chapter  4
23 Pages

Expanding political opportunities and limiting institutional structures in Singapore

In contrast to Hong Kong, Singapore’s modern history has been dominated by a small, cohesive ruling elite, which has been able to control nearly all aspects of Singaporean life. In order to understand how this came about, this chapter will delve deeper into Singapore’s history. In the first part of the chapter the most important events that have influenced changing opportunities for oppositional groups will be summarized. The need for political and social stability has its origin in the unpredictable years between the 1950s and 1965, when Singapore gained its independence. As part of a developmentalist agenda, the need to achieve economic growth necessitated, in the eyes of the ruling elite, a strong state that frequently resorted to authoritarian measures. However, the increasing complexity of the system and the inability to completely fulfill the developmentalist goals led to the resurgence of opposition parties in the 1980s. The election victory of J.B. Jeyaretnam in 1981 is a watershed event in this regard. It heralded the onset of a new opposition movement. However, the return of the opposition did not signify the beginning of a democratization process. Instead, the authoritarian regime was able to adapt to the challenges and consolidate its power. The theme of Singapore’s modernization can thus best be described as guided liberalization. The second part of the chapter introduces the institutions that maintain

Singapore’s stable political system. The bureaucratic state, marked by a strict hierarchy and a close relationship between the ruling party and the administrative state, dominates the Singaporean polity. There is no independent labor movement and the press has become closely linked to the government. Rules and regulations severely restrict oppositional activity. While the judiciary is considered by most to be impartial in business cases, it has been regarded as partisan in political cases by many political activists and scholars. It is beyond doubt that a series of defamation suits against opposition politicians, initiated by members of the ruling elite, have resulted in verdicts with exorbitant fines that have greatly weakened any potential challenge. Still, Singapore claims to be a democracy and maintains periodic elections, which are perceived to be free and thus bolster the legitimacy of the ruling party and the government. Elections have, however, provided members of the opposition with the opportunity to challenge the regime within an institutional context. Nevertheless,

there have been fewer instances of contentious politics in Singapore in recent years than in Hong Kong during the 1970s.