Political scientists often describe Mexico as a one-party authoritarian state. Power is centralized in the hands of a virtually omnipotent president, who is always the candidate of the dominant or ruling party, which in Mexico is the Institutional Revolutionary Party (Partido Revolucionario Institucional, or PRI).
Singapore is a one-party state that declares that it is democratic although when analyzed by political scientists is considered socialist. These parties have many similarities and many differences and this paper will undertake the task of comparing and contrasting the one-party system in both Singapore and Mexico. This analysis attempts to answer whether a one-party system can be democratic. The controlling political party in Mexico is the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI), and it had been the governing political party since 1929.
The PRI is divided up into three sectors: labor, agrarian, and popular. This party claims to be the true heir of Mexico’s revolutionary tradition, and has worked extremely hard to keep an appearance as a left-wing party. Although the PRI certainly has right-wing and left-wing factions, it is probably more accurate to describe it as a “centrist conservative party dedicated to preserving a mixed capitalist/socialist economy.” (Johnson 1984a, p137) Until very recently for many Mexicans the PRI, the state, and the government were basically the same thing.
From 1929 up until 1988 the candidates of the PRI had won in all presidential, state, and Senate elections, and practically all the representative elections for federal and local congress, including municipalities. (Cinta 1999a, p177) Military chieftains and regional bosses who survived the Mexican revolution started the Partido Revolucionario Institucional (PRI); they created the National Revolutionary Party to put an end to two decades of violence and turmoil. Since then the PRI and its partisan predecessors have never acknowledged the loss of a presidential election and always controlled both houses of Congress. (Dominguez 1999a, p3) The machinery of politics at the president’s service, the ruling party and the government officials charged with managing political affairs, often governed effectively, but to maintain their political control, they also resorted to electoral fraud and abuse of power.
The official opposition party of the PRI is the Partido Accion Nacional (PAN), which is a right-wing political group. Other opposition parties are the Partido Autentico de la Revolucion Mexicana (PARM), Partido Popular Socialista (PPS), the Partido Communista Mexicano (PCM), and the Partido Socialista Unificado de Mexico (PSUM). Except for the PAN, none of Mexico’s opposition parties have been able to develop a nationwide, mass following. The opposition parties are mainly outlets for dissident political leaders, keeping them within the government-sanctioned arena of political competition.
However, PAN was essential to the PRI as it helped maintain the image that the PRI was truly revolutionary. The reason that PAN accepted its non-dominant status is that the PRI consulted with business leaders associated with the PAN when deciding on policy or on people to fill certain positions. The PAN played a cooperative role, until last summer when PAN won the presidential election. The PRI operates through an informal system of camarillos or political cliques.
(Johnson 1984b, p136) Throughout the development of the contemporary Mexican political system, the creation of pressure groups of one sort or another has been crucial to the exercise of power. The camarillos are a tightly knit core of loyal and influential people, the cliques are usually founded around the power of a given individual who has the ability to control behavior and allocate rewards, this makes the person the catalyst who gives the group a singularity of purpose and an informal loyalty web. The history of Singapore’s most dominant political party, the People’s Action Party (PAP) can be divided into five periods. The periods from (1) 1954-1958, which marked the years of opposition and the united front; (2) 1959-1961, the crisis of dissent which led to the split of the united front; (3) 1961-1963, the period of instability during which extreme right-wing and left-wing forces combined to topple the PAP government in the Legislative Assembly; (4) 1963-1965, the period as a part of Malaysia; and (5) 1965 to present the period of consolidation and achievement of an independent Singapore.
The PAP started as a small group of dedicated trade unionists, teachers, lawyers, and journalists whom met in order to discuss the formation of a new left-wing political party. (Chee, et al. 1987a, p 148) The political party evolved as electoral devices to place party leaders in policy-influencing positions and to prepare the party tactically for a power role at a subsequent date. (Bellows 1970a, p 2) To understand this idea, one must remember that the political party formed while still under British rule.
The party started in order to gain some power when the United Kingdom was slowly giving autonomy back to Malaysia and Singapore. This describes the first period of Singapore’s history. One of the PAP’s first goals was to end colonial rule, and to stay with Malaysia. The PAP was committed to a democratic and socialist society.
(Bellows 1970b, p 12) Although the PAP preached an ideology of “democratic socialism,” its leadership faced economic realities of a Singapore possessing few resources other than those derived from its own human endeavors. As a result, the PAP was forced to follow along the line of what might be termed democratic capitalism; the “socialist” aspect of the PAP’s pronounced ideology is based solely on the provision of excellent social services and on creating avenues of social mobility for all through a meritocratic, multiracial state. (Bedlington 1978a, p226)There are other parties in the Singapore political arena. Such opposition parties to the PAP have included the Malayan Democratic Union, The Progressive Party, the Labour Front, the Alliance Party Singapura, and the Barisan Socialis.
The Barisan Socialis was the strongest political party that opposed the PAP. The PAP kept power, and built structural disadvantages for the effective organization of opposition politics dissuaded the educated and the professional elite, who in any other context would have been the natural pool for the recruitment of political leadership, from joining opposition parties. The electorates of Singapore have reasoned that electing an opposition party MP to a constituency may in fact work against the interests of that constituency when it comes to obtaining governmental services. Since the 1972 General Elections some shifts have taken place in the relative party strengths of the opposition party.
The first observable change relates to the Barisan Socialis. For over a decade after its inauguration, the Barisan Socialis has been recognized as the most important party after the PAP. The Barisan Socialis is a further left-wing political party than the PAP, and has been regarded by the PAP as an organization for the communists. (Chee, et al.
1987b, p163)By 1965 the PAP’s goals were to survive and not be removed from office, and to maintain a qualifiedly open and pluralistic system while making certain that the communist supported Barisan Socialis party would come in second best in any open electoral contest. The PAP party methodically constrained its left-wing opposition without in the process inhibiting all opposition and creating an authoritarian political atmosphere. (Bellows 1970c, p5) Today in Singapore there is almost no possibility of influencing government by voting in a competitive electoral contest. A dominant party, the PAP, has emerged and the opposition parties are ineffectual.
The PAP and the PRI are two extremely powerful parties within their countries. It is obvious that a major similarity is their emergence, the PAP and the PRI both started as revolutionary parties, the PAP wanted to break away from the United Kingdom, and the PRI formed to represent the revolutionary sector of its population. The political systems were structured in a “winner take all” design that allowed the leaders to develop into long term leaders. The leaders that started the parties envisioned that their parties would be in power for long periods of time, and thus structured the political systems in accordance with those views.
The PAP and the PRI also set policies that would not allow for their opposition parties to grow. There was no room for dialogues between the PRI and its oppositions (and the PAP and its opposition), and thus both parties have been described as authoritarian, but however they continue to view themselves as active participants of the democratic process. Mexico’s PRI is different from Singapore’s PAP as they have used electoral fraud in order to maintain power, and have ignored wins by opposition parties. “PRI government agents stuffed ballot boxes, intimidated opposition candidates, disqualified opposition poll watchers, relocated voting places at the last minute, manipulated voter registration lists, issued multiple voting credentials to PRI supporters, manipulated voting tallies and even nullified adverse electoral outcomes.
” (Dominguez 1999b, p3) The PAP has not engaged in such practices, but it has made voting for the PAP more advantageous to people than voting for its opponent. For example, in Singapore the People’s Action Party controls the Housing and Development Board (HDB) because the Prime Minister was a PAP electorate. The HDB controls all of the public housing in Singapore, and has different districts in which people are given housing. These districts coincide with voting districts.
During campaigning, PAP nominees make it clear that if the constituency votes for the opposition their housing district will not be given the budget needed to run their apartments efficiently. But those who do vote for the PAP will be first on the list for renovations, and money to build nicer apartments. As stated earlier in the paper the electorates of Singapore have reasoned that electing an opposition party MP to a constituency may in fact work against the interests of that constituency when it comes to obtaining governmental services. The Housing and Development Board is considered one of these governmental services.
Another similarity between the dominant one-party systems of Mexico and Singapore is that the PRI uses a system in which representatives of different functional groups are brought together under the auspices of the state, called corporatism. The essence of the corporatist relationship is political reciprocity. “In return for official recognition and official association with the government or government-controlled organizations, these groups can expect some consideration of their interests on the part of the state.” (Camp 1996, p12) Corporatism facilitates the state’s ability to manipulate various groups in the state’s own interests.
The example given in the paragraph above of Singapore’s electoral mind-set, it shows how groups feel that their interests would be considered if they voted for the PAP. Democracy is considered to be a political regime where rulers are chosen in free and fair elections, held at regular intervals, in the context of guaranteed civil and political rights. “Democracy requires a responsible government, that is, the accountability of the executive, administrative, and coercive arms of the state to the elected representatives, as well as universal suffrage and the nonprescription of parties.” (Dominguez 1999c, p2) In a democracy, elections are competitive, and it is presumed that political change occurs only in accordance with rules and precedents.
With the evidence given throughout the paper, it is apparent that both Mexico and Singapore do not have a true democracy, and it can be assumed that one-party systems do not allow for democracy to develop. This paper has shown how the similarities and differences in the political arenas of Singapore and Mexico. The one-party system has proved to be non-democratic, and the parties have selected policies that maintain its powers persistently. The little room available for dialogue between the dominant party and their oppositions gives further proof that the political systems are non-democratic.
The PRI in Mexico and the PAP in Singapore have kept its domination through corporatism and through other means of political reciprocity. Power that is centralized in the President of Mexico and the Prime Minister of Singapore have kept the political system running as to maintain the one-party dominance in their respective countries.