The bonsai under the banyan tree: democracy and democratisation in Singapore

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25 Citations (Scopus)


In 2011 Singapore held its parliamentary general election. The ballot was not rigged and no candidates suffered physical intimidation, but there was no doubt that the government would be returned with an overwhelming majority and no one pretends that the opposition was given a fair chance. The regime has built a rationale and an infrastructure that legitimizes and perpetuates itself, and makes it difficult for an opposition to do more than survive. This article unpacks this rationale and the system it legitimizes. It argues that recent developments herald a significant set of changes to the dynamics of Singaporean politics and governance, but that these changes stop well short of any short or medium-term likelihood of democratic transformation. The Singapore experience suggests that an electorally legitimized authoritarian regime can perpetuate itself in the long term, provided it delivers public goods to the population and is assiduous in responding to complaints. It also suggests that a regime that has enjoyed long-term success is likely to have cultivated a constituency and an opposition that is a reflection of itself, implying that even if the particular ruling party should fall, it will most likely be replaced by an administration with values that are recognisably similar.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-48
Number of pages20
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2014


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