Academic journal article Social Justice

The Political Process in Singapore's New Industrialization

Academic journal article Social Justice

The Political Process in Singapore's New Industrialization

Article excerpt


The extraordinary success of East Asia challenges the understanding of development economists today. If present trends continue, this region may begin to overtake much of the industrialized West early in the 21st century. Yet, in the wake of this period of high-level economic growth has come political shocks and upheavals such as those experienced in South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and China. Indeed, demands for political liberalization have raced through prospering Asian countries such as Thailand, which has enjoyed economic growth rates averaging nearly 10% per year since 1986, and Singapore, where average per annum sparkling growth rates of the last two decades have been accompanied by an undeniable but steady rise in votes going to the opposition. Protests seem to arise from a system that works very well economically. The apparent cultural uniqueness of advanced Asian economies, often used to explain the acceptance of authoritarian governments, seems to have lost its magic. In the main, since protests for increasing political and civil rights have come about following a prolonged period of relative prosperity, we argue that these political movements are expressions of fundamental changes taking place in the economic sphere. We agree with Kumar (1992), however, that these movements are not asking for anything new; their demands are mere reiterations of the utopian demands of past revolutions.

While a steady flow of studies has raised interesting explanations for Asia's impressive growth figures (e.g., Biggart, 1991; Doner, 1991), work on the impact of economic expansion, by comparison, can be described as a mere trickle (e.g., Koo, 1991; Soh and Hua, 1992) despite or because of its political significance for ruling authoritarian governments. This study represents an attempt to bridge this gap by focusing on the experience of one NIE (newly industrialized economy), Singapore. Despite its puny size, Singapore has become the role model for countries seeking the magic formula for growth. For instance, China, which in 1965 reacted coldly to Singapore's independence, reversed its stand in the 1980s and appointed then-Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore as the economic adviser for the development of China's coastal region. By an ironic twist of fate, today Beijing has sent its Propaganda Department to study and learn from staunchly anticommunist Singapore.

This article will delineate the basic features of the Singapore economy and comment on the major role played by an interventionist state. The class structure is examined to explore how changes in the economy have their parallels in class transformation. Finally, the political implications expected from these changes are reviewed.

Fundamentals of the Singapore Economy

Lauded for having one of the world's fastest growth rates, official figures indicate that the Singapore economy grew by 5.5% in 1992. Rapid growth over the past two decades led to a tenfold jump in the total gross domestic product (GDP), reaching $64.4 billion in 1992 (expressed in 1985 market prices, where US$1 = S$1.6 - see Table 1 at the end of the article). The GDP in real terms measured an annual growth rate of 8.4% between 1960 and 1991. As a result, Singapore's per capita income is second only to Japan in Asia, having climbed from $435 in 1960 to $13,236 in 1991. Although the dazzling rates of growth posted during the past two and one-half decades may not be matched by the performance of the 1990s, dozens of MNCs (multinational corporations) continue to set up shop here, fueled by the rapid growth of the region and Singapore's preemptive role in meshing the regime's development with Singapore's thriving economy.

In 1960, trade and commerce constituted the economy's primary basis of development, reflecting the nation's role as Southeast Asia's premier entrepot. By 1992, manufacturing, trading and commerce, finance and business services, along with transportation and communications comprised the four main sectors driving Singapore's economic expansion (Table 2). …

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