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After Decolonization: Citizenship and Sovereignty in Postcolonial Malaysia and Singapore - Sponsored by the Malaysa-Singapore-Brunei Studies Group

Sat, April 2, 3:00 to 5:00pm, Washington State Convention Center, Floor: 6th Floor, Room 606

Session Submission Type: Organized Panel

Abstract

In 1957, Malaya attained independence from British colonization. The boundaries of the nation-state in the early independence years were deeply unstable: in 1963, Sarawak lost its nearly century-long sovereignty when folded into the newly-created Malaysia; in 1965, Singapore left Malaysia to form an independent nation. Occurring during the Cold War, these contestations of sovereignty led the political leadership of Malaysia and Singapore to introduce laws permitting indefinite political detention, which were eventually used not only against the Communists but also against state political opponents more broadly. These authoritarian practices characterized the governments of the two powerful prime ministers, Malaysia’s Mahathir Mohamad (1981-2003) and Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew (1965-1990), each of whom began their political careers in the late colonial period. However, Mahathir’s retirement from politics and Lee’s recent demise raise important questions regarding the reproduction of the techniques of governance that were crafted during the throes of decolonization. This panel asks: how are citizenship and sovereignty negotiated by citizens in contemporary Malaysia and Singapore as a younger generation takes over the political leadership?

There are three papers in this panel. Amali Ibrahim examines how Lee Kuan Yew’s rule has taught ordinary Singaporeans to become authoritarian in the politics of everyday lives. Rusaslina Idrus looks at how youth in Malaysia are pushing back against authoritarian control by creating their own spaces for social critique and intellectual discourse. Juno Parrenas shows why decolonization remains an ongoing struggle in Sarawak through a history of space and boundaries at Sarawak’s wildlife centers. Daromir Rudnyckyj will be the discussant.

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