Similarities and Differences between Singapore, Malaysia and African non-democratic regimes

6 Jun

I have just finished a book entitled, ‘Non-Democratic Regimes’ (2nd edition) authored by Paul Brooker.

In the chapter on ‘Semi-dictatorships and Semidemocracies,’ a short section is devoted to explaining the illiberal regime differences between Singapore and Malaysia (p. 261-2 ). Unlike Malaysia which is an ethnic semidemocracy, the author argues that Singapore resembles African one party states when it took advantage of decolonisation to consolidate its power. Moreover, it also uses cooption and coercion mechanisms to ensure its continuing electoral dominance.

As for similarities with Malaysia, they were mainly related to repressive controls including the use of the Internal Security Act to stifle dissent; and gerrymandering the constituencies to ensure that electoral results are biased towards the incumbent party.

He also noted that,

‘… the key question in the Singapore and Malaysia cases is not whether force or fraud has been used but whether they might be used if required to keep the party in power…’ (p. 264).

He went on to argue that the Presidential elections in Singapore was ‘meant to protect the country (and PAP) against some of the effects of such an election defeat’ (p.264). By conducting periodic elections in semidemocracies like Singapore and Malaysia, there is a possibility that defeated parties (in this case, UMNO and PAP) may return to power ‘from the political wilderness’ (p. 264).

In response to Brooker’s comments on Malaysia and Singapore, I believed his opinions are valid to a certain extent. Certainly, the kind of repression and electoral manipulating tactics are not new, albeit, perhaps more refined or less crude than other forms of dictatorships.

What should be analysed are not just the tactics and techniques adopted by the dominating political parties, but also trying to understand why both regimes have been resistant towards democracy activism despite the third wave of democratisation. This is an entire area of study which will continue to be debated amongst interested scholars for a long time to come (even when both dominating parties have lost their political power).


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