Decentralised institutions and electoral authoritarianism: The case of town councils in Singapore

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Abstract

Singapore's electoral autocracy is well known for its innovative use of political institutions such as Parliament and elections to enhance its durability, but relatively little attention has been paid to decentralised subnational institutions such as Town Councils, which require elected Members of Parliament to manage public housing estates in their constituencies. This paper focuses on Town Councils by examining the motives behind their formation and exploring how they serve as institutions to support authoritarianism. Based on analysis of a range of primary and secondary sources such as parliamentary Hansard, government documents and newspaper articles, this paper argues that the formation of Town Councils was politically motivated and specifically designed to thwart opposition growth. It also argues that Town Councils support authoritarianism in three ways. First, they create extra hurdles and disadvantages for the opposition. Second, they give the ruling party an additional election issue on which to attack the weaknesses of the opposition and allow it to shift the focus of elections in its favour. Lastly, they facilitate more effective and targeted material distribution and create more opportunities for elite co-optation. The implications of the study for Singapore politics and the role of decentralisation in electoral autocracies are discussed. Copyright © 2018 Asian Studies Association of Australia.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)459-478
JournalAsian Studies Review
Volume42
Issue number3
Early online dateJul 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2018

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authoritarianism
Singapore
town
opposition
election
parliament
public housing
dictatorship
political institution
decentralization
newspaper
elite
politics
Town Council
Authoritarianism
Elections
Parliament

Citation

Ng, H.-Y. (2018). Decentralised institutions and electoral authoritarianism: The case of town councils in Singapore. Asian Studies Review, 42(3), 459-478. doi: 10.1080/10357823.2018.1479729

Keywords

  • Decentralisation
  • Electoral authoritarian regimes
  • Singapore
  • Town Councils