Explaining Stability in Singapore: Calibrated Coercion?


  • Cherian George

Singapore's general elections in 2006 are unlikely to shake the country's legendary political stability. Despite repeated predictions over decades that the long-ruling People's Action Party (PAP) would falter, opposition parties and dissident groups have made little headway. Cherian George will offer a counter-intuitive reason for this situation: deliberate self-restraint in the use of violence by the state against its opponents. Since the 1980s, modes of repression in Singapore have grown increasingly subtle and sophisticated. Thanks to "calibrated coercion," the PAP has been able to neutralize opposition with minimum political cost. The study of authoritarian regimes would benefit from more nuanced attention to the methodology of coercion. It is time for analysts to stop treating coercion as if it were not problematic - a black box that need not be taken apart. Or so, based on Singapore's case, Prof. George will argue.

Cherian George is the author of Contentious Journalism and the Internet: Towards Democratic Discourse in Malaysia and Singapore (2006) and Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation: Essays on the Politics of Comfort and Control (2000). After completing his PhD in communication at Stanford in 2003, he was a post-doctoral fellow at the Asia Research Institute, Singapore. He is now deputy head of the journalism program at Nanyang Technological University.