Intra-Party Dynamics in the People’s Action Party: Party Structure, Continuity and Hegemony



This chapter explores the role of intra-party dynamics within the People’s Action Party (PAP). I argue that the PAP’s closed structure—akin to a cadre party—is an important reason for its political preponderance. The party structure ensures that there has been no major split within the party since independence, and the core ideological predispositions remain unchallenged. Essentially, the party reproduces itself. The choice of a cadre structure was a conscious decision by the party leadership, especially Lee Kuan Yew, following an internal struggle with the leftist faction. This chapter thus interrogates the interaction between institutions (party structures) and agents (personalities), and how one affects the other. At the same time, the chapter investigates the much-touted ‘leftwards’ shift by the party following its dismal showing in the 2011 elections. I contend that the tilt in direction can be more accurately described as a shift in policy focus rather than a significant alteration of PAP core governing ideologies. The party’s closed structure minimises the possibility of radical change in its fundamental underpinnings of governance. The policy shifts should then be considered as pragmatic responses to a declining vote share, rather than a rethinking of the assumptions upon which the party, and the country, are built. The effect of the structure is that the party perpetuates itself, and prospects of significant, rather than cosmetic, change in the party remains unlikely. The PAP case study offers several comparative implications. Firstly, it highlights how personalities—and critical junctures—can have a lasting impact on political institutions and outcomes. Secondly, the case study emphasises the transformative relationship between institutional dominance and ideological hegemony—the party structure being one such institution.


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© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Public Policy and Global Affairs, School of Social SciencesNanyang Technological UniversitySingaporeSingapore

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