Manipulating Election Laws to Extend Hegemonic Party Rule in Singapore

Singapore's ruling party, the People’s Action Party (PAP) alters election rules and passes legislations that disadvantage opposition parties to secure its rule.

McMaster Researcher


Tan, N. (2013). Manipulating Electoral Laws in Singapore. Electoral Studies, 32(4), 632-643. doi:10.1016/j.electstud.2013.07.014


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What is this research about?

Electoral authoritarianism is a regime that uses democratic institutions for undemocratic gains. The People's Action Party (PAP) has ruled Singapore for five decades straight. Despite declining vote shares in the last two decades, it still wins an average of 98% parliamentary seats in every election. This research examines the impact of electoral strategies that the PAP uses to magnify its seat shares.
Singapore has 89 seats in its Parliament. Thirteen of the seats come from electoral districts where a single person is elected and the rest come from the sixteen multi-member districts where 4 to 6 seats are up for grabs in each area. The (GRC) is an ethnic quota that mandates parties to have at least one ethnic minority member in a group of politicians within each multi-member electoral district. This law also gives the government more opportunities to change the number of seats within each electoral district. This paper shows how the PAP legitimately manipulates electoral rules to benefit itself and disadvantage the rival parties. The author argues that frequent changes in electoral rules such as the introduction of the GRC scheme facilitates the PAP's changing of district sizes and electoral boundaries that extends the PAP’s rule in Singapore.

What did the researchers do?

The researcher examined the ways PAP has changed the laws in Singapore to benefit the party. She measured the mechanical and psychological effects of the altered voting system in Singapore. The mechanical effects describe how the new election rules alter seat shares in Parliament based on the distribution of votes. They are measured by examining the change, after GRC implementation, in how well votes translate into seats in Parliament, the number of parties involved in the election, and the proportion that end up in Parliament. The psychological effects involve the way parties and voters change their strategies in response to the mechanical effects of the GRC scheme. They are measured by comparing the number of opposition parties and candidates, the number of uncontested seats in each district, and the changes in the distribution of vote shares for the opposition parties in the pre and post GRC periods.

What did the researchers find?

The study found that:

  • Singapore's electoral rules reward the larger and more established parties.
  • Singapore's plurality party bloc vote system that requires a party to have more than one candidate in each district is more likely to produce supermajority government. This occurs because smaller parties have difficulty finding candidates and the high electoral deposit fees for registering each candidate.
  • The government changes the sizes of pro-opposition electoral districts to dilute the opposition’s vote share.
  • Singaporean voters are drawn to bigger parties with credible candidates and clear policy alternatives. They avoid small parties with low winning prospects.

How can you use this research?

This research is a useful guide for understanding why some authoritarian regimes persist in the era of democracy. It is also useful to understand the conditions under which the opposition parties can win under unfair conditions. For example, pooling resources and working as an alliance can help overcome institutional barriers posed by the larger multi-member electoral districts. Opposition unity will avoid wasted-vote and bolster the idea of the opposition as a strong and credible alternative. In a simple plurality electoral system, resource poor opposition should be strategic and focus campaign energies and high-quality candidates in targeted regions, rather than spreading efforts over different regions.

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