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The 2011 parliamentary election clearly demonstrated that Singapore has transformed into a competitive authoritarian regime. Not only did the ruling People’s Action Party’s share of the popular vote decline and the opposition win the most seats ever, there was meaningful contestation for ruling power for the first time. As a result of the government’s liberalization of the Internet, opposition parties were able to grow in strength by attracting more qualified candidates and an unprecedented number of volunteers. Besides signifying political change in Singapore, the election also worried Chinese leaders, who are trying to copy Singapore’s authoritarian state-capitalism.

https://www.journalofdemocracy.org/articles/singapore-authoritarian-but-newly-competitive/

On Wikipedia, it says it's a democracy, but on some news articles or editorials it's considered to be a dictatorship? How close is Singapore to China? Do they have a similar system, or is the claim that Singapore not democracy a lie?

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    This might be splitting hairs, but has anyone actually called it 'dictatorial' or a 'dictatorship'? That quote just uses 'authoritarian', which is more generic and might just be rhetorical or hyperbole.
    – Giter
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 16:59
  • Who (other than you) has called Singapore "a dictatorial regime", "a dictatorship", or "a multi-party democracy"?
    – user44908
    Commented Feb 8, 2023 at 2:10

3 Answers 3

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Why is Singapore considered to be a dictatorial regime and a multi-party democracy at the same time?

Because it isn't fully one or the other.

"Competitive authoritarian" is an intermediate classification between democracy and dictatorship, rather akin to Iran. It means that there is a dominant political group or party, but that elections (which are neither free and fair, nor entirely meaningless) are held.

Often competitive authoritarian elections have tight government control of who can run for office and procedures that favor the ruling party disproportionately.

The classification defies the view of dictatorship and democracy as a purely binary one. These systems are also sometimes call "partial" or "hybrid" democracies or "flawed" democracies.

A subtly different classification is a dominant party system, in which free and fair elections are held, but nonetheless one political party ends up in control of everything after every election. Dominant party systems often ease into true multiparty democratic systems, as political parties change their positions and public opinion changes over time.

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    A good example of a modern dominant party system, in a fully democratic country, would be Japan.
    – Kevin
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 22:21
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    @Kevin It's worth pointing out that dominant party systems are sometimes a sign of, at the very least, imperfect democracies. LDP dominance in Japan is in some part due to things like continued malapportionment in favor of the LDP, which isn't in the interest of the LDP government to fix.
    – H Huang
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 22:37
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    Mexico under PRI is another typical dominant party system example.
    – ohwilleke
    Commented Dec 10, 2022 at 23:38
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    @Kevin Also worth mentioning that while Japan has an unusually dominant-party system, their leaders have been traditionally short-lived. It would be odd to call it a dictatorship as there is no real dictator to speak of. Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 6:00
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    Frankly, the perception of a dictatorial regime has presisted even though it's been wrong since the 70s. Singapore is a dominant-party system. Elections have been free and fair since independence. Opposition has held seats since 1984. In fact, in 1984, the government had to CREATE MORE SEATS for the best losers to have more opposition in Parliament (see: Non-Constituency MP). I have not heard any dictator giving their opponents seats in parliament! Commented Dec 11, 2022 at 6:29
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Singapore is not dictatorial. Your source says as much, only using the word 'authoritarian'. It was pseudo-dictatorial, however, because the ruling People's Action Party regularly flattened its opponents in elections. Example. The government also enacted laws some observers deem to be authoritarian (e.g. the POFMA in 2020) and engaged in defamation lawsuits against political opponents. Of course, the PAP's policies also transformed Singapore into one of the wealthiest countries on Earth, which is why Singapore's founding father Lee Kuan Yew is sometimes called a benevolent dictator.

Singapore is also a multi-party democracy because the most recent elections have been meaningfully contested. See the one in 2020. Opposition parties are represented.

Singapore is not similar to China in the sense that China is a one-party state. China is significantly more authoritarian than Singapore. They are similar in the sense that China also seems to be developing well in spite of (because of?) authoritarian tendencies.

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Having lived in Singapore for nearly a decade, and lived in China, Thailand, Malaysia, and pre-CoVID Hong Kong, before returning to the US, I can say with absolute certainty that Singapore and China are far FAR different...in execution and intent if not structurally.

As Allure has mentioned some of the government's decisions and authority can be seen to be dictatorial by virtue of the amount of authority the PM and the associated office have to enact change.

In my time there I found this to be a good system however...at least for Singapore. It would NOT work here in the US. Most of this is due to the vast difference in size...the entirety of Singapore's population is barely bigger than the Phoenix metropolis, and with a smaller land mass. This means that if there's an accident on Raffles Blvd, there will be new signage, and additional safety measures taken within a few days in Singapore to ensure it doesn't happen again. They capitalize on, and implement new technologies quickly...I had 2gb fiber in Singapore years before 1gb was available residentially in the US...because they are willing and able to make broad decisions very quickly (in that instance, creating a government organization who owned the fiber and was mandated to have it widely available across the island, and servicing it was handled by one of a few national telcos).

It wouldn't work here...someone will complain about how small the fiber is and why bigger things are better, or why the internet was bad for our youth in general and should be banned, or we'd push the contracts to install it into a bill that also included an additional appropriation to feed the war machine and it will be stuck in committee for a decade, before dying on the vine.

This same quick decision making is only theoretically possible in China...because every decision made is viewed by different groups with the same self-interest that US states tend to operate with, a LOT of time, money and energy is spent ensuring that regardless of whether a decision is made or not, it won't be politically damaging to party and politician, as opposed to making decisions based on what might be good for the nation, and the strictures of the Communist process ensure that getting ahead means being corrupt to some degree.

The woman I rented from in Singapore lived in Beijing and her family, making more than they'd generally be allowed to keep, had been funneling money into real estate in Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam for years and owned dozens of properties worth millions each. On paper, at home, they're just good loyal citizens who live only a bit above average.

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    the entirety of Singapore's population is barely bigger than the Phoenix metropolis Are you referring to Phoenix, Arizona? If so, I'm finding from Google that Singapore's population (~5 million) is roughly 3x that of Phoenix's (~1.5 million).
    – Allure
    Commented Dec 12, 2022 at 23:21
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    @Allure - Was probably referring to the Phoenix MSA, which is about 4.8 million. CSA brings it up to about 4.9.
    – T.E.D.
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 1:44
  • Correct. Phoenix proper is about 1.5 million. The metropolis is about 5 million officially. If one considers the unregistered population it's most likely just over...the last estimate I saw was north of 250k...but really my point was to say that the agility and speed of the Singaporean government is partly the result of their size.
    – Patrick
    Commented Dec 13, 2022 at 15:02

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