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Singapore as a quasi-one-party state

By Murray Hunter - posted Monday, 13 June 2022

Singapore's People's Action Party (PAP) is one of the longest political parties holding power, winning every election since 1959. CNA, part of the state media, inferred that Singapore was a one party state with its headline "A 'one-and-a-half party' political system possible in Singapore, says political analyst", after the 2020 election.

Singapore has the characteristics of a one-party state. Yet, paradoxically, even though Singapore has a functioning Westminster parliamentary system, which Freedom House criticises for being unfair, if 66,251 voters had changed their intentions, there would have been a hung parliament after the 2020 general election.

With 63 straight years as the government, the PAP has entrenched itself within every aspect of Singaporean society. Although, the PAP can be challenged electorally, its power and influence over the administrative sector, business, health, education, housing, the military, and society is absolute. From this perspective, Singapore is the PAP, where loyalty to the nation and the PAP becomes very blurred.


The inner PAP

Membership of the PAP runs along two tiers, ordinary party members who are attached to branches at the grassroot level, and members of the inner core of the party, called cadres.

A potential cadre must be recommended by a member of parliament, and then the candidate is interviewed a number of times by a committee appointed by the Central Executive Committee (CEC), which will include four or five ministers and members of parliament. There might be up to 1,000 cadres within the PAP today, although the actual number is a secret and not published anywhere. A cadre has the right to attend the party conference and vote for the leadership every two years. This system is partly in place to prevent any future hostile takeover attempts within the party.

Consequently, the real political power in Singapore is centred around the Central Executive Committee, headed by the Secretary General, who is the head of the party, and usually the prime minister. There is a very strong overlap between CEC members and cabinet ministers. Twelve members are elected by cadres and six are appointed. Any outgoing CEC member must recommend a list of potential candidates to fill his/her position within the CEC. The CEC looks after the young PAP, Women's Wing, PAP Senior's Group, selects cadres, and parliamentary candidates.

Within the second tier, ordinary members are screened before they can join the PAP. Potential members must demonstrate some involvement within the community before membership is approved. Lee Kwan Yew did not want a party with populist demands, and also wanted to avoid the influence of 'quanxi' within the party. Party members are basically unpaid volunteers, serving their MPs on branch sub-committees, and help mobilize support during elections.

By international standards, the PAP is very small, maybe with around 15,000 members, and a small central administrative machinery, yet its influence spans the whole island nation.


Networking and Nepotism

One of the problems with smaller nations is the lack of distance between the centre of power and family, relatives, and other close associates. Singapore is no different here.

Relationships between the political elite and prominent people throughout Singapore society has been well documented over a number of years by a blogger with a pen name 'Jess C Scott', in her blog "Singapore Politics."The close political, business, banking, administrative, and other societal links are meticulously mapped out on her blog.

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Murray Hunter's blog can be accessed here

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About the Author

Murray Hunter is an associate professor at the University Malaysia Perlis. He blogs at Murray Hunter.

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