they faced as a result of historical oppression, reopening old wounds and sustaining such volatility until today. Indonesian nationalist movements gained traction during the struggle for independence, promoting the principles of unity amongst the indigenous ethnic groups. [8] Pancasila, Indonesia’s state ideology, which encapsulates the core of Indonesia’s nationalism, promotes democracy, civil rights, secularism and unity. [9] Yet, the ambiguity of the principles allowed radicals and moderates to propagate divisive interpretations of them. For example, past leaders have understood the first principle which calls for the “Belief in the Almighty God” to include all official religions in Indonesia. Yet hardliners have used this point to propagate that truly nationalistic Indonesians practice the Islamic faith. [10] Indonesia's social and political landscape provides ample opportunity for political actors seeking to capitalise on extremist sentiments; historic discrimination against certain ethnic and religious groups have created a sense of injustice and exclusion — ripe conditions for identity politics and extremist ideology to fester. As a largely conservative country, concerns have been raised that nationalist and religious values have suffered due to globalisation and westernisation in the country, [11] providing extremist political leaders, including Prabowo and Baswedan, the opportunity to rally the people against the erosion of national values and threat of minorities. [12] Extremists often promote the perception of a growing elite minority undermining the rights of the pribumi class to incite fear amongst the people, thereby generating more support for their radical beliefs. Ethnic and religious minorities have often been inculpated for the country’s troubles and accused of exploiting the common people for their self-interests. [13] Detrimental Impact of Identity Politics in the Nation An estimated 95% of Indonesia’s population are natives. The native Indonesian population, also referred to as the pribumi, consists of many different ethnic groups with the largest groups being the Javanese, Sudanese and Malay. 86.7% of Indonesians identify themselves as Muslims. [14] The Chinese Indonesians have long been singled out as “the biggest problem” in Indonesia by radical political leaders. [15] They have been routinely accused of perpetuating the country’s economic difficulties, despite making up only 1.2% of Indonesia’s population owing to their extensive involvement in the economy, by politicians utilising identity politics for political support amongst the ‘exploited’ natives, compounding racial division. [16] Christians in Indonesia have also faced discrimination due to the religion’s association with colonialism despite Indonesia’s official practice of secularism. With Christianity growing in popularity [17], Muslim hardliners, who believe that Indonesia should be an Islamic state, blamed it for diluting the predominantly Islamic culture. [18] Ethnic and religious intolerance exacerbated by political agitation have repeatedly accumulated into protests and deadly insurrections. The May 1998 riots, the aftermath of economic collapse during the Asian Financial Crisis, highlighted the violence against racial minorities. The Chinese business class were made into political scapegoats for the crash of Indonesia’s currency after they were accused of manipulating the flow of currency for profit. Prompted by politicians exploiting racial and socio-economic differences to rally political support, radical Indonesians sort to kill and assault the ethnic Chinese in the country as revenge. [19][20] Moderate political leaders have been willing to utilise identity politics and accommodate extremist ideology in order to retain political support or capitalise on the support bases of other more radical counterparts despite their constant rhetoric on the importance of preserving moderate views. This enabled the propagation of radicalism amongst politicians and civilians in Indonesia, escalating ethnic and religious tensions. Widodo has, throughout his political campaigns, positioned himself and his party as the champion for moderates in Indonesia, pledging to curb extremism and radicalism in the country. [21] Yet his controversial decision to appoint influential religious hardliner Ma’ruf Amin as his Vice President revealed his eagerness to take advantage of Amin’s popularity with the extremists in the nation to retain political power. [22] Identity politics has become a major issue in contemporary Indonesian politics as a consequence of its politicians willingly utilising such methods to gain political clout and their lack of political will to curb such practices. This has culminated in detrimental repercussions on Indonesia's political and social order, felt most severely by the country’s minorities. This was mostly clearly exhibited during the blasphemy case brought against Basuki Tjahaja Purnama, former Governor of Jakarta. Colloquially known as Ahok, he was falsely accused by ultra-conservative religious hardliners of making derogatory remarks about the Islamic faith, which led to his imprisonment. [23] This move led to widespread protests by minority groups and moderates who argued that this was motivated by extremists’ long-held prejudices: Ahok was an ethnic Chinese and a Christian. [24] Accusations against Ahok were supported by radical politicians such as Prabowo and Baswedan who took advantage of his dual-minority background to stir religious sentiments amongst their supporters and sought his conviction. Meanwhile, other moderate politicians, including President Widodo, refused to lend their support to Ahok to avoid alienating the conservative demographic and damaging their own political reputation, further enabling the radicals. [25] Identity politics has left detrimental impacts on Indonesia’s society, disproportionately affecting minorities. Identity politics has allowed for extremism to root itself in the nation’s society and political system which results in the alienation of and perpetuates prejudices against those who do not fit into the majority identity group. The normalisation of extremism in the country’s political system makes way for even more attempts to make minorities political scapegoats, aggravating existing vulnerabilities in the thinning social fabric of Indonesia, worsening tensions between different religious and ethnic groups and potentially provoking violent clashes. Predictions for the 2024 Elections The Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle, or the PDI-P, the political party currently in power, has not officially announced their candidate of choice. At present, Governor of Central Java Ganjar Pranowo, who belongs to the PDI-P, is the most popular choice amongst Indonesian voters. His support base stems from the moderates, an optimistic sign that most Indonesians still desire a moderate leader despite the rapidly growing radical crowd. [26] His supporters believe that he would be an effective bulwark against the surge of extremism in the country should he be successfully voted into the Presidency. The latest election opinion poll conducted in June 2022 by research institute Charta Politika Indonesia on the electribility of potential candidates concluded with Pranowo on top with 36.5% of the popular vote. Prabowo and Baswedan received 26.7% and 24.9% respectively. Previous polls however, have concluded with varying results. [27] Despite Pranowo’s promising prospects for the 2024 elections, however, his bid for the Presidency requires his party’s nomination. Internal conflicts have seen him sidelined in favour of Puan Maharani, daughter of PDI-P chairman Megawati Sukarnoputri and granddaughter of Indonesia’s founding father Sukarno. [28] Yet political surveys have ranked Maharani poorly amongst other more established politicians receiving only 1.8% of the votes, indicating that she is unlikely to be elected as President. Should Pranowo not receive the nomination, the likelihood of Prabowo or Baswedan securing the Presidency is considerable, leaving Indonesia vulnerable to radicalisation perpetuated by identity politics. In my opinion, identity politics in Indonesia will most likely intensify, especially closer to the election date itself, as the political factions seek to consolidate their votes. Should that happen, Indonesia’s social and political divide would widen, leaving the likelihood of the outbreak racial and religious tensions highly plausible. With slightly more than a year of campaigning left to go, it is hard to predict which candidate will triumph in the 2024 Indonesia general elections. What is unmistakable however, is that unless there is greater political will by the people and those in power to cease engagement with identity politics in the nation, Indonesia will continue to fall into this downward spiral of political disunity and intolerance towards minorities. Bibliography [1] https://www.channelnewsasia.com/asia/indonesia-2024-elections-first-phase-jun-14-jokowi -2621831 [2] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00472336.2019.1590620 [3] https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-02-17/indonesias-election-and-religion-putting-strain-on- family-ties/10811722 [4]https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-05-22/jakarta-protests-joko-widodo-re-election-turn- deadly/11138636 [5] https://www.reuters.com/world/asia-pacific/popular-governor-indonesian-capital-prepared -run-president-2022-09-15/ [6] https://asialink.unimelb.edu.au/asialink-dialogues-and-applied-research/commentary-and- analysis/indonesias-election-a-high-stakes-endgame-as-prabowo-appeals-to-islam-and-people-power [7] https://doi.org/10.2307/3023866 [8] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00472336.2019.1590620 [9] https://info.publicintelligence.net/MCIA-IndonesiaHandbook.pdf [10] https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/15/world/asia/indonesia-election-islam.html [11] https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/preacher-and-protests-whats-driving-islams -conservative-shift-in-indonesia [12] https://www.todayonline.com/commentary/why-identity-politics-indonesia-here-stay [13] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/00472336.2019.1590620 [14] See Aris Ananta et. al “Demography of Indonesia's Ethnicity” [15] https://www.reuters.com/article/uk-indonesia-politics-cleric-exclusive-idUSKBN18817N [16] https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/00472330480000221 [17] See “The World Christian Encyclopaedia: A Comparative Survey of Churches and Religions in the Modern World” [18] https://www.crisisgroup.org/~/media/Files/asia/south-east-asia/indonesia/B114%20 Indonesia%20-%20Christianisation%20and%20Intolerance.ashx [19] http://edition.cnn.com/WORLD/asiapcf/9805/16/indonesia.update/ [20] See Mely G. Tan “Etnis Tionghoa di Indonesia: Kumpulan Tulisan [Ethnic Chinese in Indonesia: A Collection of Writings]” [In Indonesian and English] [21] https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2017/03/27/jokowi-accused-of-promoting-secularism .html [22] https://www.hrw.org/news/2018/08/10/indonesia-vice-presidential-candidate-has-anti-rights -record [23] https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/may/09/jakarta-governor-ahok-found-guilty-of- Blasphemy-jailed-for-two-years [24] https://thediplomat.com/2017/12/what-did-indonesias-anti-ahok-reunion-rally-reveal/ [25] https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2017/05/09/respect-ahoks-verdict-jokowi-says.html [26] https://www.thinkchina.sg/ganjar-pranowo-indonesias-potential-presidential-candidate-stuck -between-rock-and-hard-place [27] https://www.chartapolitika.com/wp-content/uploads/2022/06/202206_Press-Realese-Survei -Charta.pdf [28] https://www.channelnewsasia.com/commentary/indonesia-2024-president-election-prabowo -ganjar-anies-party-candidate-2883661 Desiree is a Year 2 Political Science and Southeast Asian Studies undergraduate. She is excited to come onboard The Convergence as an editor and hopes to use this platform to spark greater political awareness and interests amongst her readers. She is interested in exploring political issues in the Southeast Asian region, particularly nationalism and racial tensions. In her spare time she sleeps, cooks, tries her best (and fails) to learn Bahasa Melayu, spends way too much money online shopping and binge drinks Coca-Colas.

  • The Spiral Staircase: An Analysis of Technocratic Governance in Singapore

    By Tessa (Editor) What is technocracy? Technocracy is a form of government in which decision-makers are chosen based on their technical or scientific expertise. The ideology can be traced to a 1933 proposition made by Howard Scott, who argued that apolitical, rational engineers should be entrusted with the authority to direct the nation’s economic machine into a balanced load of production and consumption. [1] Technocracy is thus a minimum expenditure of energy for maximum social gain, with a focus on efficiency in delivering public goods to the people. [2] Although Scott’s then-radical idea was lambasted amidst the Great Depression, the core principle of “rule by a technical elite” has been used by many Asian countries today. Technocratic governance in Singapore Singapore has been cited as a technocratic role model. [3] Pragmatism undergirds its approach to governance, a legacy of the late Mr Lee Kuan Yew, who believed that no policies are cast in ideological stone. [4] Indeed, a functional technocracy is far more adaptable than dogmatic regimes. [5] By adopting utilitarianism—a doctrine in which the right action is decided by the usefulness of its outcomes [6]—whatever works best is kept, and whatever does not is jettisoned. However, technocracy has sparked controversy for being undemocratic. If people cannot understand the decisions of technical experts who run government, they cannot meaningfully check them, and cannot fully exercise their right to self-government. [7] Furthermore, to get people with the best ideas into Parliament, Lee established a Singaporean brand of politics, amending the British-inherited system of constitutional democracy. [8] This led to the creation of the Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (NCMP) scheme that would ensure representation of a minimum number of opposition members in Parliament. [9] The scheme drew criticism as a manoeuvre to maintain one-party rule by discouraging citizens from voting for the political opposition and bringing in the best election “losers” through the back door, [10] which would undermine the democratic process. Coupled with this, the Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP) scheme enables the appointment of members of parliament (MPs) to supply “alternative nonpartisan views in the House” even if they have not been elected, [11] which was said to erode the parliamentary bedrock of government [12] through selective representation of agendas. Why technocracy? The strongest argument in favour of technocracy is that it is often highly effective in producing concrete economic results. In the case of Singapore, its robust civil service operates like a spiral staircase: with gradual progression up each rung, a civil servant learns to handle a different portfolio, accumulating relevant experience and knowledge. [13] In contrast, the United States’ bicameral system [14] is similar to an elevator: one can enter from the bottom floor and be brought straight to the top, missing out on the learning in between. [15] It is this system that enabled the catapulting of Donald Trump to the highest seat in office during the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Thus, technocracy is based on expert knowledge and strategic planning rather than reactive and short-term populist demands. It values competence, with leaders being rigorously educated, trained and experienced professionals. As such, technocracy can accomplish what democracy cannot. Democracy assumes a compromise, but technocracy optimises and offers actionable solutions. [15] Case study of technocratic governance in Singapore: COVID-19 outbreak Singapore’s technocratic model has been key to its overall successful delivery of healthcare to the Singapore population, [16] and more recently, its prompt responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, though not without shortfalls. [17] For instance, the government’s delayed response to the COVID-19 outbreak in the migrant worker dormitories was a notable mistake, with 175,000 out of 323,000, or 54% of dormitory residents having caught the virus by the end of 2021. [18] As technocracy seeks to bring the greatest benefit to the majority, it is unsurprising that peripheralised and vulnerable minorities might be left behind. COVID-19, being an unprecedented global health crisis, exemplified the blind spots that might arise out of scenario planning. This is corroborated by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong during a December 2020 interview, in which he admitted, “we were prepared but not enough … we [had] to manage the dorms in a different way from the way they have been handled.” [18] Therefore, the Singapore government has to consistently shore up its technocratic model with support schemes targeted at the weaker members of society. For more people to reap the benefits of technocracy, the government must bridge the gap between expedient governance and social equity through active inclusion of various interest groups in their planning. Democratic feedback as the key driver for technocratic governance Democratic feedback is critical for a technocracy to flourish. The Singapore government has attempted to hold deliberations through surveys and social media that grant civil servants the data they require to modify and improve policies. By marrying data with democracy and foresight with feeling, [19] technocrats can more effectively capture the public’s interests, taking into account the needs of different segments of society. Understandably, a democracy or technocracy cannot on its own guarantee “good” governance, which in itself is a subjective, contested concept. For Plato, an ideal polis would consist of a wise ruling class and an educated citizenry; democracy without these features would result in a free but dangerously anarchic society liable to tyranny. [20] Technocracies do not have philosopher-kings, but instead have engineer-kings and scientist-kings who use their domain knowledge to expertly steer policy. In contrast, a liberal democracy would limit the government in its powers and modes of acting by the rule of law, while protecting individual freedoms. [21] Ideally, governance should incorporate the best of both worlds: the administrative efficiency and performance-driven characteristics of technocracy, along with the civic participation and protection of individual rights from democracy. Nevertheless, against a global backdrop of democratic backsliding, [22] perhaps Plato was right. With the declining ideological dominance of the West, [23] increasingly, more countries are paying attention to Singapore as a technocratic model to emulate. [24] By leveraging the best techniques and practices, proper technocratic regimes are dynamic, agile and resilient. If technocracy is the future, then the path ahead will be forged by Asian technocracies, foreseeably with Singapore at the helm. Bibliography [1] https://dspace.mit.edu/bitstream/handle/1721.1/2023/SWP-1353-09057784.pdf [2] https://technocracyinc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/TRENDEVENTS-MAY-2006.pdf [3] https://www.economist.com/international/2011/11/19/minds-like-machines [4] https://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/keep-pragmatism-as-guiding-principle [5] See Parag Khanna’s “The Future Is Asian” [6] https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/utilitarianism [7] See Frank Fischer’s “Technocracy and the Politics of Expertise” [8] https://thediplomat.com/2022/03/singapores-pap-the-politics-of-dominance/ [9] https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1743_2010-12-24.html [10] https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19970104-1.2.47.4 [11] https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/infopedia/articles/SIP_1016_2010-12-24.html [12] https://eresources.nlb.gov.sg/newspapers/Digitised/Article/straitstimes19890708-1.2.34.8 [13] See Parag Khanna’s “The Future Is Asian” [14] https://www.britannica.com/topic/bicameral-system [15] See Parag Khanna’s “The Future Is Asian” [16] https://www.researchgate.net/publication/249041564_Singapore_The_Limits_of_a_ Technocratic_Approach_to_Health_Care [17] https://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/sol_research/3634/ [18] https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/how-spore-tamed-a-covid-19-outbreak-at- Workers-dorms-avoiding-a-major-disaster [19] See Parag Khanna’s “The Future Is Asian” [20] See Plato’s “Republic” [21] https://www.jstor.org/stable/20048858 [22] https://journalofdemocracy.org/articles/the-anatomy-of-democratic-backsliding/ [23] https://www.forbes.com/sites/worldeconomicforum/2018/06/01/the-west-has-lost-its- dominant-global-position-it-should-handle-its-decline-gracefully/?sh=47131cc07581 [24] https://pursuit.unimelb.edu.au/articles/in-praise-of-technocracy-why-australia-must-imitate- singapore Tessa is a first-year Political Science major who is an Editor at The Convergence. She believes in the importance of raising political awareness and interest among the youth, hopefully inspiring them to mobilise and take action on the issues that concern them. She seeks to research and write informative articles on current affairs, taking a nuanced approach to her work. Tessa is always down for a cup of iced matcha latte, much to the protests of her wallet. In her free time, she enjoys reading, playing netball, or going for an evening run.

  • Opinion Survey: Students’ views on Mental Health and the Environment for Singapore’s Future

    By Carmen, co-authored by Natalie - NUSPA Feedback Unit 1. Background With the pandemic, two issues have become prominent in Singapore. For starters, the subject of mental health has gained traction amongst the populace, and it has become increasingly vital to tackle mental health concerns. In 2020, Samaritans of Singapore (SOS) reported a spike in calls by up to 40% on May 16, the day additional measures were put in place to curb the spread of the virus. [1] In addition, in 2021, the Institute of Mental Health collaborated with the University of Hong Kong to survey 1,058 Singapore citizens and permanent residents. The survey found that approximately 13% of those surveyed reported having symptoms of anxiety or depression during the pandemic. [2] Similarly, research from the National University Health System's Mind Science Centre found that 3 out of 4 students in NUS were at risk of developing depression due to the pandemic. [3] It is evident that the uncertainty of livelihoods and fears of falling ill have become stressors that can put a tremendous emotional strain on our mental well beings. Furthermore, in recent years there has been increasing attention put on environmental concerns since the COVID-19 pandemic. On August 9, 2021, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) reported climate change was happening at an unprecedented level, with changes happening that are irreversible over the course of a hundred to thousands of years, reiterating that human activity was the major driver of climate change. The pandemic has significantly altered the progress made toward sustainability. [4] In June 2020, researchers estimated that globally, almost 129 billion masks were used every month. Moreover, growing reliance on takeaway containers has led to a rise in single-use plastic waste. [5] In line with the Feedback Unit’s objectives, we wish to focus on uncovering students’ perspectives on various socio-political issues, so as to increase government-youth engagement on key national issues and policies. The Feedback Unit hopes to gain insights from youths on these challenges and to encourage greater youth participation on political issues. With the changing concerns of Singaporeans in response to the pandemic, this survey aims to examine the viewpoints and perspectives of the youth towards these two themes, looking at what youths deem as important for future policymaking, and their vision of Singapore’s future. 2. Survey Demographics The survey sampled participants from the campus, namely the College of Design and Engineering, the College of Humanities and Sciences, and the faculties of Business and Computing. Booths were situated at 4 locations across NUS, where participants were able to complete the survey to redeem LiHO vouchers. 801 students responded to the survey, consisting of 691 undergraduates (Y1 = 267, Y2 = 201, Y3 = 123, Y4 = 100) and 110 postgraduates. The participants were made up of 401 females and 385 males. 15 participants did not specify their gender. The majority of our participants were from the College of Design and Engineering (CDE = 225) and the School of Computing (SOC = 103). A more detailed demographic breakdown can be found in the table below. 3. Mental Health 3.1. Perceptions on Mental Health 85.1% of participants agreed that people with mental health issues could contribute meaningfully to society, and 78.5% of participants agreed that they would be willing to befriend someone who had mental health issues. These statistics were drawn from participants who indicated either a ‘4’ or a ‘5’ for their answers. Such findings suggest mental health has become increasingly accepted in the eyes of Singapore’s youth, where youths are much more aware and have a greater understanding when it comes to the topic. This is especially heartening given that previous research has found that peers are one of the highest contributors to mental health stigma [6]. Prior studies have found that approximately two-thirds of surveyees experienced a form of peer stigma, and one in five indicated feeling unable or unmotivated to develop strong peer relations [7]. This is a step in the right direction for destigmatising mental health in our society. However, while general perceptions of people with mental health concerns are more favourable, the question of whether they would treat people with mental health issues differently led to inconclusive results. Participants’ responses were even across the board – 15.2% strongly disagreed, while 25.5% strongly agreed. Most participants (27%) were on the fence. One important distinction made by participants was how they would treat those who had more ‘serious’ conditions vis-à-vis those who had more manageable conditions. Participants shared they would be more careful and conscious around those who had more difficulty adjusting, as they were unsure of how they would be perceived. These mixed results may suggest gaps in addressing mental health stigma in Singapore. While many in Singapore are aware of the importance of mental health, not many are aware of how to take action to help those around them that may be facing mental health issues. This is especially concerning when this lack of awareness pertains to how to help those who are facing more severe conditions, as it is often that these people require the most help. Thus, mental health advocates and policymakers may want to take closer looks at how to better educate the general population on productive, effective ways to help those around them who may be suffering from mental health concerns. This is especially important as the number of youths reported with mental health concerns has risen with the pandemic. 52% of young respondents from the National Youth Council’s polls responded that they were facing difficulties with their mental well-being [8]. Moreover, when asked about where their perceptions stemmed from, most participants mentioned the media (67.9%) and their interactions with others with mental health issues (63.1%) as relevant factors. These are interesting especially when considering how recent technological developments have impacted how mental health is seen and spoken of. The open and easy access to social media platforms allows people from all walks of life to have a platform to share their experiences. Platforms like TikTok and YouTube have allowed more who face mental health challenges to create open conversations on the topic, as well as spread greater awareness and debunk common misconceptions. Interestingly, the impact of social media also coincided with the impact of the pandemic, which has been credited to have pushed the discourse of normalising mental health forward. Due to the pandemic, many people experienced lockdowns, which in turn led to a worsening of mental wellbeing and the greater need to engage in self-care. Such activities became popular to share on social media, with the hashtag #selfcaretiktok at 1 billion views as of 2022 [9]. Hence, such developments are reflected in our participants’ responses. The access of social media may have allowed them to interact with more content that were more positive portrayals of people with mental health concerns, which in turn could have shaped their perceptions. In addition, the continued push to normalise the topic of mental health could have also led to more people around them to be more open about their own struggles, which could inform how they perceive the group as well. However, this is not to say traditional media has no role in influencing perceptions. Studies have found that in Singapore, media articles on mental health concerns were largely framed in a negative light. Conditions like personality disorder, paranoia, and brief psychotic disorders were amongst the top few most negatively portrayed [10]. These are incredibly harmful and continue to perpetuate stereotypes of people with mental health concerns. Given that the media has been found to be one of the most influential factors when shaping perceptions, it is vital for us to be more alert to how media outlets and films portray mental health. News outlets and organisations may also want to be more conscious of the language they use to speak about mental wellness and those facing mental health difficulties. 3.2. Mental Health in the Family Unit The results reflected a significant difference between how mental wellness was perceived and discussed in different contexts. 80.7% of participants agreed that their friends would be supportive if they chose to share their own mental health issues with them. In contrast, when asked whether their parents would be supportive, only 58.5% of participants agreed. Participants alerted us to a generation gap present between both groups. Some mentioned that their parents held conservative mindsets about mental wellness, such that mental health concerns would be diminished and dismissed. On the contrary, they felt that their friends were not judgmental and were better informed on mental health, and were more accepting. These results are not surprising, especially when analysed in conjunction with results dissected in the previous section. As the topic of mental health becomes less stigmatised, mental health has now gradually been framed in a more positive light, encompassing aspects like self-care and mental wellness. These are a far cry from the negative portrayals and descriptions in the past that were largely tied to psychiatric disorders and conditions. Hence, as youths understand that mental health is not something to be afraid of speaking of, it is likely they are more willing to hear a friend out. In addition, it is likely that their peers have had more good interactions with more people that have been open about their mental health concerns. In comparison, the older generations may feel more hesitant or fearful, as they associate the topic with negative connotations. Moreover, as mentioned by participants, it is evident that greater awareness is important when trying to destigmatise conversations on mental health. As youths have a better understanding of mental wellness, they may be more understanding when it comes to hearing out a friend’s own struggles. For policymakers and mental health advocates, this is an encouraging sign. Initiatives such as mental health lessons being progressively implemented in primary and secondary institutions over the course of two years are certainly a step in the right direction [11]. Yet, more can certainly be done, especially when it comes to engaging the older generation and parents, as these groups have been identified to be less supportive and also less knowledgeable when it comes to mental health. 3.3. Coping with Mental Health Issues As a whole, participants expressed that they were coping well with stress and anxiety. 51.1% agreed that they were coping well or very well with anxiety, and 47.8% agreed they were coping well or very well with stress. However, there was a worrying proportion that conversely mentioned they were coping poorly. 16.1% of our participants mentioned they were having difficulties in managing anxiety. Similarly, 18.8% of participants feedbacked that they were coping poorly with stress. The sizable proportion of those struggling with managing anxiety or stress could suggest that more may need to be done when it comes to educating our youth on how to practice good self-care, and how to seek professional help when needed. However, surprisingly, when asked about mental wellness services, a large majority were aware of how to utilise them if they were struggling. The most common services were counselling services, peer support groups and emergency hotlines such as the National Care Hotline and the SOS crisis hotline. This suggests that the issue does not lie in awareness, but rather the willingness to utilise said resources. This trend was reflected in our survey participants. 37.8% of participants expressed a neutral sentiment, while 18.9% were unwilling and 43.1% were willing. Participants who stated they were unwilling recalled issues such as social stigma and their desire for anonymity, and also shared they felt uncomfortable sharing problems with people they did not know. There were also some who felt the process would be too troublesome and time-consuming. Some maintained that they would try to solve their own problems themselves first, while others communicated that they felt the resources were qualified and would be beneficial for them to share. These mixed results suggested that more needs to be done to improve how youths view these outlets and resources. Perhaps organisations may want to tap on greater publicity and engagement with youths so that youths are given a better chance to understand and learn about the processes of said organisations, and build trust. 4. The Environment and Sustainability In the next section, participants were asked various questions about their opinions on Singapore's environment and sustainability efforts. The first portion focused on their individual efforts toward promoting sustainability. Participants were asked what steps they were currently taking to combat climate change. The most selected options were reducing their use of single-use plastic (59.3%), partaking in recycling efforts (58.4%) and choosing to use more environmentally-friendly modes of transport such as public transport (52.5%). Encouragingly, only 56 out of 801 respondents (6.9%) stated that they were not currently taking any actions to promote sustainability. These results indicate that participants are willing to engage in more than one action in an effort to combat climate change, which reflects a desire to partake in sustainability efforts and care for the environment. This strong desire amongst youth to combat climate change is similarly reflected in other responses. Participants were also asked about which lifestyle choice they were most comfortable adopting to help combat climate change. 91.5% of participants agreed to make one accommodation towards a more sustainable lifestyle. The most popular choices were reducing single-use plastic, buying second-hand clothing, and using more environmentally friendly modes of transport such as public transport. Two out of the three actions (i.e reducing single-use plastic and using more environmentally friendly modes of transport) are currently aligned with what the government has been promoting. The National Environment Agency (NEA)’s Climate Action website encourages Singaporeans to adopt a 3R Lifestyle, which stands for reduce, reuse, recycle. [12] In addition, the government has encouraged more Singaporeans to adopt public transport as a sustainable alternative when commuting. [13] These suggest that government efforts may have been effective in influencing individuals to care more about sustainability efforts. Interestingly, despite it not seeming like a mainstream media message when it comes to sustainability, buying second-hand clothing was amongst the most popular choices. Based on the 2020 Report by reselling platform ThredUp and Global Data, the secondhand apparel market is expected to grow from $28 billion in 2019 to nearly $64 million by 2024. [14] This result could be attributed to a few causes. Firstly, the trend could reflect the work of community-based efforts. With more knowledge on fast fashion and consumers becoming more environmentally conscious, thrifting (i.e buying second hand-clothing) has become popular as a sustainable way to shop. In addition, thrifting has also become popularised on social media. Popular social media platforms like TikTok and YouTube have content dedicated to thrift hauls and thrift flips (i.e reworking second-hand pieces to become something new). Popular content creators can average nearly two to three million views on videos regarding their thrifted finds. [15] [16] Social media thus highlights the pros of buying second-hand, enticing consumers to go to thrift shops to find one-of-a-kind pieces at affordable prices. Participants also demonstrated keenness toward community-led initiatives for the environment. 61.6% of participants had participated in at least one activity concerning the environment, and 89.8% of participants expressed interest in exploring at least one activity concerning the environment and sustainability. This is an optimistic sign that suggests youths view environmental concerns as important to consider when it comes to Singapore’s future. However, there is a gap present between participation rates and interests. These seem to suggest that more can be done to engage youths and for more youths to get involved, especially given that there is a large proportion of youths that are interested in exploring these activities. Thus, for future youth engagement, organisers can consider working from actions and individual efforts that youths are currently partaking in and would be most comforting adopting. Based on our findings, the majority of youths are interested in exploring recycling projects in particular. This corroborates with how 58% of youths are already partaking in the same kind of recycling efforts. Hence, recycling initiatives may be the easiest way to expand individual action into community-led initiatives. When discussing the Singapore Green Plan, a sizeable proportion of participants shared they were poorly informed of the plan. Only 25.9% of participants stated they were informed, while the majority of 41.6% of participants indicated they were poorly or very poorly informed. It is concerning that many youths lack knowledge about the key environmental policy and government movement to combat climate change, especially as the Singapore Green Plan is presented as a long-term, continuous whole-of-nation movement, and youths are the future leaders of Singapore. These could indicate issues with communication and efforts to engage and educate youths on environmental efforts at the organisational (i.e university) and governmental levels. Much more can be done to actively engage and encourage youth involvement, so as to better inform them. As mentioned previously, organisations and the government may want to consider activities youths are already interested in and build from there. For example, organisations can tap into recycling projects, which is likely to increase youth engagement, while also increasing youth awareness about various efforts and policies. Furthermore, most students (41.3%) indicated that they neither agree nor disagree that Singapore was doing enough for sustainability. It is alarming that participants mostly had a neutral opinion regarding Singapore’s sustainability efforts. This could be linked to a lack of knowledge and understanding of Singapore’s environmental policies. Such findings are concerning because the scientific community internationally and locally have a consensus that climate change is a significant and existential issue. This is also acknowledged by the government, especially with the reinforcement and expansion of sustainability efforts and policies such as the SG Green Plan. Thus, if youths are unaware, uninterested and uninvolved, it poses significant challenges to addressing and resolving climate change. This also means that youth will have a more difficult time in taking steps to mitigate and adapt to climate change. For the environmental sector and community in Singapore, such results may also serve as a wake-up call. With social media activism and various community-led initiatives implemented, it may appear that much is being done, however, the survey’s findings say otherwise. More still needs to be done to raise awareness and engagement on the issues amongst the general youth population. Likewise, only 37.2% of participants agreed that they were aware of university-led initiatives to combat climate change, and only 32.7% felt the university-led initiatives were effective in addressing environmental concerns. These point to similar issues on the lack of awareness and engagement. This is surprising as NUS has been gearing up their sustainability efforts. For example, NUS has made a commitment under the sustainABLE NUS campaign [17], and has established the University Sustainability and Climate Action Council. Environmental student group NUS SAVE (Students Against Violation Of The Earth) has continued sustainability efforts in NUS with their implementation of the Plastic Bag Tax initiative starting from 2008, and Project Box & Project Tumbler in 2010 and 2012 respectively [18]. The survey findings once again provide a wake-up call for the university to expand and broaden outreach and engagement, to make a concerted effort to avoid becoming an echo chamber. Given that a majority of respondents do not feel the university initiatives are effective, they suggest that there may be issues pertaining to communication and awareness, or these initiatives may appear to be inadequate. In addition, the lack of confidence in the university’s efforts could potentially point to how youths may think that organisations are the ones that need, can and should do more, but are not following through. In addition, respondents expressed that they were unsure of what Singapore’s Green Plan was doing. Some participants also held misconceptions about the Green Plan. For example, activities such as reducing waste, reducing plastic and paper straws use, and recycling were cited as examples of the Singapore Green Plan. The lack of awareness and even misinformation on governmental policies and efforts is extremely concerning, especially since youths are not likely to be involved in combating climate change with low awareness of the issues. The results suggest more should be done with regard to publicity in educating the general population, given that many of them have been shown to be very interested in sustainability. Moreover, some aspects of the Green Plan are more well known than others. Those who were informed mentioned key aspects such as building solar panels, planting more trees, as well as the government’s push for fewer carbon emissions. These may be as these aspects are often featured in the news, and are often cited by government officials and agencies. For policymakers, more can be done to actively educate youths and the general populace on less well-known aspects of the Singapore Green Plan. For example, aspects linked to the energy, construction, building, transport and aviation industries were not commonly mentioned by participants, despite them tending to be the bigger players and more significant aspects when it came to contributing to climate change. Lastly, when asked about the Singapore Green Plan, not many respondents were able to highlight the broad essence and drive of the movement. Perhaps this is a sign that youths feel organisations and governments should take the spotlight when it comes to the movement towards sustainability, such as big-scale projects like installing solar panels or planting trees. For the movement towards sustainability, these results may be a sign that more can be done to highlight how combating climate change requires broad-based and widespread efforts and changes in various aspects, and all these need to come together to link and work together. In conjunction, more emphasis needs to be placed on what youths can do and be involved in on an individual and community level. Conclusion The environment and sustainability, as well as concerns pertaining to mental health appear to remain pertinent issues that youths find important for Singapore’s future, and it can be said that much progress has been made in both areas. However, the findings have also shown that much more can be done, and should be done to better address various concerns youths have. Through this survey, there are major takeaways for each topic. For mental health, policymakers and mental health advocates may want to look at how the topic can be better normalised and destigmatised amongst the older crowd, especially as stigma remains prevalent in that group. Moreover, television studios and filmmakers may want to turn their attention to their portrayals of those facing mental health difficulties and explore how to do it in a sensitive and tasteful manner. Under the environment and sustainability, the findings have highlighted the large gaps in communication when it comes to the Singapore Green Plan. Policymakers and organisers need to do more to better expand outreach with the youth and increase youth engagement, so that more are better informed of nation-wide policies regarding sustainability. This is doable, given that many youths have indicated they are interested in efforts pertaining to sustainability. Bibliography [1] Wei Kai Ng, Jessie Lim and Zo-Er Baey, “Care Groups See Spike In Mental Health Crises In Singapore Amid Heightened Alert Curbs”, The Straits Times, June 15, 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/care-groups-see-spike-in-mental-health-crises-in-singapore-amid-heightened-alert [2] Timothy Goh, “IMH Study Points To Likely Increase In Mental Health Issues In S'pore Amid Covid-19”, The Straits Times, August 24, 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/health/imh-study-points-to-likely-increase-in-mental-health-issues-in-spore-amid-covid-19#:~:text=singapore%20%2d%20about%2013%20per%20cent,issues%20relating%20to%20the%20virus. [3] https://www.straitstimes.com/singapore/3-in-4-nus-students-at-risk-of-depression-as-a-result-of-the-pandemic-measures-imposed-nuh-study [4] “Climate Change Widespread, Rapid, And Intensifying – Ipcc”, Ipcc, Accessed October 26, 2021, https://www.ipcc.ch/2021/08/09/ar6-wg1-20210809-pr/ [5] David Fogarty And Jonathan Pearlman, “Mountain Of Masks: Growing Environmental Problem Emerges Amid Covid-19 Pandemic”, The Straits Times, January 9, 2021, https://www.straitstimes.com/asia/se-asia/mountain-of-masks-growing-environmental-problem-emerges-amid-covid-19-pandemic [6] Tay, A. (2015). Singapore Youth’s Perception of Mental Health Issues. Heartbeats: Journal of the Chua Tian Poh Community Leadership Programme, 2(5), 131-161. https://ctpclc.nus.edu.sg/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/Heartbeats-Vol2-Ch5.pdf [7] Moses, T. (2010). Being treated differently: stigma experiences with family, peers, and school staff among adolescents with mental health disorders. Social science & medicine, 70, 985-93. [8] More youths seeking help with mental health—But finding it isn’t always easy. CNA. Retrieved 4 July 2022, from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/cna-insider/youth-mental-health-illness-singapore-help-treatment-2649296 [9] #selfcaretiktok (n.d.). Retrieved 7 August 2022, from ​​https://www.tiktok.com/tag/selfcaretiktok?lang=en [10] Gottipati, S., Chong, M., Lim, A., Kawidiredjo, A. Exploring media portrayals of people with mental disorders using NLP, SMU, Accessed July 5 , 2022, https://ink.library.smu.edu.sg/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=6980&context=sis_research [11] Mental health lessons to be progressively rolled out to primary, secondary and pre-university students over next 2 years. CNA. Retrieved 4 July 2022, from https://www.channelnewsasia.com/singapore/mental-health-lessons-primary-secondary-pre-university-students-schools-2373436 [12] Climate action. (n.d.). Retrieved 4 July 2022, from https://www.nea.gov.sg/index/climate-action [13] How to make your commute a more sustainable one. (n.d.). Retrieved 4 July 2022, from http://www.gov.sg/article/how-to-make-your-commute-a-more-sustainable-one [14] 2022 Resale Report (n.d). Retrieved 5 July 2022, from https://www.thredup.com/resale/ [15] 🧵 thrift flip 🧵—Youtube. (n.d.). Retrieved 4 July 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLTfSzFnwTcWRB_zBf79_mXL83o21JQWpF [16] 👕 thrift hauls 👕—Youtube. (n.d.). Retrieved 4 July 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLTfSzFnwTcWSecFEL6oyD91z46xu9U7OU [17] sustainABLE NUS Campaign (n.d.). Retrieved 5 July 2022, from https://sustainability.nus.edu.sg/resources/#campaign [18] Project Box & Project Tumbler​. (2019, June 14). NUS SAVE. https://nussavewrites.wordpress.com/green-canteens/project-box-project-tumbler%e2%80%8b/

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  • Education | The Convergence

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  • The 4th Editorial Board | The Convergence

    4th Editorial Board 2021/2022 Editorial Board

  • Submission Guidelines | The Convergence

    Submission Guidelines The Convergence covers a wide range of topics and issues related to Singaporean society and politics. It aims to present broad views and clear thinking by interested students and individuals, so as to raise greater awareness and stimulate active and constructive discourse among our readers. Articles should be written in proper English and delivered through a clear and cohesive tone that can be read with ease and pleasure by a general audience. The Convergence accepts and publishes online articles and materials of several categories according to topics. Examples of Topics: Pertaining to Education, Economics, Society, Health, Environment and Politics. Other topics are welcomed through discussion with The Convergence team. Articles that relate to Singapore would be preferred. Between 900 to 1,800 words. Please provide a (website) link to citations if used. Please also provide a Reference list. General guidelines for submissions: All pieces for The Convergence are to be written in English. Pieces have to be double-spaced and adopt the Times New Roman font, size 12. Justify all pages and use 1-inch margins on top and bottom as well as left and right. Acceptable file formats are .doc, .docx, although .docx is preferred. Our publication uses the Chicago/APA manual of style, but we do not require submissions to be formatted as such upon submission. All submissions or relevant pitch to be sent to theconvergence.nuspa@gmail.com . Pieces that have been published on The Convergence may be re-published on other publication platforms with the approval of the Editorial Board. Such pieces should also credit The Convergence as the original publisher. ​

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