Singapore, a diminutive city-state of 682 square kilometers, has achieved an economic miracle within 40 years of independence and is among the 25 richest countries in the world in per capita terms. Without any natural resources it has become the economic lodestar of the East, contributing to economic and political stability in the region. Under the leadership of the Peoples’ Action Party (PAP), Singapore’s political and constitutional system has been transformed from the model of the Westminster style parliamentary democracy to its own unique authoritarian model of governance that maintains the parliamentary form but produces virtual one party rule. PAP’s dominance was achieved and is maintained by a combination of legal and economic devices that has effectively dispensed with the need for drastically oppressive measures usually associated with despotism. The government and many commentators regard this as a critical factor in Singapore’s economic success and its stability and the government has received only muted official criticism from abroad.
The principal aims of the thesis are four-fold, namely:
1. To examine the historical background to the emergence of Singapore’s governance model and its justification;
2. To identify and critically discuss the elements of the political theory that has been developed to justify Singapore’s authoritarian governance model;
3. To make a detailed examination of the constitutional, legal and judicial mechanisms and economic controls that make up the current constitutional model of Singapore; and
4. To assess the fixture stability of the Singapore model and prospects for its further evolution.
Part I of the thesis, comprising of Chapters 2, 3 and 4, examines the history and theory of the Singapore model of governance. The research reveals the political history and economic forces that contributed to the emergence of a unique Singapore model of authoritarian governance. Perceived communists threats, ethnic differences from its immediate neighbours and an inheritance of illiberal laws that were previously established to protect the economic and political interests of Singapore’s colonial masters, are some of the contributing factors that shaped the destiny of the city-state.
The thesis investigates the political theory advanced by the PAP to justify the transformation of Singapore into a virtual one-party state. It finds that the theory draws on what has been termed the ‘Asian Values doctrine’ and the claim that a strong government is needed to overcome Singapore’s vulnerabilities as a resource scarce city state in the midst of a turbulent region. The PAP argument is that Western-style liberal democracy is not only inconsistent with the Asian way of social life but also inadequate to meet the country’s economic, social and security challenges. The thesis critically examines the Asian Values doctrine in relation to its philosophical and historical sources and finds that it provides little support for many of the authoritarian features developed by the PAP government. The investigation finds that the arguments based on Singapore’s vulnerabilities are more plausible though not conclusive. The object of attracting large scale multi-national investments and of creating an efficient and giant state economic sector run on corporate business principles, seen by the PAP as the right strategy, requires unquestioned control over macro and micro economic policy. The prosperity that the program created has bought this strategy the respectability and the acceptance of the people.
Part II of the thesis, comprising of Chapters 5, 6, 7 and 8, undertakes a sustained survey and analysis of the constitutional and legal devices through which the PAP engineered the constitutional transformation. It commences with an analysis of the overall change in structure that saw multi-party democracy suppressed and in its place the creation of alternative processes of public discourse that does not threaten the PAP’s authority. The Part then considers in detail the limitations on the freedoms of communication and association and the ways in which the judicial processes have been used to advance the PAP’s political and economic agenda.
Part III, comprising of Chapters 9 and 10, considers the economic dimension of the system that allows the PAP to remain in control of the levers of power. I consider the economic strategies that helped to deliver Singapore its prosperity, how they became integral to PAP’s political hegemony and how they have created certain structural problems for the Singapore economy and society. We will see in this Part how the political-administrative and commercial branches of government have interfaced and become interdependent. The three key elements of the PAP economic strategy are identified as:
1. The attraction of multi-national corporations (MNC) to Singapore by the creation of favourable domestic conditions and economic incentives.
2. Large scale state participation in the economy through government linked companies (GLCs) including the giant Government of Singapore Investment Corporation (GIC) all of which are insulated from normal political scrutiny.
3. The use of mechanisms such as compulsory savings and public housing as a means of applying private wealth in aid of the government’s economic strategies and of political and social control.
The thesis proceeds to examine the incentives and disincentives facing the PAP government on the question of political and economic liberalization in the context of globalization and a general trend to liberalization in the region. I conclude that in the foreseeable future, the PAP is likely to attempt to maintain the current institutional and policy settings with ad hoc adjustments as exigencies demand. Finally, the thesis considers the long term stability of the Singapore system by investigating whether it has inbuilt safeguards for maintaining efficient, corruption free and sagacious government in the post Lee Kuan Yew era given the absence of effective external checks. On the basis of the data gathered and deep analysis conducted, the thesis reaches a skeptical conclusion on this question.