Political scientists often describe Mexico as an autocratic country controlled by a sole party. The president, who consistently comes from the ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), wields significant authority within a centralized system of government.
The paper aims to evaluate and compare the potential for democracy in Singapore, a socialist democratic one-party state, and Mexico, which has been governed by the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI) since 1929.
The PRI is divided into three sectors: labor, agrarian, and popular. It claims to be the authentic heir of Mexico’s revolutionary tradition and has made significant efforts to present itself as a left-wing party. Nevertheless, even though it includes both right-wing and left-wing factions, the PRI can be more accurately characterized as a centrist conservative party that is dedicated to protecting a mixed capitalist/socialist economy (Johnson 1984a, p137). Until recently, many Mexicans perceived little distinction between the PRI, the state, and the government.
From 1929 until 1988, the PRI candidates dominated elections in Mexico, including presidential, state, Senate, and representative elections for federal and local congress. The party was established by military leaders and regional bosses who survived the Mexican revolution as a means to bring an end to violence and instability. Throughout its history, the PRI and its predecessors have never accepted defeat in a presidential election and have consistently held control over both houses of Congress. However, alongside effective governance by government officials responsible for political affairs, there were instances of electoral fraud and abuse of power to maintain their political control. (Cinta 1999a, p177) (Dominguez 1999a, p3)
The Partido Accion Nacional (PAN) is the PRI’s official opposition party and it is classified as a right-wing political group. While there are other opposition parties such as PARM, PPS, PCM, and PSUM, they have not gained significant popularity nationwide. Instead, these parties primarily serve as platforms for dissident leaders who opt to remain within the government-approved sphere of political competition.However, the PRI relied on PAN to uphold its revolutionary image, seeking their input on policy decisions and appointments. PAN willingly cooperated until winning the presidential election last summer. Within the PRI, camarillos or political cliques operate informally.
Throughout the development of the contemporary Mexican political system, pressure groups have played a crucial role in wielding power. These groups, such as the camarillos, consist of loyal and influential individuals bound together by common purpose and informal loyalty. They are typically centered around a powerful figure who holds the ability to control behavior and distribute rewards.
Similarly, Singapore’s dominant political party, the People’s Action Party (PAP), has a history divided into five distinct periods. The first period, from 1954 to 1958, saw opposition and unity within the party. This was followed by a crisis of dissent leading to a split in the previously united front during the second period from 1959 to 1961.
Singapore then experienced instability from 1961 to 1963 with extreme right-wing and left-wing forces collaborating to overthrow the PAP government in the Legislative Assembly. From 1963 to 1965, Singapore was part of Malaysia. Finally, from 1965 onwards, Singapore achieved independence and entered a period of consolidation and notable achievements.
The PAP was established under British rule by a small group of trade unionists, teachers, lawyers, and journalists. They convened to discuss the creation of a new left-wing political party (Chee, et al. 1987a, p 148). The party’s primary objectives were to strategically place its leaders in policy-making positions and to prepare for future governance (Bellows 1970a, p 2).
The PAP was founded to gain political influence during the time when the United Kingdom was granting autonomy to Malaysia and Singapore, which marked the beginning of Singapore’s history. One of the main goals of the PAP was to end colonial rule and maintain connections with Malaysia, while upholding democratic and socialist principles.
(Bellows 1970b, p 12) The PAP preached “democratic socialism” but had to face the economic realities of Singapore, which had limited resources. As a result, the PAP had to adopt a form of “democratic capitalism.” The socialist aspect of their ideology focused on providing social services and promoting social mobility in a meritocratic and multiracial state. (Bedlington 1978a, p226) Other political parties in Singapore include the Malayan Democratic Union, The Progressive Party, the Labour Front, the Alliance Party Singapura, and the Barisan Socialis.
The Barisan Socialis was the most powerful political party that opposed the PAP. However, the PAP maintained its power and implemented measures that made it difficult for opposition politics to effectively organize. This discouraged educated and professional elites, who would typically be the natural candidates for political leadership, from joining opposition parties. The people of Singapore have come to believe that electing an opposition party MP to a constituency may actually hinder the constituency’s access to government services. Since the 1972 General Elections, there have been some changes in the relative strengths of opposition parties.
The Barisan Socialis has undergone its first noticeable change. For more than ten years since its establishment, it has held the position of being the most significant party following the PAP. The Barisan Socialis is more left-leaning compared to the PAP and has been perceived by the PAP as a group affiliated with communists. (Chee, et al.)
According to the author (1987b, p163), in 1965, the PAP party had two main objectives: to stay in power and to maintain a somewhat open and pluralistic system, while ensuring that the communist-supported Barisan Socialis party would always come second in any election. The PAP party strategically marginalized its left-wing opposition without completely stifling all opposition, thus establishing an authoritarian political environment (Bellows 1970c, p5). Presently, in Singapore, there is little chance of influencing the government through competitive elections. The PAP party has become dominant, while opposition parties lack effectiveness.
The PAP and the PRI are powerful parties in their respective countries. They both originated as revolutionary parties, with the PAP seeking independence from the United Kingdom and the PRI representing the revolutionary sector of its population. Both parties implemented a “winner take all” political system, which resulted in long-term leadership. The party founders anticipated that their organizations would remain in power for extended periods, leading them to design the political systems accordingly.
Both the PAP and the PRI have implemented policies that impeded the growth of their opposition parties, resulting in them being seen as authoritarian. There was no dialogue between the PRI and its opposition or the PAP and its opposition. However, they still view themselves as active participants in the democratic process. Nevertheless, there are distinctions between Mexico’s PRI and Singapore’s PAP. The PRI has employed strategies of electoral fraud such as stuffing ballot boxes, intimidating opposition candidates, disqualifying opposition poll watchers, changing voting locations at the last minute, manipulating voter registration lists, issuing multiple voting credentials to supporters, tampering with voting tallies, and even invalidating unfavorable electoral results to maintain their hold on power.
According to Dominguez (1999b, p3), the People’s Action Party (PAP) in Singapore has not engaged in certain practices. However, it has made voting for the PAP more beneficial in comparison to voting for its opponent. One example is the PAP’s control over the Housing and Development Board (HDB), which is possible because the Prime Minister was a PAP electorate. The HDB oversees all public housing in Singapore and assigns housing to individuals based on different districts, which align with voting districts.
During campaigning, the PAP candidates emphasize that if the constituency votes for the opposition party, their housing district will not receive sufficient budget to efficiently run their apartments. However, those who vote for the PAP will be prioritized for renovations and funding to construct better apartments. As previously mentioned, the electorate of Singapore has concluded that electing an opposition party MP to a constituency might hinder the constituency’s access to governmental services. The Housing and Development Board is regarded as one of these governmental services.
Another similarity between Mexico and Singapore’s dominant one-party systems is the use of corporatism by the PRI. Corporatism involves bringing together representatives of different functional groups under the state’s guidance. This relationship is based on political reciprocity, where these groups receive official recognition and association with the government or government-controlled organizations in exchange for the state’s consideration of their interests. By employing corporatism, the state can manipulate various groups to serve its own interests. (Camp 1996, p12)
The given example demonstrates Singapore’s faith in the PAP, believing that their interests would be considered if they voted for them. Democracy is a political system that involves selecting leaders through fair and free elections, held at regular intervals, while safeguarding civil and political rights. As stated by Dominguez (1999c), democracy requires a government that is answerable to elected representatives, along with universal suffrage and the absence of party limitations. In a democratic environment, elections are competitive and political transformations adhere to established regulations and precedents.
The evidence presented in the paper indicates that both Mexico and Singapore do not possess a genuine democracy. Moreover, it can be deduced that one-party systems impede the progress of democracy. The paper has examined the resemblances and disparities in the political scenarios of Singapore and Mexico, emphasizing how the one-party system weakens democratic values by enacting policies that maintain its authority. Furthermore, the lack of substantial discourse between the ruling party and its adversaries further illustrates the non-democratic essence of these political frameworks.
The PRI in Mexico and the PAP in Singapore both maintain their dominance through corporatism and other political reciprocity methods. The centralized power of the President of Mexico and the Prime Minister of Singapore is crucial in keeping their political systems functioning, ensuring the continued one-party dominance in each country.