Introduction: Authoritarian Governance in Singapore’s Developmental State



This introductory chapter frames Singapore’s socio-economic and political challenges within the context of governance in an authoritarian developmental state at a critical crossroads. A key challenge confronting Singapore’s developmental state has arguably been the unravelling ‘growth with equity’ social compact in part due to the selective embrace of neo-liberal policies since about the mid-1980s. Singapore’s political and policy trajectory is analysed in relation to the pioneering Northeast Asian developmental states of Japan, South Korea and Taiwan—states that have transitioned to robust democracies and mature economies whilst deepening protectionist social policies. Key issues and questions raised in this chapter and this edited volume include: Why has Singapore’s developmental state remained one-party dominant and authoritarian despite possessing a sizeable educated middle-class and an economy that is touted as one of the wealthiest in GDP per capita terms? Is Singapore’s development model, which is driven by government-linked companies and foreign multinational corporations, sustainable? Is Singapore’s political economy close to reaching its limits, in terms of promoting innovative knowledge industries and creative entrepreneurship without heavy reliance on ‘foreign talent’? Do the technocratic politicians governing Singapore possess the political entrepreneurship required to facilitate effective state-society linkages based on ‘deliberative development’ and ‘co-production’, which is a foundation of sophisticated knowledge economies and polities? How will deepening intra-elite divisions amongst ‘disaffected insiders’ impact on Singapore's political and economic development?


  1. Barr, M. D. (2014). The Ruling Elite of Singapore: Networks of Power and Influence. London: I.B.Tauris.Google Scholar
  2. Barr, M. D. (2017, June 22). “Dynastic Demolition in Singapore?”, East Asia Forum.
  3. Barr, M. D. (2008). “Singapore: The Limits of a Technocratic Approach to Health Care”, Journal of Contemporary Asia, 38(3): 395−416.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Capoccia, G. (2015). “Critical Junctures and Institutional Change’, In J. Mahoney and K. Thelen (eds.), Advances in Comparative-Historical Analysis (pp. 147−179). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Carney, R. (2016). “Varieties of Hierarchical capitalism: family and State Market Economies in East Asia”, The Pacific Review, 29(2): 137−163.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carney, R. and Loh, Y. Z. (2009). “Institutional (Dis)Incentives to Innovate: An Explanation for Singapore’s Innovation Gap”, Journal of East Asian Studies, 9(2): 291−319.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Evans, P. (2010). “Constructing the 21st Century Developmental State”, In O. Edigheji (ed.), Constructing a Democratic Developmental State in South Africa, Capetown: HSRC Press.Google Scholar
  8. Evans, P. and Heller, P. (2015). “Human Development, State Transformation and the Politics of the Developmental State”, In S. Leibfried, E. Huber, M. Lange, J. Levy & J. Stephens (eds.), The Oxford Handbook of Transformations of the State, Oxford: Oxford University Press, Scholar
  9. Goh C. B. (2016). From Traders to Innovators: Science and Technology in Singapore since 1965, Singapore: ISEAS.Google Scholar
  10. Hacker, J., Pierson, P. & Thelen, K. (2015). “Drift and Conversion: Hidden Faces of Institutional Change”, In J. Mahoney and K. Thelen (eds.), Advances in Comparative-Historical Analyses (pp. 180−208), Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Haggard, Stephen and Krugman (2008). Development, Democracy and the Welfare State, Princeton: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Lam, Lydia. (2018, February 19). Singapore Budget 2018, The Straits Times.Google Scholar
  13. Levitsky, S. and Way, L. (2009). Competitive Authoritarianism, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  14. Lim, L. (2014). “Singapore’s Success: After the Miracle”, In Robert Looney (ed.), Handbook of Emerging Economies (pp. 203−226), London: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Lim, L. (2016). “Fifty Years of Development in the Singapore Economy”, In L. Lim (ed.), Singapore Economic Development: Retrospection and Reflections (pp. 1−16), Singapore: World Scientific.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Low, D. and Vadaketh, S. (2014). Hard Choices, Singapore: NUS Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. O’Brien, Kevin (2017). ‘China’s Disaffected Insiders’, Journal of Democracy, 28(3).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Ortmann, S. and Thompson, M. R. (2014). China’s obsession with Singapore: Learning authoritarian modernity, The Pacific Review, 27(3): 433−455.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Peng, I. and Wong, J. (2008). Institutions and Institutional Purpose, Politics & Society, 36(1): 61−88.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Rahim, L. Z. (2015). Reclaiming Singapore’s Growth with Equity Social Compact, Japanese Journal of Political Science, 16(2): 160−176.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Rahim, L. Z. (2001 [1998]). The Singapore Dilemma, KL: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Rahim, L. Z. (2009). Singapore in the Malay World, London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  23. Rodan, G. (2016). Capitalism, Inequality and Ideology in Singapore: New Challenges for the Ruling Party, Asian Studies Review, 40(2): 211−230.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Schedler, A. (2013). The Politics of Uncertainly, New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  25. Shiao Yin Kuik. (2017, 3 March). The Ones One Walk Towards, Available at
  26. Slater, D. (2012). Strong State Democratization in Malaysia and Singapore, Journal of Democracy, 23(2): 19−33.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. The Online Citizen. (2017, January 24). Ong Ye Kung: Singapore’s One-Party System a Result of Free and Fair Elections.Google Scholar
  28. The Economist. (2012, 24 May). Shopping Spree: Military Spending in Southeast Asia.Google Scholar
  29. The Economist. (2014, 15 March). Planet Plutocrats.Google Scholar
  30. Wong, J. (2011). Betting on Biotech: Innovation and the Limits of Asia’s Developmental State, Ithaca: Cornell University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. World Economic Forum. (2017). Inclusive Growth and Development Report 2017, Geneva: World Economic Forum.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Government and International RelationsUniversity of SydneySydneyAustralia
  2. 2.College of Business, Government and Law, Flinders UniversityAdelaideAustralia

Personalised recommendations