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Singapore Sociologist Daniel Goh
Political Liberalization the Right Track

Singapore’s strong economy and social stability have fuel the city-state’s rise as ASEAN’s most advanced country. But as activist and sociologist Daniel Goh explains, political liberalization is now needed to deliver the innovation economy Singapore wants.

Photos: CW

It was a call from a friend in 2011 that got Daniel Goh, a sociology professor at National University of Singapore, involved in politics. He agreed to join Singapore’s second largest political party, the Workers’ Party, and help the campaign of political star and Taiwan-born lawyer Chen Show Mao as head of policy research.

In that election, the ruling People’s Action Party took 81 of the 87 parliamentary seats up for grabs but its share of the popular vote fell about 6.5 percentage points from the previous election to 60.1 percent in what was seen as a “watershed election.” It was a sign of Singaporeans’ growing dissatisfaction with a widening rich-poor divide and immigration. Seeing the change in attitude, Goh ran for election in 2015 and won a seat as a Non-Constituency Member of Parliament.

“The key thing for me in entering politics and being committed to sustaining my political activism is to make sure that my children remain happy and that the next generation will have the same opportunities,” says the 43-year-old Goh.

As a social historian, Goh believes Singapore is on the right track, and even as an opposition politician, he praises the government for its educational, talent and economic reforms. He hopes that Singapore, which is now facing an economic growth bottleneck, can move toward a creativity-driven future.

The following are excerpts of CommonWealth Magazine’s interview with Goh:

CommonWealth Magazine: The Singapore model has worked very well the past 30 years. Why does it seem to be changing recently?

Daniel Goh: Because I think as the government tried to develop, they kept hitting this thing called society. So they finally discovered society. The government started to engage us to do social research in this field to understand society, to help them understand why are people like this? Why do they feel this way? Why do they think this way? Why do they behave this way?

The government has realized this is the core of society that is resisting all the development. It’s not that [the government is] retreating on development, it’s just that now they have a much better consciousness of what this thing called society is, and they’re trying to deal with it and maybe come

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