Lee Kuan Yew: Autocracy, elections, and capitalism (1923-2015)

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The key to Lee Kuan Yew’s autocratic rule was his creation of a hyper-politicized environment in which government permeated every aspect of society through a networked elite that monopolized power. Elections and politics more broadly were not about choosing the government but about soliciting compliance and support for the government’s national-capitalist project. Tools of repression were essential but insufficient components of Lee’s version of authoritarian rule, since he needed to ensure that both the national elite and the population more broadly would fully engage with his vision for Singapore’s future. Lee succeeded in this task and passed on power in 1990, while remaining senior minister and then minister mentor under his two successors until 2011. He also enjoyed a reputation as an internationally respected statesman. Lee had built a hyper-politicized society, wherein his personal power and that of his closest collaborators were institutionalized throughout all aspects of society. Yet the only way to run such a system was to have a hyper-charged politician in charge. Perhaps, this methodology makes Lee Kuan Yew the most democratic of autocrats - but it was certainly the key to his success and that of Singapore’s unusual marriage of capitalism and authoritarianism.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDictators and Autocrats
Subtitle of host publicationSecuring Power across Global Politics
EditorsKlaus Larres
Place of PublicationAbingdon, Oxon
PublisherRoutledge, Taylor and Francis
Number of pages14
ISBN (Electronic)978-1-003-10050-8
ISBN (Print)978-0-367-60786-9, 978-0-367-60787-6
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • Singapore
  • authoritarianism
  • government
  • Lee Kuan Yew


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