Ordinary Singapore: The Decline of Singapore Exceptionalism

Michael Barr

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

26 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1-17
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of Contemporary Asia
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2 Jan 2016


  • authoritarianism
  • democratisation
  • elitism
  • Lee Hsien Loong
  • regime legitimation
  • Singapore politics


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