The Autocratic Mandate: Elections, Legitimacy and Regime Stability in Singapore

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DOI: 10.1080/09512748.2016.1201134
Abstract
This paper explains how authoritarian regimes employ flawed elections to obtain both short-term legitimacy and long-term stability. In conjunction with the use of co-optation and repression, it argues that ruling parties hold de jure competitive elections to claim what is termed autonomous legitimation. This denotes the feigning of conformity to the established rules of the constitution and the shared beliefs of citizens. Regardless of overall turnout and support, ruling parties exploit the normative and symbolic value of elections in order to establish moral grounds for compliance within a dominant-subordinate relationship. In support of this argument, the case of Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP) is analysed in historical and contemporary terms. Since 1959, the PAP has used precisely-timed elections to extract one or more mandate types from citizens and, by extension, claim legitimacy. In particular, it has sort a mandate based on its response to an event, execution of a policy and/or collection of a reward. In the long run, autocratic stability has been achieved through a process of reciprocal reinforcement, which has combined autonomous legitimation with targeted co-optation and low intensity coercion. The paper concludes by addressing what the use of elections for legitimation means for democratisation in Singapore and the generalisability of this finding.
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The autocratic mandate: elections, legitimacy and
regime stability in Singapore
Lee Morgenbesser
To cite this article: Lee Morgenbesser (2016): The autocratic mandate: elections, legitimacy
and regime stability in Singapore, The Pacific Review, DOI: 10.1080/09512748.2016.1201134
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The autocratic mandate: elections, legitimacy and regime
stability in Singapore
Lee Morgenbesser
Centre for Governance and Public Policy/Grifth Asia Institute, Grifth University, Brisbane, Australia
ABSTRACT
This paper explains how authoritarian regimes employ awed elections to obtain both
short-term legitimacy and long-term stability. In conjunction with the use of co-
optation and repression, it argues that ruling parties hold de jure competitive
elections to claim what is termed autonomous legitimation. This denotes the feigning
of conformity to the established rules of the constitution and the shared beliefs of
citizens. Regardless of overall turnout and support, ruling parties exploit the normative
and symbolic value of elections in order to establish moral grounds for compliance
within a dominant-subordinate relationship. In support of this argument, the case of
Singapores Peoples Action Party (PAP) is analysed in historical and contemporary
terms. Since 1959, the PAP has used precisely timed elections to extract one or more
mandate types from citizens and, by extension, claim legitimacy. In particular, it has
sort a mandate based on its response to an event, execution of a policy and/or
collection of a reward. In the long run, autocratic stability has been achieved through
a process of reciprocal reinforcement, which has combined autonomous legitimation
with targeted co-optation and low intensity coercion. The paper concludes by
addressing the generalisability of this nding for other authoritarian regimes in
Southeast Asia.
KEYWORDS Authoritarianism; elections; legitimacy; stability; Singapore; Southeast Asia
Introduction
The existence of hybrid regimesoccupying a grey zone between liberal democracy and
closed authoritarianism is rmly established. This conceptual category is designed to
capture those political regimes utilising democratic institutions, such as elections, albeit
in a substandard way. Such a label has been frequently applied to Southeast Asia; a
region presently comprised of three competitive authoritarianregimes (Cambodia,
Malaysia and Singapore) and two hegemonic authoritarianregimes (Laos, Vietnam).
Despite being conceptualised for their hybridity, which implies democracy exists in
some way, these regimes are still recalcitrantto democratisation (Emmerson 1995).
This is indicative of how contestation and participation do exist, but in varying degrees
of deciency. In Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore, for example, the incumbent
regimes deliberately dilute the capacity of opposition parties to win ofce, intentionally
CONTACT Lee Morgenbesser l.morgenbesser@grifth.edu.au
© 2016 Informa UK Limited, trading as Taylor & Francis Group
THE PACIFIC REVIEW, 2016
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infringe upon civil liberties and regularly abuse state resources to create an uneven play-
ing eld. This helps explain why the 2015 election victory of Myanmars National League
for Democracy was nothing short of an anomaly for opposition parties in the region. In
Laos and Vietnam, by comparison, the incumbent regimes legally bar opposition parties
from existing, violate basic civil liberties through the use of overt repression and monop-
olise access to resources, media and the law. So what exactly is democratic about South-
east Asias pool of authoritarian regimes? Given the present state of contestation and
participation, it is clear that a more critical examination is required into how the very
institution that gives rise to the use of hybrid labels in this case, elections actually
sustains authoritarian rule.
This means studying the utility of elections from the functional perspective of author-
itarian regimes, rather than democratic regimes. The question then becomes how ruling
parties use elections to prolong their stay in power and, by extension, resist democrat-
isation. An important contribution in this regard is Gerschewskis(2013) theory of auto-
cratic stability. In seeking to explain why some regimes survive and others perish, he
assigned casual importance to co-optation, legitimation and repression. These pillars do
not exist from the outset, but must be developed and reinforced in order to achieve
inter-complimentary. A key problem, however, is that legitimation remains neglected by
comparison to the other pillars. For a variety of normative and substantive reasons, Ger-
schewski (2013: 19) lamented how only anecdotal evidence is available as to why legiti-
mation matters. Set against the backdrop of awed elections, this article addresses this
decit.
It uses the case of Singapore to explain how elections can be employed to gain legiti-
macy and, thus, maintain authoritarian rule. Since 1959, the Peoples Action Party (PAP)
has sanctioned more defective elections than its counterparts in Cambodia, Laos, Malay-
sia and Vietnam.
1
Despite such manipulation and misconduct, a majority of citizens have
conferred legitimacy on the PAP because of its performance, governance as well as its
values and ideology. A lack of fair electoral contestation, by contrast, has very few conse-
quences for its legitimacy. This is indicative of Singapores status as a pathway case
containing both the cause and outcome of interest a legitimation mechanism
employed in perpetual support of autocratic stability.
2
The value of Singapore in case
study terms is further denoted by its status as a model for other authoritarian regimes,
many of which seek to replicate the PAPs success by fusing awed elections to a mar-
ket-orientated economic system and a communitarian ethos (Ortmann and Thompson
2014). So by understanding how one of the most enduring authoritarian regimes has
achieved legitimacy, democracy promotion may be more effectively targeted in those
regimes following it. This is an especially prevalent issue given the democratic reces-
sionnow underway (Diamond 2015).
The central argument of this article is that PAP has employed awed elections to
acquire autonomous legitimacy. This term captures how authoritarian regimes utilise
the space provided by elections to feign conformity to established rules and/or shared
beliefs about the maintenance of political power. Since 1963, the PAP has successfully
secured a normative commitment from citizens to obey its authority and acquiesce to
the political status-quo. This is manifested in the procurement of a mandatefrom citi-
zens, be it event response, policy execution and/or reward collection. The gradual insti-
tutionalisation of this function has subsequently been integral to a regime stabilisation
process predicated on reciprocal reinforcement, which combines autonomous legitima-
tion with targeted co-optation and low intensity repression. Far from being mere
2 L. MORGENBESSER
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window dressing or a precursor to democratisation, the inconvenient truth is that elec-
tions are far more open to the way political power is distributed and organised in a
given context. Indeed, this article shows that they are neither institutionally predisposed
to democracy or anathema to the legitimation of authoritarian regimes.
To substantiate this argument, the rst section describes how authoritarian regimes
pursue stability. The aim here is elevate legitimation alongside the existing use of co-
optation and repression. The second section contextualises how those same tools have
been used by the PAP, but in a way that provides the necessary space for legitimation.
This comes in the form of a faux version of democracy, whereby elections irrespective
of quality are considered to be the key difference between regime types. To support
this argument empirically, the section shows how elections have been explicitly timed
to gain one or more mandate types. The nal section conveys the complementarity of
the PAPs stability strategy by demonstrating the extent of mutual reinforcement
between co-optation, repression and, of course, legitimation. The conclusion addresses
the generalisability of this survival strategy for other authoritarian regimes in Southeast
Asia.
Autocratic stability: a toolbox
The general goal of authoritarian regimes is to achieve longevity. This requires the adept
management of citizens (who can overthrow the political order); opponents (who can
push for democracy); and political elites (who can upturn the existing power-sharing
arrangement). Since these actors constitute the main sources of either opposition or
support, the strategic interaction that occurs between them has a substantial effect on
the trajectory of authoritarian regimes. The two tools most widely wielded to manage
such relationships are co-optation and repression. The rst involves inducing people to
behave in ways that they might otherwise not, while the second involves preventing,
countering and eliminating threats. This section draws out how each tool inuences the
fate of authoritarian regimes, before examining the underrepresentation of legitimation
in this equation.
The strategy of maintaining power through co-optation is intrinsic to authoritarian
regimes. This entails encapsulating sectors of the populace into the regime apparatus
through the distribution of perks(ODonnell 1979: 51). A common form of co-optation
is patronage. In exchange for demonstrating their loyalty to the ruling party, citizens are
provided with goods and services. The aim is to manufacture a normative commitment
from them to obey authority, thereby reducing the risk that small-scale protests over
particularistic issues will manifest into a full-blown crisis (Kuran 1991). A common fea-
ture of this exchange process is the obligation to reciprocate, which lowers the power
asymmetry between these actors by breeding reliability. Besides patronage, another
form of co-optation is the use of formal institutions, such as legislatures and parties
(Gandhi 2008; Magaloni 2008). In exchange for remaining loyal to the leader, political
elites are provided with the opportunity to advance their career, gain parliamentary
immunity, inuence policy, receive monetary payments, secure business contracts or
assume a party post. In the long run, the credibility of this exchange process reduces
incentives for political elites to rebel. This is symptomatic of how the use of co-optation
nurtures a stake in the survival of authoritarian regimes.
A more obvious strategy used by authoritarian regimes is repression. This is dened
as the actual or threatened use of physical sanctions against an individual or
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organisation, within the territorial jurisdiction of the state, for the purpose of imposing a
cost on the target as well as deterring specic activities(Davenport 2007: 2). Depending
on the nature, scope and timing of the perceived threat, repression is wielded in two
ways (Levitsky and Way 2010:5661). Low intensity coercion is a less visible and more
subtle form typically aimed at individuals or groups of minor importance (i.e. physical
and non-physical harassment, restrictions on assembly). High intensity coercion is a
more visible form usually targeted at well-known individuals, large groups of people or
major organisations (i.e. imprisonment, crushing of protests). The overarching goal of
repression, which is the sum of both approaches, is to make disloyalty a less attractive
option for political elites and collective action more difcult for citizens. The employ-
ment of this strategy, however, is fraught with risks. Besides fomenting societal discon-
tent and muzzling the expression of preferences, repression encourages the paranoia of
leaders (Wintrobe 1998). While it decreases the willingness of citizens and opponents to
challenge them, it simultaneously increases the capacity of political elites overseeing
the security apparatus to oust them. This is illustrative of how the costs and benets of
repression must be shrewdly balanced.
The collective contribution co-optation and repression make to the stability of
authoritarian regimes is a product of the complementarity between them. They exist in
a state of reciprocal reinforcement, which encourages not only functional interdepen-
dence, but mutual strengthening (Gerschewski 2013:2730). Using patronage to co-
opt citizens, which is often expressed in electoral support for the ruling party, reduces
the need for wholesale repression. This is because the distribution of perks is less politi-
cally costly for leaders than the use of ex ante harassment or ex post suppression. A simi-
lar effect is evident in the use of formal institutions to co-opt political elites and
opposition members. Since legislatures and parties provide information about the iden-
tity of their most serious challengers, leaders are better able to optimise repression. This
leads them to increase the use of high intensity coercion against notable opponents,
but decrease its use against citizens (Frantz and Kendall-Taylor 2014). The value of this
more targeted approach is that it trumps the need for indiscriminate tactics that run the
risk of spurring a mass-led overthrow or an elite-driven coup.
What is less established is how legitimation works alongside co-optation and repres-
sion. In addressing this question, this article disputes prior dismissal of its importance
on normative and substantive grounds. Such an understanding not only neglects how
citizens confer legitimacy on ruling parties, but belies the sophisticated approaches
authoritarian regimes adopt to stay in power.
Legitimation
Holding power compels authoritarian regimes to eventually have it validated by the citi-
zens over whom it is exercised. The goal is to establish moral grounds for their authority,
which is in keeping with the idea that a legitimate political order is one that is norma-
tively approved by citizens. The most important factor determining the failure or success
of such an undertaking is the basis of the claim. While a broad range of potential stimuli
exist (see Geddes and Zaller 1989), very few of them actually full the essential precon-
ditions of legitimacy. In the view of Beetham (1991:1525), political power can be said
to be legitimate to the extent that it conforms to established rules; those rules can be
justied by reference to shared dominant-subordinate relationship; and there is evi-
dence of consent by the subordinate to the particular power relation. This denition
4 L. MORGENBESSER
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captures how legitimacy must not only be derived from the beliefs of citizens, but from
actions expressive of those beliefs (see also Lipset 1963; Alagappa 1995). The enduring
difculty for authoritarian regimes is to produce a congruence of values between politi-
cal institutions and the citizens they are designed to govern.
All but a few authoritarian regimes use elections to gain a moral windfall that is oth-
erwise unavailable to them. The most common iteration of this strategy, which is termed
autonomous legitimation, involves feigning conformity to established rules and/or
shared beliefs about the maintenance of political power. This means ruling parties sub-
mitto the legal requirement of competitive elections and the principle that citizens
should decide the winner of that competition. This explains why democracyand the
will of the peopleare so frequently invoked following awed elections, even in the
most extreme of circumstances. In the wake of Syrias 2012 parliamentary election, for
instance, Bashar al-Assad pronounced that
Of course this is a very popular step, this is part of the reforms we began to implement about a
year ago. Election results reect the opinion of the people. This is a serious message for everyone,
inside the country as well as outside. The Syrian people are not scared by the terrorists, who tried
to get us to cancel the elections. The results show that the Syrian people still support the reforms
that we announced a year ago and most support the system. This is why this parliamentary elec-
tion was very important (in BBC News 2012).
While the quality of authoritarian elections can certainly be dismissed, the function
they perform cannot. So what is the relationship between such awed elections and the
legitimacy claimed by those sanctioning them? In authoritarian regimes, they are the
end product of an established sequential logic. This means those in power have pro-
vided a substantive reason or set of reasons for employing elections as a legitimation
mechanism; a selectivity that is the sum of past and/or present inputs to the claim. This
also explains why coup-makers are often so quick to express a commitment to hold
elections. Upon institutionalisation, the value of this institution is its capacity to privately
bind inparticipating citizens at a requisite level of mass loyalty. In this way, the act of
voting is considered to be an expression of consent by a subordinate group to a domi-
nant group, regardless of the motives behind it (see Barker 1990,2001). Since this occurs
irrespective of overall turnout and support, the end goal is to establish moral grounds
for compliance.
The Singapore case: opening the PAP toolbox
Since 1959, Singapore has been transformed from a crisis-ridden entrep^
ot outpost into a
model of peace and prosperity. Today it enjoys a stable political environment, an envi-
able standard of living and an economy often judged to be the most competitive, inno-
vative and open in the world. The evident cost of this success has been the
emasculation of the Westminster parliamentary democracy inherited from Britain. In
order to understand how this has occurred, this section details the PAPs deployment of
co-optation and repression. The discussion is by no means fully representative of the
tactics and strategies employed, but it does account for the most obvious inputs. The
aim is to contextualise the contribution of legitimacy to autocratic stability.
The PAP has maintained a diverse range of co-optation measures designed to elicit
greater compliance amongst citizens, opposition members and political elites. While it
has shunned the distribution of patronage (in the classical sense), it has developed a
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corporatist exchange process revolving around the delivery of perks to citizens. This
includes a social welfare program that subsidises education and basic medical care, but
also comprehensive public housing. On several occasions, in fact, the PAP has threat-
ened to withdraw support for the latter initiative as a way of deterring citizens from vot-
ing for the opposition (Jeyaretnam 2003). The capacity to do so is a product of
Singapores record of development, which has not only blunted political activism for
the sake of careerism and conformity, but produced genuine support for the PAP. At the
elite level, the delivery of perks be it bureaucratic appointments, commercial con-
tracts, executive positions or military promotions is also dependent upon loyalty to
the ruling party (Barr 2014). This is based on the common knowledge that associating
with the opposition can jeopardise ones professional status.
Besides patronage, political institutions have been central to co-optation under the
PAP. For citizens, this is manifested in the regular use of meet the people sessions, peo-
ples associations and the Reaching Everyone for Active Citizenry @ Home initiative (for-
mally the Feedback Unit). These initiatives are symptomatic of the PAPs belief about
the utility of fostering petitionary politics, albeit within a tightly controlled environment
(Jayasuriya and Rodan 2007; Ong 2015). Such grassroots dominance helps mobilise vot-
ers for elections, whilst de-mobilising them for other forms of political contention, espe-
cially those related to communal and labour issues. For opposition members and
political elites, co-optation occurs via the party and legislature. The political appeal of
the PAP allows it to include the most competent, experienced and vibrant individuals
possible (for a critique, see Barr 2016). In conjunction with its electoral hegemony, this
encourages prospective elites to join it (and presumably benet) or continue to vainly
resist it. A more explicit articulation of co-optation occurs within the legislature via the
Non-constituency Member of Parliament and Nominated Member of Parliament
schemes.
3
These initiatives are designed to steer formal political participation away
from party politics and political competition (Rodan 2009). They send the signal that
supporting the PAP is the only game in town, which builds elite (and mass) commitment
to the political status quo.
A more well-known tool used by the PAP has been repression. In contrast to many
other authoritarian regimes, however, low intensity coercion has tended to be the insti-
tutionalised norm and high intensity coercion the ad hoc exception (George 2007). To
maintain political stability, which is considered to be synonymous with its survival, the
PAP has exercised tight control over citizens. This is seen in the lack of judicial indepen-
dence; media censorship (or self-censorship); restrictions on assembly, association, reli-
gion and speech; strict labour laws; as well as the stiing of civil society (Lydgate 2003;
Gomez 2006; Rajah 2012). The recent spate of lawsuits against internet bloggers, such
as Roy Ngerng (defamation), Alex Au (scandalising the court) and Amos Yee (obscenity
and wounding religious feelings), underscores the contemporary nature of low intensity
coercion. The cumulative effect has been to limit social activism and channel political
engagement in more favourable ways to the PAP. An accompanying feature has been
the use of high intensity coercion, which is made permissible by the Criminal Law Act
(1955) and Internal Security Act (1960). The latter was most notably used as part of
Operation Cold Store, which obliterated the leadership of the Barisan Socialis ahead of
the 1963 election on the grounds its members were communist sympathisers. This was
later followed by Operation Spectrum, which saw a group of Catholic social activists
arrested and detained for being involved in a Marxist coup conspiracy (Barr 2010).
Beyond the targeting of such groups, the PAP has been adept at punishing international
6 L. MORGENBESSER
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news organisations and opposition leaders through libel suits.
4
Rather than imprisoning
Workers Party leader J. B. Jeyaretnam or Singapore Democratic Party leader Chee Soon
Juan, the ruling party has used the rule of law and its control of the judiciary to remove
them from the political arena. This is indicative of an approach to repression that seeks
maximum effectiveness at minimum cost.
How does legitimation t within this toolbox? A well-established view is that the PAP
derives legitimacy from its handling of Singapores economy citizens recognise its
right to rule based on its ability to deliver the goodsin the form of improved standards
of living (Chua 1995: 156; Khong 1995: 123; Wong and Huang 2010: 528). The problem
with this view is not its accuracy, but its narrowness. Aside from downplaying how elec-
tions translate said performance into legitimacy, it precludes many non-material perfor-
mance benchmarks. This includes the PAPs ability to facilitate leadership successions,
manage important events and/or implement public policy. Another view is that, despite
their substandard quality, elections allow citizens to confer legitimacy on the ruling
party. They have afforded the PAP government a political legitimacy not enjoyed by
other authoritarian regimes, Rodan (1996: 61) claims, Ironically, elections have thus
enabled the PAP to claim a mandate in operating outside democratic processes
between ballots. A similar explanation is advanced by Nam (1969: 466), Tremewan
(1994: 181) and Barr (2012: 31). The problem here is that there has been no investigation
into how this actually works in practice. In line with Singapores designation as a path-
way case, then, this article demonstrates how the PAP has employed well-timed elec-
tions to be the demonstrable expression of consent on the part of citizens to its rule.
The goal is to isolate elections from other potential legitimacy stimuli so that its contri-
bution to autocratic stability can be known.
Electoral legitimation under the PAP
The PAP has altered Singapores political system so that elections represent just one part
of a wider pattern of domination. The justication for doing so has been both consistent
and ubiquitous: maintaining economic prosperity, political stability and social harmony
depends on a level of participation and contestation betting national circumstances.
Despite the awed nature of elections, however, the PAP has gained autonomous legiti-
macy in the form of a mandate to govern from citizens. This section traces the sequen-
tial logic behind the institutionalisation of this function.
The period initially following Singapores independence is often dramatized as a
matter of life or death. By most accounts, it had a highly specialised economy that was
failing; had no natural resources; was politically divided following an opposition boycott;
lacked geostrategic importance, especially to Britain; and was surrounded and outnum-
bered by hostile ethnic majorities in Indonesia and Malaysia (see Bellows 1970; George
1973). Such a dire situation apparently changed how much importance the PAP
attached to maintaining parliamentary democracy. During its time in opposition, it had
repeatedly championed liberal democratic ideals. In a 1955 parliamentary speech, for
instance, Lee Kuan Yew strongly criticised the Labour Front governments Emergency
Regulations law:
We either believe in democracy, or we do not. If we do, then we must say categorically, without
qualication, that no restraint from any democratic process, other than by the ordinary law of the
land, should be allowed. If you believe in democracy you must believe in it unconditionally (in
Josey 1980: 121).
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Such sentiments were basically not expressed again once the PAP gained power. The
turn towards authoritarianism instead advanced according to the pragmatic claim that
stability was a prerequisite to progress, making debate over how to achieve it irrelevant.
This was made abundantly clear as early as 1962, when Lee Kuan Yew stated that, If I
were in Singapore indenitely, without having to ask those who are governed whether
they like what is being done, then I have not the slightest doubt that I could govern
much more effectively in their own interests(Kwang et al. 1998: 367). The gradual insti-
tutionalisation of such beliefs indicated that the PAP was open to undermining any
democratic ideals or institutions considered harmful to socio-political stability, which
itself was tied to its longevity.
The institutionalisation of authoritarian rule during the early 1960s heralded many
lasting changes to the political system. In the context of elections, the most debilitating
included the detention and then bankrupting of opposition leaders; denial of permits to
hold campaign rallies; shutting down of hostile printing facilities; increasing of the can-
didate registration fee; limiting the campaign period to nine days; and placing the Elec-
tions Department within the Prime MinistersOfce (on the electoral system, see Tey
2008; Tan 2013). Despite these infractions, the PAP nevertheless preserved elections as
an avenue for political contestation and upheld the right of citizens to vote their con-
science. In other words, it maintained the institution and principle considered to be
most expressive of established rules and shared beliefs. Why? For the PAP, elections
erroneously represented the key difference between democratic and authoritarian
regimes. Such a view is evident in Lee Kuan Yews claim that, If I had been autocratic
and authoritarian, I would not have won eight consecutive general elections over a
period of thirty years(The Straits Times 1989: 24). Similarly, Authoritarian means one
has not got the consent of the people to your policies. My policies have been endorsed
by the electorate every four to ve years by a clear majority, never below 60 per cent. I
do not consider myself authoritarian(Plate 2010: 182). These statements are indicative
of the faux democracy long practiced by the PAP. In the understanding of Lee Kuan
Yew, Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong, Singapore is a democracy insofar as it holds
elections. This explains the peculiar nature of the electoral system among authoritarian
regimes, whereby voting and vote-counting systems are free from manipulation and
misconduct, but opposition parties are inhibited by unfair rules and regulations. In the
end, the electoral system is free enough for citizens to confer legitimacy, but unfair
enough to ensure the PAPs dominance.
The more specic claim the PAP makes is that winning elections provides them
with a mandate. This is a dividend that makes a government authorised by the public
to enact its program and empowers it to do so through a majority of seats in a legis-
lature (Keeler 1993). The rst component is what makes elections so appealing to
authoritarian regimes the capacity to establish a normative commitment amongst
subordinate citizens to obey. The second component subsequently makes that right
to rule meaningful in a procedural sense. Such an understanding is implicit in Lee
Kuan Yewsdenition of democracy: Theprinciplethatthepeopleshouldatperiodic
elections elect their representatives who have then the mandate to govern for a xed
number of years in accordance with their programme and policy(Nam 1969: 465). A
similar understanding was conveyed nearly three decades later by Goh Chok Tong,
when he stated that, Parliamentary democracy means representative democracy. It
means the voters generally consent to the policies of the government and are pre-
pared to delegate to the political leaders sufcient mandate to act on their behalf
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(Chong 1991: 1423). Such ideas were also evident in Lee Hsien Loongsdenition of
representative democracy:
In this scheme, if voters in the general election support the party and vote its candidates in, and
they form a majority in Parliament, then that party with a majority in Parliament forms the govern-
ment. And that party has a mandate, not only because it so happens that this specic group of
MPs, at this moment, supports it, but because it stood in a general election and the voters gave it
the mandate (Lee Hsien Loong 2008: 3398).
These accounts of faux democracy reveal the function of elections as a legitimation
mechanism. Following the essential criteria of political legitimacy, they demonstrate an
inclination to feign conformity to the established rules (i.e. the constitution) and the
shared beliefs of citizens (i.e. popular sovereignty). This is conrmed by the following
analysis on the timing of elections, which adds empirical support for this argument.
Timing is everything?
In most parliamentary systems, the decision of when elections occur is at the discretion
of the government. Given the advantage this provides over opposition parties, Newton
(1993: 136) has noted elsewhere how The choice of election date may well be the most
important single decision taken by a British prime minister. A similar argument can be
made for Singapore. In what follows, it will be shown how the timing of elections is
indicative of the PAPs claim they provide a mandate. This means they have the moral
authority to collect a reward, institute a policy and/or respond to an event. Such action
is considered tantamount to legitimacy. The section concludes by analysing whether
such elections actually confer legitimacy.
A lack of analysis on election timing in authoritarian regimes means a few
inferences must be carefully drawn from democratic regimes. All else being equal,
democratic leaders announce elections when they anticipate a decline in future per-
formance (Balke 1990). This is based on the information advantage they maintain in
comparison to citizens, whereby they are better positioned to assess their abilities
and problems they are likely to face (Smith 2004). The problem with applying this
argument to Singapore is that the PAP can always be condent of re-election, which
means being removed from ofce is not an outcome worthy of consideration. On
average, in fact, elections have typically been called 362 days before the statutory
end of a standing term (see Table 1).
Table 1. Election timing in Singapore.
Election Dissolution of parliament Statutory end of term Days of term remaining
1963 3 September 1963 29 June 1964 299
1968 8 February 1968 20 October 1968 254
1972 16 August 1972 5 May 1973 292
1976 6 December 1976 11 October 1977 308
1980 5 December 1980 6 February 1982 427
1984 4 December 1984 2 February 1986 424
1988 17 August 1988 24 February 1990 555
1991 14 August 1991 8 January 1994 877
1997 16 December 1996 4 January 1997 18
2001 18 October 2001 25 May 2002 218
2006 20 April 2006 24 March 2007 337
2011 19 April 2011 1 November 2011 195
2015 25 August 2015 10 January 2017 504
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One intermittent factor on the timing of elections is the state of the opposition. In
conjunction with Singapores nine day campaign period, snap elections have tended to
compound the problems faced by them (Mutalib 2004). Some notable examples include
the imprisonment of Barisan Socialis members during the 1963 election or the disquali-
cation of WorkersParty leader, J. B. Jeyaretnam, for the 1991 election. However, the
state of the opposition has not been a constant inuence on election timing because
the PAP was on several occasions returned to power unopposed on nomination day,
including from 1968 to 1980. This reveals not only the weakness of the opposition, but
mitigates the need for well-timed elections to exploit that weakness. Instead, the need
for a mandate and, thus, autonomous legitimation has been a constant inuence
on the timing of elections. This is evident in the three complimentary mandate types
the PAP has claimed (see Table 2).
The PAP has mostly used elections to gain a mandate for its response to a non-policy
related event. This rst occurred in relation to the 1963 election, which Lee Kuan Yew
called immediately after Singapores merger with the Malaysian Federation. He cited
how an election would clarify outstanding questions concerning the constitutionality of
incorporation; encourage investment by establishing the governing party; and break
the parliamentary deadlock between the PAP and the Barisan Socialis. By comparison,
the 1976 election was called out of concern for four problems: a global oil price increase;
a slowdown in the economic recovery of Europe and the United States; conict in the
Middle East; and uncertain political conditions in Japan. When asked why the election
was being called based on such a dire assumption, Lee Kuan Yew (1972: 5) stated that
he always believed in clearing the decks before I run into rough weather. Another itera-
tion of this claim was made ahead of the 1991 election. Here, Goh Chok Tong (1991:
145) offered the following justication for the timing of the poll:
I had originally thought of having the next general elections in 1993, but my colleagues have told
me that grassroots leaders have told them that people are supportive of my new open, consulta-
tive style and they think we can improve the chances of success for the next lap if we go for [an]
early general election to get a strong mandate.
This mandate type found further expression ahead of the 2001 election, which was
called in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks in the United States. On this
Table 2. PAP mandate claims.
Election Seats contested by opposition Event response Policy execution Reward collection
Claimant: Lee Kuan Yew
1963 51/51 C
1968 7/58 C
1972 57/65 C
1976 53/69 C
1980 38/75 C
1984 49/79 C
1988 70/81 C
Claimant: Goh Chok Tong
1991 40/81 CC
1997 36/83 CC
2001 29/84 C
Claimant: Lee Hsien Loong
2006 47/84 CC
2011 82/87 C
2015 89/89 C
Note: See appendix for coding rules, statements and sources.
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occasion, Goh Chok Tong (2001: 1) stated how The revelation of the extensive network
of terrorist set-ups dramatically changed the global environment, Singapore has to
adapt itself to this different and more unpredictable world. We called for an early gen-
eral election to get the mandate to do this. Despite the PAPs recurring propensity to
rationalise such election-stimulating events in the worst possible terms, this case dem-
onstrated how tangential they can actually be to Singaporean politics. The nal iteration
of this mandate claim occurred via the 2015 election, which was tied to the imperative
of putting a next generation leadership team in place. We have just completed 50 suc-
cessful years. Now we are starting out on our next 50 years of nationhood. Soon, I will
be calling elections to ask for your mandate to take Singapore into this next phase of
our nation-building(Lee Hsien Loong 2015). This statement is revealing for how it links
Singapores future to the PAPs electoral success.
Another mandate type is policy execution. This denotes an election timed to occur
immediately prior to the intended tabling of major legislation in parliament or immedi-
ately following its passage through it. Here, the PAP aims to receive an ex ante or ex post
commitment from citizens for its stipulated policy. Following the 1980 election, for exam-
ple, Lee Kuan Yew interpreted the landslide to be a solid endorsement of the PAPs
declared policies on school streaming, compulsory national service and the detention of
alleged communists. Ahead the 1988 election, by contrast, the PAP sought a mandate to
make two major changes to Singapores political system. The rst was the establishment
of Town Councils, which were designed to empower locally elected representatives and
residents to run the Housing Development Board estates. The second was to allow for
the popular election of the President, who would be endowed with new reserve powers
over government expenditure and appointments of key public ofces. Unsurprisingly, the
PAP interpreted its victory to be a clear sign that citizens endorsed its proposed agenda.
The same held true for the 1991 election. Besides being a verdict on his new leadership
(i.e. event response), the election was timed by Goh Chok Tong to gain a mandate for
his Next Lap agenda. This included major initiatives, such as Edusave, Medifund and
Open University. Finally, Lee Hsien Loong used the 2006 election to secure a mandate on
the Progress Package introduced in the national budget two months beforehand. The
most notable policies included the ComCare scheme for low-income families, Workfare
Bonus for less-skilled workers and Opportunity Funds for every school. In a broader sense,
the 2006 election represented one of more explicit examples of the PAP tying its mandate
claim to redistributive policies in the national budget.
The nal and least claimed mandate type is reward collection. This is an election
timed to capitalise on the PAPs positive performance subjectively understood in a
given policy area. In 1972, for example, Lee Kuan Yew called an election once the gov-
ernment had resolved the problems caused by the departure of British forces; which
was also the stimulating eventfor the 1968 election. Since it was initially feared that an
accelerated withdrawal would destabilise the economy, increase unemployment, create
an infrastructure shortage and leave Singapore defenceless, managing this crisis was
considered to be a notable achievement (Chee 1984). A similar approach was adopted
by Goh Chok Tong for the 1997 election. In addition to claiming a policy execution
mandate on the basis of the Our Best Home in the twenty-rst century initiative, he
declared that the support of citizens was due to the previous ve years.
My colleagues and I have kept Singapore thriving and moving forward in an ever changing and
challenging environment. Working together, the people and the Government have created more
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wealth, built new homes, schools, hospitals, and infrastructure, and upgraded old ones. We have
shared a large portion of the wealth, fairly and widely (Goh Chok Tong 1997: 1).
This strategy continued at the 2011 election, which coincided with Singapores emer-
gence from the Global Financial Crisis. The aim was to capitalise on the PAPs successful
response to the recession by translating it into another mandate. Over the last ve
years, we ran into the worst storm we have ever encountered since independence, Lee
Hsien Loong (2011: 1) declared, But we took bold and decisive measures If you look
and compare today with ve years ago, I think we can honestly say incomes have gone
up some, people have jobs and homes, our city has been upgraded and Singapore is
better. This statement is revealing. Despite the awed nature of elections, it shows how
they are clearly used as a mechanism to translate performance across many areas into
political longevity. Such a strategy is predicated on the idea that having a mandate is
synonymous with having legitimacy.
Does it work?
The pertinent question at this point is whether awed elections actually provide the PAP
with legitimacy. In as much as this question can be answered, the World Values Surveys
(2004,2014) offer clear validation. The results reveal that the PAPs strategy of institu-
tionalising voting and vote-counting systems free from manipulation and misconduct
have brought about a positive return from citizens. According the most recent survey,
76.7 per cent of respondents believed voters are offered a genuine choice in elections
and 92.6 per cent of them thought their votes were counted accurately by overwhelm-
ingly fair administrative ofcials. This no doubt helps explain why 79.8 per cent of
respondents subsequently expressed a great dealor quite a lotof condence in the
PAP government. The series of Asian Barometer Surveys(2012) has also shown that Sin-
gaporean citizens have extremely high levels of trust in elections and the government,
especially compared to other authoritarian regimes. It led Chang et al. (2013) to con-
clude that the PAPs legitimacy was based on values and ideology, good governance
and government performance. This wholesale approach to legitimation, which ts
closely the three mandate claims previously identied, prescribes to awed elections a
critical function: translating support into obedience amongst citizens. Absent this insti-
tution, the PAP would lack the moral authority to govern. This interdependency explains
why even awed elections are so important to it (and other authoritarian regimes).
Legitimation and autocratic stability
The task now is to evaluate the contribution electoral legitimation has made to autocratic
stability in Singapore. The focus is Gerschewskis(2013) theory that stabilisation occurs via
three mechanisms: endogenous self-reinforcement, exogenous reinforcement or recipro-
cal reinforcement. Under the PAP, stability has been a product of targeted co-optation,
low intensity repression and, it has been argued, autonomous legitimation. All have been
deployed as complementary components of a holistic approach to stability meaning
each tool is capable of co-functioning and mutually compensating for deciencies in the
overall stabilisation process. Since the focus of this article is on the input of electoral legiti-
macy to this formula, this section examines its reciprocal relationship to the other tools
and what this means for democratisation in Singapore.
12 L. MORGENBESSER
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The PAPs survival is due to its administration of a sophisticated institutional ensem-
ble. Depending on the actor and tools in question, this is manifested in informally subtle
and formally obvious ways. A clear starting point is its sustained record of performance
across many areas, which the previous section showed elections translate into autono-
mous legitimacy, fosters a certain habituation to routine amongst citizens. A majority of
them have thus far been willing to support the PAP at the polls as a tried and tested
choiceto lead Singapore. This is indicative of the socialising effect of elections an
institution capable of transmitting denitions of power relations between the dominant
and the subordinate. By binding incitizens to the idea of the developmental state, the
PAP has been able to reduce the overall persuasion costs of co-optation and, by exten-
sion, make legitimacy more attainable via elections. The same process of reciprocal rein-
forcement also occurs in relation to political elites. From its earliest years in power, the
PAP tied professional success to party loyalty. This has made individuals seeking a prom-
inent career susceptible to co-optation, especially those wanting a position within the
corporate world, legislature, military, public service or trade unions. It not only precludes
the formation of a more effective opposition movement, but lends credibility to the
PAPs slate of electoral candidates as the best available. The combined outcome of the
relationship between legitimation and co-optation, then, has been a cohesive ruling
party that enjoys normative compliance amongst citizens.
An accompanying source of stability has been the reciprocal relationship forged
between legitimation and repression. The inherent problem faced by authoritarian
regimes is the potential for conict between these pillars, whereby the use of high
intensity coercion weakens any coexisting legitimacy claim. The PAPs strategy has been
to avoid any measures that negatively affect the opportunity to gain autonomous legiti-
mation in the form of an event, policy and/or reward mandate. This explains the more
subtle and targeted approach to repression vis-
a-vis citizens. Broadly understood, it
encourages laws to be bent, not broken; media outlets to be regulated, not censored;
public gatherings to be controlled, not outlawed; civil society organisations to be cir-
cumscribed, not eliminated; and elections to be managed, not blatantly stolen. This
inclination towards sophisticated rather than clumsy repression has also been the
case in relation to political elites. Through its self-renewal process, which sees members
of parliament retiredeach election in favour of new individuals, who enters and exits
the party is formalised according to known rules. This power-sharing arrangement has
not only minimised the need for Lee Kuan Yew, Goh Chok Tong and Lee Hsien Loong to
repress the political elites surrounding them, but reduced the danger of those same
elites working together to advance an alternative legitimacy claim. Such complementar-
ity has proved to be enduring and, thus, antithetical to democratisation.
A premise of this article was to provide an account of elections from the functional
perspective of authoritarian regimes. This was necessitated by the frequent employment
of elections as an indicator of categorical hybridity, which implies the applicable regimes
are democratic in some way. Along these lines, a recurring claim is that Singapores elec-
tions aid democratisation in incremental or involuntary ways (Ortmann 2011; Slater
2012). This is because they provide a contest over not only the outcome of the polls, but
the overarching rules of the political system. The preceding analysis, however, offers a
more pessimistic assessment. The most signicant obstacle to democratisation is the
stability conguration forged through co-optation, repression and legitimation a cali-
brated approach that compensates for endogenous deciencies and exogenous chal-
lenges. Using the 2015 election, for example, the PAP reversed a slide in its popular vote
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by combining clever electoral boundary manipulation (low intensity repression) and
greater redistributive social welfare (targeted co-optation) with a mandate claim capital-
ising on Lee Kuan Yews death, Singapores golden jubilee independence celebrations
and the need to nurture a new leadership team (autonomous legitimation). Such a
sophisticated approach to awed elections raises doubts about how those same elec-
tions promote democratisation. The PAP evidently uses this institution in way that pro-
motes autocratic stability above all else.
Conclusion
This article explained how authoritarian regimes use awed elections as a legitimation
mechanism in the service of stability. It argued ruling parties pursue autonomous legiti-
macy, which demands the feigning of conformity to the established rules of the constitu-
tion and/or the shared beliefs of citizens. Using the pathway case of Singapore, the article
demonstrated how the PAP understood elections to be an action expressive of popular
sovereignty, whereby citizens are allowed to vote freely in an otherwise unfair system for
opposition parties. This faux democracy was expressed in the PAPs use of well-timed
elections to win an event response, policy execution or reward collection mandate. When
combined with targeted co-optation and low intensity repression, the article showed how
regime stability was achieved through a process of mutual reinforcement. The remainder
of the conclusion discusses the generalisability of this nding. In Southeast Asia, the ques-
tion of representativeness is particularly relevant for this region given the assortment of
both competitive(e.g. Cambodia, Malaysia) and hegemonic(e.g. Laos, Vietnam) regimes.
The capacity of elections to confer legitimacy on the respective ruling parties of these
hybrid categories warrants some contingent generalisations.
The scope conditions evident in Singapore are retained in Cambodia. Since 1979,
there have been ve national elections. Besides the 1993 election, which was adminis-
tered by the United Nations, all have been marred by manipulation and misconduct.
This has included the sustained intimidation of opposition parties, regular infringement
of civil liberties and systematic abuse of state resources. Using such elections, the Cam-
bodian Peoples Party (CPP) has nevertheless sort autonomous legitimation in accor-
dance with the established rules of the constitution. Specically, it has exploited the
traditional notion of a meritorious benefactor (saboraschon) by distributing develop-
ment projects, material goods and specialised services to citizens in exchange for their
support. This has endowed the ruling party with customary legitimacy(Hughes 2003,
2006). The sequential logic of this legitimacy claim is the notion that only the CPP can
deliver socio-economic development and political stability after decades of turmoil. In
this way, elections represent a modern reconstitution of a distribution mechanism for
an existing foundation of authority. A key difference to Singapore, however, is the
undersupply of formal co-optation and an oversupply of high intensity repression.
When coupled with the fact elections occur at precisely known intervals, this represents
a less sophisticated approach to autocratic stability.
The case of Malaysia offers further evidence of competitive authoritarian regimes
using awed elections for legitimation. The sequential logic of the claim advanced by
the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) revolves around the need to maintain
Malay ethnic ascendency, promote non-Malay power-sharing and preserve Malaysian
identity (Case 1995,2010). In accordance with established rules, the elections serve to
validate a divisive form of authoritarian rule institutionalised over successive decades.
14 L. MORGENBESSER
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This strategy periodically pits a rural Malay majority co-opted by party-state patronage
against an urban (mostly) ChineseIndian minority disenchanted with the National
Front alliance. Despite a long history of competitiveelections, Jomo (1996: 93) con-
cludes that they have been reduced to what may well be a ritualistic and orchestrated
exercise legitimating the surrender of many other democratic rights. The same view is
shared by Liow (1999) and Mauzy (2006). An important difference to the case of Singa-
pore, however, is that UMNO has been more willing to use high intensity coercion
against protest movements (such as the Bersih rallies) and opposition leaders (such as
Anwar Ibrahim) following the emergence of the Reformasi movement in 1998. This has
contributed to the erosion of UMNOs legitimacy (Ufen 2009). The capacity of awed
elections to compensate for this deciency in overall regime stability remains doubtful.
The way hegemonic authoritarian regimes use awed elections for legitimation
varies compared to competitive authoritarian regimes. In conjunction with the use of
blunt repression and diversied co-optation, the applicable ruling parties still feign con-
formity to established rules and/or shared beliefs. A crucial difference, however, is that
the constitution legalises untenured single-party hegemony. This is denoted by a ruling
party that has institutionalised a monopolistic belief system capable of dening the col-
lective goal of society and acting as a source of authority. In this way, voting in elections
represents a publically symbolic act a civic ritual intended to gain an express acknowl-
edgement on the part of all subordinate citizens to the superior position of the party.
Another difference is the extraordinary emphasis placed on fostering unanimous partici-
pation. The social and organisational surrounding elections is designed to socialize citi-
zens to a point where voting becomes a willing expression of civic duty. In contrast to
autonomous legitimation, which occurs irrespective of overall turnout and support, heg-
emonic authoritarian regimes claim masslegitimation, which is expressed as more than
90 per cent turnout and 90 per cent support (see Morgenbesser 2016). This is periodi-
cally the case in Laos and Vietnam. Since 1975, the Lao Peoples Revolutionary Party has
instituted an avowedly socialist-orientated state with itself designated by the constitu-
tion to be the leading nucleusof social and political life (Stuart-Fox 1997). Despite a
dilution of Marxist-Leninism in recent decades, the ruling party was able to muster 99.6
per cent turnout and claim 96.9 per cent support during the 2011 election (IFES 2015).
This process of acclamation bore striking resemblances to the ve previous national
elections. Similarly, the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) has ideologically and legally
cast itself as the forceleading the state and society toward the fullment of commu-
nism and Ho Chi Minh thought (London 2014). In 2011, the CPV (as part of the Vietnam-
ese Fatherland Front coalition) won elections on the basis of 99.5 per cent turnout and
99.2 per cent support, respectively (IFES 2015). Despite the outlandishness of this vic-
tory, such results have been the norm for decades now.
The residual cases of Cambodia, Malaysia, Laos and Vietnam show that the employ-
ment of awed elections for legitimation is not limited to the PAP. Ultimately, the more
exceptional feature of the Singapore case is instead the high degree of stability forged
via co-optation, repression and, of course, legitimation.
Notes
1. Brunei and Thailand are excluded because they are closed authoritarianregimes devoid of national
elections. Myanmar has also been excluded because the oppositions victory in the 2015 election
obfuscates the regime type in existence. The role elections have historically played in providing
legitimacy and stability, however, is detailed by Morgenbesser (2015).
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2. According to Gerring and Seawright (2007: 122), The logic of the pathway case is clearest in situa-
tions of causal sufciency - where a causal factor of interest, X1 [electoral legitimation], is sufcient
by itself (though perhaps not necessary) to cause a particular outcome, Y [autocratic stability],
understood as a unidirectional or asymmetric causal relationship. Furthermore, The pathway case
exists only in circumstances where cross-case covariational patterns are well studied but where the
mechanism linking X1 and Y remains dim. To satisfy this requirement, Kailitzs(2013) data-set on
the legitimation exhibited by political regimes is employed. Accordingly, Singapore is classied as
an electoral autocracy; meaning it legitimates itself by the procedures of legislative multiparty elec-
tions and executive multiparty elections.
3. A Non-Constituency Member of Parliament (1984) is an individual from the opposition who is
elected despite having lost in a general election. Up to nine members can be appointed by virtue
of being the best performing losers in an election. In contrast, a Nominated Member of Parliament
(1990) is an individual who is appointed by the President to ensure a wide representation of com-
munity views. Up to nine members can be appointed for a term of two and a half years on the rec-
ommendation of a Special Select Committee of Parliament.
4. Asia Week,Asian Wall Street Journal,Bloomberg,Far Eastern Economic Review,Financial Times,Interna-
tional Herald Tribune,The Economist and Time have all lost or settled defamation suits (see George 2012).
Acknowledgments
The author wishes to thank Pippa Norris (and colleagues), Jason Sharman and the anonymous reviewers
for their helpful feedback on this article. Small portions of this article are adapted from a forthcoming
book entitled Behind the Fa¸c ade: Elections under Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia (Albany, New York:
SUNY Press).
Disclosure statement
No potential conict of interest was reported by the author.
Notes on contributor
Lee Morgenbesser is a research fellow at the Centre for Governance and Public Policy/Grifth Asia Insti-
tute, Grifth University. His research interests include authoritarian regimes, concept systematisation,
democratisation, elections and Southeast Asian politics. His rst book, which is entitled Behind the
Fa¸c ade: Elections under Authoritarianism in Southeast Asia (Albany, New York: SUNY Press), will be pub-
lished in October 2016. He also has articles published in Political Studies, European Journal of East Asian
Studies, Australian Journal of Political Science and the Australian Journal of International Affairs.
ORCID
Lee Morgenbesser http://orcid.org/0000-0002-3062-1284
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Appendix
This appendix begins by providing information on the rules used to code the various
mandate claims made by the PAP each election. Afterwards, it makes available the state-
ment made by the particular claimant and the relevant supporting sources.
Coding of mandate claims
General precondition: To avoid obfuscating the mandate claim being operationalised by
the claimant, it is exclusively derived from these ex ante and ex post sources:
(1) Speech in the month immediately prior to the scheduling of the election. Histori-
cally, the mandate claim has been advanced during the National Day Rally or
Election Nomination Day speech.
(2) Speech in the immediate aftermath of the election, usually on the day of the poll
or the next day.
(3) Speech at the swearing-in of the new cabinet following the election.
Event response: This is operationalised when the claimant times an election in
response to a non-policy related event. The selection of the event, which can have already
occurred or be predicted to take place, is at the discretion of the claimant. Furthermore, it
can be conned to the domestic or international realm. Some examples include the
merger with the Malaysian Federation (1963) or leadership succession (1991).
Policy execution: This is operationalised when the claimant times an election to occur
immediately prior to the intended tabling of major legislation in parliament or immedi-
ately following its passage through parliament. The importance of this policy is signalled
by its mentioning in the above sources. Some examples include the Elected Presidency
(1988) or Our Best Home in the 21st Century (1997).
Reward collection: This is operationalised when the claimant times an election in
order to capitalise on its positive performance subjectively understood in a given
policy area. The source of the reward is at the discretion of the claimant; meaning it can
occur in the domestic or international realm and be economic or political in nature.
Some examples include the management of the British withdrawal from Singapore
(1972) or recovery for the Global Financial Crisis (2011).
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Coding of general elections
1963 (event response) claimant:
Lee Kuan Yew (1963) Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yews Speech on the Eve of Nomination
Day (11 September). National Archives of Singapore (doc. 19630911). Singapore: Minis-
try of Culture.
Tomorrow is Nomination Day. The general elections will decide the next govern-
ment of Singapore. There were three reasons why we called for elections now.
Firstly, three important points which had been agreed in London on 8th July had
not been properly incorporated into the Malaysian Constitutional documents.
One: It was agreed that Singapore will go into the Common Market gradually
over a period of 12 years. At the end of 5 years there will be a Review Board to
decide, and even then we can choose to pay the Central Government compensa-
tion instead of imposing taxes. In spite of this the Tariff Board Ordinance passed
recently in Kuala Lumpur made equalisation of taxes immediate after the 5th
year. Two: It was agreed that any restriction in migration between the States
because of Singapores autonomy on education and labour should be reciprocal.
This amendment was not incorporated into Article 9 of the Constitution. Three:
Although the Tunku had agreed to delegate to the Singapore Government
powers of detention over secret society gangsters, the Federation Government
proposed to do this by purely administrative action which could be revoked
at any time by the Central Government. Two weeks ago in my discussion
with Mr. Duncan Sandys, Secretary of State for Commonwealth Relations and the
Colonies, I told him that these and several other points outstanding with the Brit-
ish Government, like the $10 million which they had to pay us for land occupied
by the Armed Services, had to be resolved by Monday, 2nd September. If
they were not settled it was the intention of my Government to call for a general
election in which these points would become issues. Now I am happy to
report that these matters have all been amicably and satisfactorily resolved.
But there are two other reasons why it is best for Singapore to have general elec-
tions now.
On 16th September, we shall enter a new phase, an era which can lead, together
with the rest of our partners in Malaysia, to peace, stability and prosperity, or to
chaos. One of the most important factors that leads to stability which in turn
leads to prosperity, is for everybody to know where Singapore stands. The Com-
mon Market terms have been settled. The Jurong industrial site is ready for
expansion. The only question of doubt in any investors mind is which party will
be the government for the next ve years; and who will be the Ministers, because
on that they will decide to invest and open factories or pull out. The sooner this is
settled and nality established, the better for Singapore and for Malaysia.
The next reason is that the opposition parties had blocked our Bill for the election
of 15 members in Singapore to the Federal Parliament. We must have the 15
members to represent Singapore in the Federal Parliament in Kuala Lumpur as
soon as possible. It is our intention that these elections for the 51 seats will also
decide the 15 members of Parliament in Kuala Lumpur. For we shall pass a Bill for
the election of 15 members from 51 members you are now electing in proportion
to the party representation as shown by the results of these elections.
Every general elections costs the government about three-quarters of a million
dollars, money of the tax-payer that could be more usefully spent on constructive
projects. Now it is up to you to elect the next government of Singapore, and at
the same time decide who will represent Singapore in the Federal Parliament in
Kuala Lumpur, who will stand up and speak up for Singapore. There is one differ-
ence about the general elections this time. With the agreement of the Federation
and British governments and the Singapore Legislative Assembly, the
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Constitution has been changed so that any Assemblyman who resigns or is
expelled from his party automatically vacates his seat. No Assemblyman after
election can change sides. In other words, you will no longer be choosing an
Assemblyman but the government. The party leadership constitutes the Cabinet.
In this way there will be nality and stability for the next 5 years. It is for you to
decide which party you can trust to lead Singapore to stability and prosperity
and to defend her interests in Malaysia.
1968 (event response) claimant:
Lee Kuan Yew (1968) Statement by the Prime Minister at a Press Conference at City Hall
on Nomination Day, 17th February, 1968. National Archives of Singapore (doc.
lky19680217). Singapore: Ministry of Culture.
Neither in 1959, nor in 1963, had a new government been elected to face the
kind of problems of the dimensions that we are now going to face. Our contin-
ued defence and security is a precondition to continuing condence for continu-
ing investment and expanding industries. A robust economy will in turn provide
the revenues that will enable Singapore to carry more and more of its own
defence and enable it to make its common defence with Malaysia even more
secure. It is like the chicken and the egg. At the moment, we have got both the
egg and the chicken. If we do our duty and do not inch from unpleasant deci-
sions, we will have bigger and better chickens laying more and better eggs in
1973. It is the business of this Government to see that we have the problems of
redundancy, following the withdrawal of British bases and the reduction in the
spending of British families here, in manageable proportions. This means new
and imaginative policies. Some of them will require new legislation. Some will
require stiffer administrative implementation of the renewal of old work permits
or the issue of new ones, in the unskilled and semiskilled categories.
1972 (reward collection) claimant:
Lee Kuan Yew (1972) Singapore Government Statement (16 August). National Archives
of Singapore (doc. 19720816). Singapore: Ministry of Culture.
The principal mandate on which the PAP was elected to ofce on 13th April,
1968, was to see Singapore through the problems brought about as a result of
the rundown of the British military bases. This task has been successfully com-
pleted. The present government has therefore decided to seek a new mandate.
For the next ve years the governments main aim is to raise standards of skills
and technical competence, and to improve professional, management and tech-
nological expertise. Only higher standards can enable Singapore achieve more
sophistication in her industrial, commercial and servicing sectors, and enlarge
her role as an international banking and nancial centre, providing a home for
the Asian Dollar. These new objectives require a change in policy emphasis, with
the accent on quality.
Lee Kuan Yew (1972) The Prime Ministers Eve of Poll Broadcast (1 September). National
Archives of Singapore (doc. lky19720901). Singapore: Ministry of Culture.
We, the PAP, have seen you through two major crises in 7 years - separation in
1965, accelerated British withdrawal in 1968. Hard work and realistic policies
brought us through. Now we are on top of our problems. The prospects look
good for the immediate future.
1976 (event response) claimant:
Lee Kuan Yew (1976) Excerpts of a Press Conference Held by the Prime Minister, Mr. Lee
Kuan Yew, at the Singapore Polytechnic, Following Nominations for the 1976 General
Elections (13 December). National Archives of Singapore (doc. 19761213b). Singapore:
Ministry of Culture.
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Interview question: Prime Minister, why are you calling the election now, instead
of nearer the end of your party mandate?
Prime Minister: I have always believed in clearing the decks before I run into
rough weather. The OPEC Ministers are meeting on the 15 of December and if
we are lucky, we may have an increase that the world can live with. I hope it will
be so, in which case all will be well. It may be that they will have the increase in
two bites as has been reported from Qatar a small one for January and another
one for June-July. The second one is that the economic recovery of the industrial
economies both in America and in Europe, with the exception of Germany and
probably Holland, has not been as predicted. There is a great deal of talk about
tax cuts in America when the new Carter Administration takes over, with a bud-
get decit of something between US$15 billion up to US$30 billion. Maybe this
can get the U.S. economy going, and at the same time, control ination. I dont
know. But I believe before running into rough weather, any sensible captain bat-
tens down his hatches.
I need hardly mention what may happen between the Arabs and the Israelis if
there is no move towards a settlement in the Middle East. Things will happen in
1977 and not all of them may be favourable. So we have decided that we will
forego the nine months that we are entitled to. I might also add that the Japa-
nese election results mean that one of our major trading partners and investors
is in a state of ux for some time. Their economic recovery is also not likely to be
as sustained as we have hoped it will be. All this is not helpful.
1980 (policy execution) claimant:
Lee Kuan Yew (1980) Press Conference Held by the Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew,
After the Results of the 1980 General Elections (24 December). National Archives of Sin-
gapore (doc. 19801224). Singapore: Ministry of Culture.
My Cabinet colleagues and I and all our PAP MPs are deeply moved by this mas-
sive vote of condence you have given us. This will enhance our stability. Now
you have given solid endorsement to our policies on national service and deten-
tion of pro-communist detainees, both vital to our security. We shall do our best
to justify your faith in us and support for our policies. I am particularly happy that
in the poorer and rural and urban areas, where people were troubled by low
incomes or disturbed by resettlement, you have increased your support for us.
We will continue our policies and do more in these poorer areas. We shall lessen
the disruption and disturbance in your lives as we rebuild Singapore. We shall
also nd ways to lessen the problems for those who, as a result of changes in Sin-
gapore, have to change their occupation and nd a new way of making a living.
We face uncertain times ahead. But with your solid backing and co-operation, we
shall resolve these difcult problems ahead, as we have done in the past.
1984 (event response) claimant:
Lee Kuan Yew (1984) Speech by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew at the Fullerton Square
Rally on 19 December 1984. National Archives of Singapore (doc. 19841219). Singapore:
Ministry of Culture.
In December last year I announced that the elections would be held earlier than
1985 so that there was no need for a bye-election in Havelock. Had the US econ-
omy taken a downturn, we would have gone into the elections earlier to get a
mandate to brace ourselves for the difculties which will follow. Fortunately, the
recession did not come. Because the economy kept on going till Mr Reagans re-
election, we announced elections for December. You may be curious to know
why.
My rst reason for giving long notice is to draw out the younger, rational, edu-
cated men who may be in the wings, wanting to form a party. In July, I moved an
22 L. MORGENBESSER
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amendment to the Constitution to allow the three highest opposition candidates,
in percentage votes, to be returned as non-constituency candidates if no opposi-
tion candidate wins any seat. I invited them to come out and participate. I think it
is good for them and for the country that they should come out early, if not to
win this time, then to prepare for 1988-89. None did. Maybe they will turn up
after I have stepped down.
My second reason is to have a long period for electioneering, arguments, sniping,
twisting, barracking by the opposition. As I expected they ran out of steam, they
ran out of issues, arguments and ideas. They repeated themselves. They
exhausted themselves.
A third reason is that we can name our candidate early, from February, are place
them in their constituencies. We are proud of them. An incompetent opposition
kept their candidates secret up to the last moment, nomination day itself. We
assumed they were not proud of them. When they were disclosed on nomination
day, we knew why. Most were yesterdays men, pre-occupied with yesterdays
agenda - old, out-of-date, tired and threadbare. The rest are ambiguous, shadowy
gures, improbable representatives of freedom and democracy, feeble cham-
pions of stability, security and prosperity. This election is political initiation for
the post-Malaysia generation, the under-30s, the generation that has not person-
ally experienced strife and deprivation. They need to hear about the future poli-
cies, ideas, views and vision that the parties have. Those who hold out
themselves as leaders must have the wherewithal to tell this young generation
whither they want to take them. The younger PAP team has set out to do this.
The opposition has baulked at it.
This is the last reason for having electioneering stretched over a whole year - the
education of a whole generation of young voters. They have heard the attacks,
smears, arguments against the government. They have seen the people who
have made these extremist charges of bad intentions or crass stupidities. They
have also seen and heard the PAP leaders rebutted these falsehoods and restated
the facts. They must judge who are reliable, who are to be believed. It is not dif-
cult. I have never been sued for slander or libel, and never paid anyone any dam-
ages for uttering lies. Dr Lee Siew Choh had to pay to me $50,000 in damages
and costs in 1973 for falsely alleging unlawful or wrongful activities and all sorts
of bad things.My Jeyaretnam had to pay $120,000 and costs in 1982 for falsely
alleging corruption on issuing a banking licence to Tat Lee Bank because of my
brothers interests.
1988 (policy execution) claimant:
Lee Kuan Yew (1988) Prime Ministers Eve of National Day Broadcast (8 August).
National Archives of Singapore (doc. 19880808). Singapore: Ministry of Culture.
I have discharged my responsibility to provide for continuity. Now let me talk
about your responsibility. This is my 30th year as Prime Minister. I think I know
Singapore well. Let me share with you my concern. Many younger Singaporeans
believe that there will always be an honest, fair and capable government. They
are wrong. Older Singaporeans, who have experienced the Lim Yew Hock Gov-
ernment before 1959, know better. Look at other countries. See how much
money is needed for elections elsewhere. Honest and competent government is
rare in new countries because it is difcult to achieve. It is only because the PAP
old guards have insisted upon and enforced high standards, and chosen men
and women of integrity that Ministers and MPs have remained honest and com-
petent. Those who have not, have had to pay the price. This is special to Singa-
pore. It is precious asset of immense value for economic growth and political
stability. And because the government has never sought to deceive people into
believing that they will get something for nothing, everybody is self-reliant and
the countrysnances are sound.
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Now the government proposes that you protect your collective savings by requir-
ing an elected President to agree to it before it is spent. This will prevent any
quiet spending of your savings. The fact that this government has not raided the
reserves whenever revenue was short, is no guarantee that it may not happen in
the future. We should put your CPF savings, which are a big part of the reserves,
out of temptations way.
Another proposal is that an elected President must consent to appointments of
Members of the Public Service Commission and other more important statutory
boards. This will be a check on any government who wants to replace the current
incumbents with more pliable men. The most important appointments are those
to the Public Service Commission (PSC), for the PSC appoints the members of the
Civil Service and promote them. Such a provision will ensure that sound and able
men are appointed.
Now let me talk of the recently passed Town Councils Act, 1988. This Act will put
the MP in charge of his constituency town council. The honesty and competence
of your MP will then directly affect you because he will be in charge of the main-
tenance and administration of your housing estate, instead of the HDB. He will
control a budget of $9 million yearly for a single member constituency or
$9 million for a Group Representation Constituency (GRC). This sum will increase
as more functions like car parks, hawker centres and markets are handed over to
town councils. If your MP is not honest, or not competent, you will know it soon
enough. And if your estate is poorly run, repairs slow, and lift maintenance poor,
you will be inconvenienced and worse, the re-sale value of your at will be
affected. So you had better take a careful look at the persons or the three per-
sons, in a GRC, who seek to represent you. Your personal wellbeing will be at
stake when you choose your MP. This change will make for careful and better
selection of MPs by you and by political parties, and will be good for Singapore.
In new countries, democracy has worked and produced results only when there
is an honest and effective government, which means a people smart enough to
elect such a government. Remember, elected governments are only as good as
people who choose them.
1991 (event response, policy execution) claimant:
Goh Chok Tong (1991) Transcript of Prime Minister Goh Chok Tongs National Day Rally
Speech (11 August). National Archives of Singapore (doc: 19910811). Singapore: Minis-
try of Information and the Arts.
We have published our programme in the next lap. We can succeed in imple-
menting the next lap only if we have your support. It is our programme, but with-
out your support, we cannot implement it. And for the programme to succeed,
the able must care for the average and slow learners. Only then can a bond be
built between the able and the others. Only then can we reinforce in Singapor-
eans this sense of family. Only then can we achieve our goal of having an
extended family of Singaporeans.
I have originally thought of having the next general elections only in 1993, but
my colleagues have told me that grassroots leaders have told them that people
are supportive of my new open, consultive style and they think I can improve the
chances and they think we can improve the chances of success for the next lap if
we go for early general election to get a strong mandate. They feel that the
mood is right. I feel that the mood is right. I was chosen by my colleagues in Cab-
inet and in Parliament to be the Prime Minister. I want your endorsement as
Prime Minister. When I call for a general election soon, I hope you will give me
that clear mandate. I hope you will endorse my style of government, my way of
doing things and my programme.
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1997 (event response, policy execution) claimant:
Goh Chok Tong (1997) Speech by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong at the Swearing-In
Ceremony Held at the City Hall Chamber (25 January). National Archives of Singapore
(doc. 1997012502). Singapore: Ministry of Information, Communications and the Arts.
On 2 January 1997, Singaporeans gave their support for our policies to build Our
Best Home in the 21st Century. Their condence was based on what we have
achieved in the last ve years. My colleagues and I have kept Singapore thriving
and moving forward in an ever changing and challenging environment. Working
together, the people and the Government have created more wealth, built new
homes, schools, hospitals, and infrastructure, and upgraded old ones. We have
shared a large portion of the wealth, fairly and widely. We also continue to invest
in our young through better schools and Edusave grants, scholarships and bursa-
ries. And we will continue to enhance your assets, especially your properties, as
we make progress year by year. We are building a nation of character, grace and
compassion.
2001 (event response) claimant:
Goh Chok Tong (2001) 'Speech by Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong at the Swearing-In Cer-
emony Held in the State Room, Istana, on Friday, 23 November 2001, at 5pm. National
Archives of Singapore (doc. 2001112307). Singapore: Ministry of Information and the
Arts.
The recent General Election was held in unusual circumstances. Singapore was in
the grip of a recession, caused by a sharp drop in external demand. The terrorist
attacks of September 11 had shocked the world, and aggravated the global eco-
nomic slowdown which had begun earlier this year. The war against terrorist tar-
gets in Afghanistan had started, and the world was braced for more terrorist
attacks. There was much uncertainty and pessimism about the future. I called the
election against this gloomy background. I sought the peoples mandate:
To take all practical measures to help Singaporeans get through the recession;
To restructure our economy to meet new competitive challenges and a chang-
ing global environment; and
To renew the political leadership, and have in place a new team to lead Singa-
pore beyond 2007.
I said that I was ghting the General Election as Prime Minister for the last time.
The people gave my Party and me their resounding support. More than 75 per
cent of those who voted backed the PAP. They voted for leaders who were trust-
worthy, reliable and competent. They understood Singapores vulnerabilities,
and voted for a predictable and orderly political succession.
2006 (event response, policy execution) claimant:
Lee Hsien Loong (2006) 'Post-Polling Press Conference (7 May)'. National Archives of
Singapore (doc. 2006050705). Singapore: Ministry of Information, Communications and
the Arts.
1. Voters have decided:
- Happy that the PAP has been returned to government;
- Overall % for PAP 66.6% (exactly two-thirds) this is slightly higher than the
% in 1997
- I want to thank Singaporeans for giving me and my team this strong
mandate;
- Support has come from all communities, and across the board;
THE PACIFIC REVIEW 25
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- Will do our best to serve you and work with you so that we can achieve our
vision together.
2. Singaporeans have strongly supported what my government has been doing,
and our plans for the future:
- We will now implement the programmes in our manifesto, to create opportu-
nities for all, provide outstanding education for our young, get every Singa-
porean to play a role, improve our healthcare system, and attend to elderly
and poorer citizens;
- We have a lot to do.
3. We now have a new leadership team in place, which will see Singapore
through the next 15 to 20 years:
- We need a rst class team to cope with the rapid changes and unpredictable
surprises that will come;
- Key is keeping in touch with changing demographics and the younger gener-
ation, and the new globalised world order;
- So we will also start immediately to search for more good people to reinforce
our team at the next election.
2011 (reward collection) claimant:
Lee Hsien Loong (2011) Transcript of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loongs National Day
Rally English Speech on 14 August 2011 at the NUS University Cultural Centre. National
Archives of Singapore (doc. 20110824003). Singapore: Ministry of Information, Commu-
nications and the Arts.
This is my rst National Day Rally after the general elections. My team has a fresh
mandate to implement our programmes to grow the economy, to improve our
education system, to expand our healthcare system, housing, transport and so
on. I have a new team that is settling in. It is gelling together to tackle both long
range issues as well as immediate challenges which Singaporeans face.
From a national perspective, Singapore has done very well. Over the last ve
years, we ran into the worst storm we have ever encountered since indepen-
dence. But we took bold and decisive measures, especially the Resilience Package
and the Jobs Credit. The measures worked and sheltered us from the worst of the
storm. If you look and compare today with ve years ago, I think we can honestly
say incomes have gone up some, people have jobs and homes, our city has been
upgraded and Singapore is better. But unfortunately, it was such a powerful
storm that even with a big and strong umbrella, we could not avoid getting a lit-
tle bit wet. So Singaporeans felt the discomfort, the anxiety - compounded
because of the rapid changes which we could not predict and which left us wor-
rying what tomorrow would bring.
After the crisis passed, our economy bounced back faster than we had
expected, which should be good news but it also brought its own problems.
Our infrastructure programmes could not quite catch up, there was a shortage
in our housing programme, and people became very anxious over their HDB
ats. Our public transport became a bit more crowded than it should be and
people noticed. From a personal perspective, many citizens felt pressure in
their daily lives even though you see the growth gures. Last year 14.5 per
cent; this year so far, nearly ve per cent, and they ask themselves, why has
my cost of living gone up? Can I or my children afford to buy homes for
ourselves? What about my healthcare costs as I grow old? In short, Singapore
may be progressing, the country may be moving forward, but am I part of
this progress, am I part of this story?
26 L. MORGENBESSER
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I can fully understand and empathise with these concerns because it has been a
difcult ride - bumpy, stormy and causing anxiety from time to time. But we are
tackling these problems, building more ats, improving our public transport,
managing the inow of foreign workers and immigrants. It will take a while to
solve these problems because they are big and complicated issues, but we are
heading in the right direction and things will gradually get better. So, please be
patient and at the same time, please try and look beyond these problems which
we can see as immediate concerns and look to longer-term, wider world issues
which affect us and are of strategic importance to us.
2015 (event response) claimant:
Lee Hsien Loong (2015) Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loongs National Day Rally 2015
Speech,http://www.pmo.gov.sg/mediacentre/prime-minister-lee-hsien-loong-national-
day-rally-2015-speech-english, accessed 26 August 2015.
In the last ten years, we built on what we inherited. We put brick on brick, we
climbed step by step, we kept Singapore special, delivered results for Singapor-
eans. How did we do that? Mr Lee and his team planned beyond their terms,
beyond their lifetimes. They nurtured the next generation of leaders and the
next generation of Singaporeans. They taught their successors to do the same
and this is what my team and I have sought to do for the last ten years. We have
served you to the best of our ability, you have got to know us well, we have
walked this SG50 journey together with you. My team and I take very seriously
our responsibility to make sure that Singapore lasts beyond us. My core team are
already in our late 50s and 60s. We will not be around forever and we must have
the next team ready in the wings. The nucleus is there brought in at the last
elections and earlier. They have taken charge of important programmes like Our
Singapore Conversation, like SG50 as well as different ministries, including dif-
cult ones. They have connected with Singaporeans young and old and partici-
pated fully in the major decisions which we have made. But we need to reinforce
them, to round out the team to give Singapore the best possible chance of suc-
ceeding into the future. And that is what I need to do in the next election.
Singapore is at a turning point. We have just completed 50 successful years. Now
we are starting out on our next 50 years of nationhood. Soon, I will be calling
elections to ask for your mandate to take Singapore into this next phase of our
nation-building. And this election will be critical. You will be deciding who is gov-
erning Singapore for the next ve years; but more than that. You will be choosing
the team who will be working with you for the next 15-20 years. You will be set-
ting the direction for Singapore for the next 50 years. You will be determining
the future for Singapore.
What will this future be? Will Singapore become an ordinary country, with intrac-
table problems, slow or even negative growth; overspending; heavy burdens for
our children; gridlocked government; unable to act? There are so many examples
around the world. Or will Singapore always stay special for our children? A multi-
racial society strengthened by diversity, not splintered by divisions. A rugged
society where everyone strives to do his best, but looks out for his fellow men, a
people who live up to our song One People, One Nation, One Singapore.
If you are proud of what we have achieved together, if you support what we want
to do ahead, the future that we are building, then please support me, please sup-
port my team because my team and I cannot do anything just by ourselves. We
have to do it with you in order to do it for you. In fact, we have to do it together
in order to do it for all of us to do a good job for Singapore so that we can keep
Singapore special for many years to come. Another 50 years.
THE PACIFIC REVIEW 27
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  • Article
    The women’s pages of a newspaper have often been dismissed as fluff, playing at most a subsidiary role, while the real news of a paper is in the malestream pages: the domestic news or leader pages. Yet historically, these pages are often key in constructing women, and men, politically, socially and economically; in terms of generating revenue within the paper; and in terms of how the paper constructs itself in relation to its readers. Further, they have been important in bringing women into newsrooms, and allowing them to construct themselves as journalists with specialist expertise and independence from the male editorial hierarchy. In Malaysia, however, the women’s pages of the Malay-language press played a key role in the 1996 campaign for a Domestic Violence Act. Informed both by feminist critical discourse analysis and oral histories with female journalists working at the time, this article sheds light on the gendered nature of Malaysian newsrooms, with implications for how feminist media activists can negotiate feminist coverage, even in an environment hostile to feminism. There are further implications for the importance of understanding processes of both negotiation within newsrooms and identity formation as journalists, both of which impact upon the news produced.
  • Chapter
    Developmental state building should not simply be seen as a story about effective economic policies implemented by capable states. An equally important, but far less explored, question is how East Asian countries “managed” socio-political conflicts that accompanied their rapid economic transformation. This chapter examines how South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore have dealt with the domestic conflicts arising from their catch-up process. It argues that the characteristics of growth-led conflict vary across countries. South Korea has undergone a series of contentious settlements, in which opposing forces clashed for a few decades before reaching a compromise. Taiwan has pursued a gradual process of political opening in which competing groups of elite reached an agreement. A distinctive trajectory of continuous consolidation is found in Singapore, whereby interests and ideologies among the ruling party, key government agencies and the middle class have been readjusted periodically to maintain their symbiotic relationship. The diversity within the East Asian development models is key to understanding this multiple paths to settlements.
  • Article
    Immigration has become a controversial issue in Singapore, an enduring Southeast Asian electoral autocracy. One of the controversies concerns how immigrants would influence Singapore’s domestic politics. Drawing on two surveys, this study examines immigrants’ views on authoritarian rule, both their attitudes towards Singapore’s incumbent regime and their perceptions of democracy and authoritarianism. The results present a mixed picture. On the one hand, immigrants who were naturalized tend to favour the incumbent more than the native-born. They tend to have better evaluations of state institutions and government performance than the native-born. Partial evidence also exists that naturalized citizens are more likely to vote for the incumbent than the native-born. On the other hand, the author found no strong evidence that naturalized citizens are less supportive of democracy or more pro-authoritarian than the native-born. Political and theoretical implications of the findings are discussed.
  • Article
    There is an evolving debate about how to strengthen elections in Asia, amidst widespread concerns about electoral malpractice in the region. While contests in some countries match or surpass international standards of electoral integrity, there are deep‐seated problems of violence and conflict, corruption and clientelism, or vote rigging and fraud in others. This review of policy practice draws on the Perceptions of Electoral Integrity expert survey (PEI Release 6.0) to map the state of electoral integrity in Asia and to draw lessons for public policy. The empirics rely on the assessment of 535 experts who evaluated 47 elections in 27 countries in South, Southeast, Northeast, and Central Asia between July 2012 and December 2017. The review identifies three cross‐cutting challenges for electoral integrity in Asia. Policymakers and other stakeholders should (i) curb incumbent advantage enshrined in electoral laws regulating candidate registration and voting district boundaries; (ii) introduce regulation of political finance in order to reduce the influence of money in elections; and (iii) increase the transparency of the electoral process by encouraging nonpartisan domestic election monitoring and advocacy.
  • Article
    Singapore’s electoral autocracy is well known for its innovative use of political institutions such as Parliament and elections to enhance its durability, but relatively little attention has been paid to decentralised subnational institutions such as Town Councils, which require elected Members of Parliament to manage public housing estates in their constituencies. This paper focuses on Town Councils by examining the motives behind their formation and exploring how they serve as institutions to support authoritarianism. Based on analysis of a range of primary and secondary sources such as parliamentary Hansard, government documents and newspaper articles, this paper argues that the formation of Town Councils was politically motivated and specifically designed to thwart opposition growth. It also argues that Town Councils support authoritarianism in three ways. First, they create extra hurdles and disadvantages for the opposition. Second, they give the ruling party an additional election issue on which to attack the weaknesses of the opposition and allow it to shift the focus of elections in its favour. Lastly, they facilitate more effective and targeted material distribution and create more opportunities for elite co-optation. The implications of the study for Singapore politics and the role of decentralisation in electoral autocracies are discussed.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    The theory of democratization by elections holds that elections—even when flawed—can, over time, have an independent causal effect on democratic transitions. Despite the recent growth of this literature, questions remain about the global scope of the argument and its structural preconditions. We show that, in Southeast Asia, elections are almost always the culmination rather than the cause of democratization, and use case materials from seven Southeast Asian countries to illustrate the mechanisms that lead from democratization to elections. Our argument has implications both for Southeast Asian democratization and for existing scholarship from other world regions.
  • Article
    Because the legitimacy of political authorities exists only in the eyes of citizens, this study investigates which criteria citizens use to decide that an authority is legitimate. By comparing ideas about what makes political authorities legitimate, this study in five European democracies and hybrid regimes illuminates the ‘demand side of political legitimacy’. Using original student survey data, this article compares expectations of students from the Netherlands, France, Poland, Ukraine, and Russia about how political authorities should acquire the right to rule and how they ought to behave when in office. The analysis shows that the respondents across the five countries use similar criteria for granting legitimacy. Across the five countries, throughput and input were more important criteria for legitimacy than the output produced by authorities. Although several country differences were found, these differences did not align with regime type. The findings challenge the widespread view that what kind of authorities people consider legitimate is determined by their socialization in a particular political regime.
  • Article
    Autocratic governments make claims about why they are entitled to rule. Some autocracies are more talkative than others, but all regimes say something about why they deserve power. This article takes seriously these efforts by introducing and interrogating the concept of autocratic legitimation. After engaging in a definitional discussion, it traces the development of autocratic legitimation in modern political science by identifying major turning points, key concepts, and patterns of inquiry over time. Ultimately, this introductory article aims to not only argue that studying autocratic legitimation is important, but also to propose contexts, concepts, and distinctions for doing so productively. To this end, the article proposes four mechanisms of autocratic legitimation that can facilitate comparative analysis: indoctrination, passivity, performance, and democratic-procedural. Finally, the essay briefly introduces the five original articles that comprise the remainder of this special issue on autocratic legitimation. The article identifies avenues for further research and identifies how each article in the issue advances down productive pathways of inquiry.
  • Article
    Although there has been a great deal of publicity surrounding the restriction of free speech with regard to opposition parties in Singapore, in real terms, the value of free speech for such parties is limited. First, defamation laws in Singapore require the opposition parties to exercise extreme caution to ensure political comments do not result in costly defamation suits or even imprisonment. Second, free speech in itself is of limited use politically for opposition parties if the content of this speech is not disseminated widely by the local media. As a result, both the fear of legal suits and the limited dissemination of content continue to restrict the potential of free speech for opposition parties in Singapore. This means the contribution of free speech activities to inter-party debate is low in Singapore, thereby undermining the fundamental role of democracy premised on fair inter-party competition.
  • Article
    Cambodia underwent a triple transition in the 1990s: from war to peace, from communism to electoral democracy, and from command economy to free market. This book addresses the political economy of these transitions, examining how the much publicised international intervention to bring peace and democracy to Cambodia was subverted by the poverty of the Cambodian economy and by the state's manipulation of the move to the free market. This analysis of the material basis of obstacles to Cambodia's democratisation suggests that the long-established theoretical link between economy and democracy stands, even in the face of new strategies of international democracy promotion.
  • Article
    Scholars have generally assumed that authoritarianism and rule of law are mutually incompatible. Convinced that free markets and rule of law must tip authoritarian societies in a liberal direction, nearly all studies of law and contemporary politics have neglected that improbable coupling: authoritarian rule of law. Through a focus on Singapore, this book presents an analysis of authoritarian legalism. It shows how prosperity, public discourse, and a rigorous observance of legal procedure have enabled a reconfigured rule of law such that liberal form encases illiberal content. Institutions and process at the bedrock of rule of law and liberal democracy become tools to constrain dissent while augmenting discretionary political power – even as the national and international legitimacy of the state is secured. With China seeing lessons to be learned in Singapore, as do any number of regimes looking to replicate Singapore's pairing of prosperity and social control, this book offers a valuable and original contribution to understanding the complexities of law, language, and legitimacy in our time.
  • Article
    Often dismissed as window-dressing, nominally democratic institutions, such as legislatures and political parties, play an important role in non-democratic regimes. In a comprehensive cross-national study of all non-democratic states from 1946 to 2002 that examines the political uses of these institutions by dictators, Gandhi finds that legislative and partisan institutions are an important component in the operation and survival of authoritarian regimes. She examines how and why these institutions are useful to dictatorships in maintaining power, analyzing the way dictators utilize institutions as a forum in which to organize political concessions to potential opposition in an effort to neutralize threats to their power and to solicit cooperation from groups outside of the ruling elite. The use of legislatures and parties to co-opt opposition results in significant institutional effects on policies and outcomes under dictatorship.
  • Book
    Full-text available
    The study of authoritarian politics is in the midst of a renaissance. A particular concern amongst practitioners and scholars has been how the use of “nominally” democratic institutions, such as courts, legislatures and parties, actually aids the survival of dictators and ruling parties. Despite notable breakthroughs, however, the question of why authoritarian regimes bother to hold elections has received far less consideration. In democracies, elections by and large facilitate the expression of consent, because they enable citizens to select their representatives freely and fairly. In authoritarian regimes, by contrast, elections do not provide evidence of this principle, because citizens lack an effective choice due to the existence of manipulation and misconduct. While it is certainly easy to dismiss such polls as shams, this does not explain the longstanding and widespread use of this institution. So what is behind the façade? Using three comprehensive case studies from Southeast Asia, this book argues elections allow authoritarian regimes to collect information, pursue legitimacy, manage political elites and/or sustain neopatrimonial domination. Drawing on a historical and institutional approach, it demonstrates how these functions are employed to manage the complex strategic interaction that occurs between dictators, political elites and citizens. Since the book offers the first comparative treatment of this global phenomenon in nearly four decades, the findings are particularly relevant for practitioners involved in the promotion of democracy, but also students and scholars working on authoritarianism, democratization, elections and Southeast Asian politics. Far from being mere window dressing or even a precursor to democracy, this book demonstrates how flawed elections are paramount to the maintenance of authoritarian rule.
  • Article
    Full-text available
    This article accounts for how authoritarian regimes use elections to achieve stability (and, thus, longevity). At the domestic level, elections are deployed to either feign conformity to established rules and/or shared beliefs about how political power should be maintained or mobilise citizens in a unanimous show of manufactured support for the ruling party. At the international level, elections are employed to simulate compliance to international democratic norms about the appropriate method of selecting political authority. It validates this theory using the case of Myanmar, where three different ruling cliques have sanctioned elections in the pursuit of this dividend. The institutionalisation of this function over time has in turn contributed to the stabilisation of autocratic rule, which has occurred through a combination of endogenous self-reinforcement, exogenous reinforcement and reciprocal reinforcement. This positive relationship offers further opportunities for within-case and cross-case comparisons to be made in the future.
  • Article
    Recent political science research has suggested that autocrats adopt a variety of institutions such as nominally democratic elections and ruling parties to buttress authoritarian durability. In this article I investigate the role of constituency service in an authoritarian regime. I argue that Singapore's Meet-the-People Sessions (MPS) is a complementary institution that can serve to mitigate the weaknesses of other authoritarian institutions, thereby entrenching authoritarianism, rather than serve as a form of democratic representation. First, it is a mechanism to gain valuable everyday information about grievances within the population, thereby allowing the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) to formulate policies and effectively target its response. Second, it is a convenient venue to recruit and socialize ordinary party members, thus helping the PAP forestall potential party decay. Symbolically, conducting MPS is a material performance of the hegemonic ideology of elitism between PAP politicians and ordinary Singaporeans.
  • Article
    For decades Singapore’s ruling elite has sought to legitimate its rule by claiming to be a talented and competent elite that has made Singapore an exception among its neighbours - an exemplar of success and progress in a sea of mediocrity. In this article it is contended that this basis of legitimation has been irreversibly damaged. In essence, it is suggested that the governing People’s Action Party has lost control of the national narrative, and its achievements are increasingly regarded as being “ordinary” by the electorate. The mystique of exceptionalism, which was the basis on which the government was widely presumed to be above the need for close scrutiny and accountability, has collapsed. This collapse has substantially levelled the political playing field, at least in terms of expectations and assumptions. The government can and probably will continue to win elections and rule through its control of the instruments of institutional power, but the genie of scepticism and accountability has been released from its bottle, and it is hard to see how it can be put back in. This fundamentally changes the condition of Singapore politics: the narrative of exceptionalism is dead and the Singapore elite finds itself struggling to cope in a new and critical political environment.