Singapore is a one-party dominant electoral authoritarian regime that has successfully combined modernization with illiberal politics. Although the regime has become more competitive in recent years, existing elite patterns have been deeply entrenched and have successfully resisted more fundamental political change. The success of Singapore’s leaders rests with the effective combination of cooptation mechanisms and selective coercion with sufficient legitimacy. The late Lee Kuan Yew, first prime minister of Singapore, has been revered as the nation’s founding father and credited with the economic success that has fundamentally transformed the city-state. With his son. Lee Hsien Loong, following in his father’s footsteps as the current prime minister, the regime has been able to combine performance legitimacy with personal legitimacy. However, this arrangement could face significant challenges in the future as the country operates in an increasingly complex domestic and international environment. Moreover, no clear successor has been identified for the current prime minister, who is set to retire after the next general election to be held by 2021. Political change, however, is likely to be very slow due to Singapore’s sophisticated soft-authoritarian institutions.
Stephan Ortmann teaches in the Department of Asian and International Studies at the City University of Hong Kong. He has worked on various issues related to political change in Hong Kong, Singapore, China and Vietnam. His publications have appeared in numerous refereed journals including Asian Survey, Administration and Society, Journal of Democracy, and Government and Opposition, and Pacific Review. He is the author of Politics and Change in Singapore and Hong Kong: Containing Contention (Routledge, 2010) and most recently Environmental Governance in Vietnam: Institutional Reforms and Failures (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017).
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