National Service or Obligation?

       National Service. It’s been in the news a lot lately. There are those who have
defaulted on National Service(NS), and then there are others who wish to defer national service. According to Enlistment Act of 1970, National Service in Singapore requires all male Permanent Residents and Citizens who are at least 16.5 years old to enlist. As I watched my brother attend National Service, I wondered what exactly went through his mind as he watched all his peers head off to university while he had to wait two years to experience the same. Was his love for Singapore more than his yearn for university?

National Service people in action. Credits:

Firstly, let’s dive into the perspectives of a few people who have been in the news recently in regards to National Service. Ekawit Tangtrakarn, a twenty-four year old Thai national admitted in a Singapore court on the 28th of August, 2018 that he had defaulted on National Service in Singapore. While Ekawit had been registered as a Singaporean citizen at the age of one in 1994, it was obvious that his heart lay not in Singapore but in Thailand where he completed three where he completed three years of national service with the Royal Thai Army. His mother had tried to renounce his Singaporean citizenship when he was seven, but since a Singapore citizen can only do so after the age of twenty-one, the renunciation was refused. He lost his citizenship in 2015 after failing to take the oath of renunciation, allegiance, and loyalty which citizens are to take within the year they turn twenty-one. Therefore, he was deemed free of NS liability. However, between the years 2010 and 2015, he didn’t have a valid exit permit from the Singapore Armed forces which is required for a very Singaporean male in order to remain outside Singapore during the time they are eligible for NS. This is deemed to be a breach of the Enlistment Act and Tangtrakarn pleaded guilty to that breach.

The main issue with Ekawit was how he wasn’t allowed to renounce his citizenship until the age of twenty-one. When he didn’t feel a connection to this island in the first place, why should he be charged for avoiding National Service when he wasn’t allowed to renounce his citizenship until an age after completion of NS. Netizens have expressed their shock at his charges.

With people such as a lawyer, Eugene Thuraisingam, posting on Facebook saying our society is “messed up”  to another netizen saying he “doesn’t see how he(Tangtrakarn) is wrong”, clearly there are a few issues we have to sort out. 

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Interesting to see how more Singaporean citizens default NS compared to PRs. Credits: ifonlysingaporeansstoppedtothink

Another citizen who has been in the news is Ben Davis, a young footballer, who had requested permission to defer his National Service. The reason to request deferment is that he wants to play professional football for the Fulham Football Club in the English Premier League. This request has been turned down by the Ministry of Defense(Mindef) on the grounds that unless the deferment benefits Singapore more than the individual’s self-interest, they will not be allowed to skip National Service. That is why Joseph Schooling, another Singaporean who is an Olympic swimmer, was allowed to defer NS in order to train to represent Singapore at the Olympics. That is an example of placing Singapore’s interest over one’s own. However, seventeen-year-old Ben Davis signed his contract for two years with the Fulham football club after he was rejected by Mindef. As Davis holds three passports, Thai, English and Singaporean, he is eligible to play for either of the three national teams. It is a little difficult to see Davis’s point of view because the young footballer, born to an English father and Thai mother, will likely be playing Football for his team as an English National and not as a Singaporean. Davis’s father also refused to indicate when his son would return to complete NS. This situation has attracted opinions from two different camps with different points of view. The first camp makes the case that  Davis should be allowed to pursue his dream and therefore his National Service should be deferred while the second camp argues that playing professional Football amounts to serving Davis’s own personal interest and therefore should complete National Service.

I don’t like the idea of someone losing something so massive in their career for the army, but on the other hand I understand the other side too.

It’s a very complicated issue with Ben Davis, but Mindef isn’t concerned when one’s serving their own self-interest over Singapore’s. Credits:

Someone who chose to remain anonymous had a few words to say on that subject. “I don’t like the idea of someone losing something so massive in their career for the army, but on the other hand I understand the other side too.”

My personal connection to this situation would be my older brother. He started his two years of rigor in July of 2016 and I watched him complain, make friends and develop into a tough man through the years. From what I observed, he wasn’t necessarily happy to watch a lot of friends go on to university and new adventures while he could only join after two years. But Singapore is his home and the concomitant sense of obligation eventually prevailed as he chose to become a Permanent Resident (and eventually a citizen) and enrolled in NS.

So for future SAS NS enlisters, the question is: is your career more important or does your sense of responsibility towards Singapore prevail?

Author: Aditi Balasubramanian

Aditi Balasubramanian is a senior at SAS and one of the Chief Copy Editors for The Eye. This is her fourth year at SAS but she has lived in Singapore her whole life. In her free time, she enjoys writing, reading and watching "Gilmore Girls"--which may have fuelled her interest in being a journalist. She loves anything with chocolate in it and Indian food. She can be contacted at

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