Comparing ruling elite strategies in Hong Kong and Singapore: implications for the future
While Hong Kong experienced a rising opposition movement in the 1970s and 1980s, Singapore’s leaders have successfully contained nearly all contentious politics in the city-state. This occurred in a climate in which ruling elite and oppositional groups both share similar goals. While the oppositional groups usually stress reform goals over revolutionary demands, Singapore and Hong Kong’s rulers prioritize economic growth and government eﬃciency (Table 9.1). The main diﬀerence between these two states can be found in the tactics of the oppositional and ruling elite groups. While Hong Kong’s leaders opted most often for co-option and the opposition relied mostly on noninstitutionalized tactics, such as protests, sit-ins, or strikes, Singapore’s rulers have been much more willing to resort to repression when necessary and opposition has been largely resigned to remaining within the institutional framework. These strategies have had an impact on the diﬀerences in the organizational structure of the two opposition movements. While Hong Kong’s challengers had enough funding to ﬁnance social activities, Singapore’s opposition has diﬃculties even in ﬁnancing election deposits and campaigns. While the diﬀerences in the tactics of the ruling elites partially explain why
the opposition opts for certain tactics, another reason needs to be taken into account, namely the ability of the government to achieve its goals. The two cases demonstrate that it is much more diﬃcult for Singapore’s opposition to argue or even protest for greater democratization than it was the case in Hong Kong. This can be attributed to government eﬃciency and eﬀectiveness in fulﬁlling the demands of the population, which demonstrates why performance legitimacy plays such an important role for these authoritarian regimes
with democratic features, which Stubbs (2001) has called “soft-authoritarian” regimes. It should be noted that government performance can also be inﬂuenced through persuasive propaganda, which requires control over the media, as the case of Singapore shows. In reverse, this also means that conspicuous government deﬁciencies can be instrumentalized to challenge the ruling elite. These conclusions allow us to propose diﬀerent scenarios for the future
development of contentious politics in the two city-states. On the one hand, Hong Kong’s democracy movement reached its zenith when it was able to mobilize about 500,000 people on 1 July 2003 (SCMP 2 July 2003). Since then, support for the movement has ebbed somewhat (Chan 2008) and the future of the opposition largely depends on the government’s willingness to proceed with the introduction of popular elections to the Chief Executive by 2017 (delayed from the original date of 2007) and also on the government’s ability to provide eﬃcient and eﬀective government. In contrast, recent increases in contentious politics in Singapore, coupledwith repeated government missteps, could be indicative of greater contention and perhaps democratization in the future.