Citizen Political Participation In Hong Kong And


Citizen Political Participation In Hong Kong And Singapore Essay, Research Paper

The Role of Citizen Political Participation in Hong Kong and Singapore

Both Hong Kong and Singapore are city states that traditionally have

lacked broad political participation, instead political decisions were left up

to a small group of leaders. Historical factors were critical in determining the

role of political participation in both city states. Hong Kong’s history of

colonial rule and the strength of the People’s Action Party (PAP) in Singapore

acted to keep broad citizen participation in government to a minimum.

Hong Kong after World War Two remained a colony of England and it’s

government remained under colonial rule. Unlike in other Asian nations such as

Singapore their existed no major anti-colonial movement and the Colonial

government was insulated from political pressure because many residents and

immigrants from China appreciated the commercial opportunities that Hong Kong

had to offer and were afraid that if England gave up control of Hong Kong the

small state would be over run by the newly established and expansionist

communist China to the north. During the years immediately after 1949 China was

expanding, taking over Tibet and Mongolia; Hong Kong’s feeling of insecurity was

very real. The Colonial government did in subsequent years establish Hong Kong’s

Legislative Council and Executive council, and the Colonial government appointed

prominent and respected local Chinese citizens to serve on these bodies. These

councils although far from democratic did ensure that the Chinese citizenry

would at least have representatives to express their pleasure or displeasure

with the colonial administration. But these representatives lacked any real

power and served only at the pleasure of the Colonial administration. The

government of Hong Kong was administered and run by the English Foreign service

officers that flocked to Hong Kong, the last vestige of English Empire. In Hong

Kong it really was the English that ruled not the Chinese public.

In Singapore following the end of World War Two a single political party

came into power in Singapore, the People’s Action Party which was a strongly

anti-colonial left wing party was a made up of communists and more moderate

socialists. After independence Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his allies were

able to steer the party away from communism and toward a more moderate stance.

The People’s Action Party tolerated dissent and other political parties because

Lee Kuan Yew felt he had a solid political base. The PAP so dominated politics

that no other political party emerged in Singapore as a strong force. In the

democratically held elections in Singapore the PAP always won by large

majorities. The greatest blow came to the PAP in 1984 when the opposition won

two seats in the 79 seat legislature in Singapore. This was largely due to a

recession during the period and dissatisfaction with the governments economic

policies. The public although given the right to vote had little say in the

government of Lee Kuan Yew because it was nearly guaranteed that he would win.

Because of this in Singapore, politics disappeared and was replaced by an

administrative state run by meritocratic system of bureaucrats. Only recently

has the public been granted more say in government affairs. Following the

election of 1984 the PAP implemented new policies to broaden its base of support.

First, the party steeped up its recruitment of young members. Second, the

administration agreed to discuss the National Agenda and formulation of the PAP

party manifesto with the people of Singapore starting in 1987. Third, the

government of Singapore started televising deliberations of the national

legislative council. These three initiatives stimulated a new interest in

government that had been absent from Singapore for years. The public finally

felt that it could have a say in the governments decisions. What is ironic is it

was the ruling elite’s that brought about wider public participation government

not mass demonstrations or citizen outrage. The elite’s did this because they

felt that if the public expressed its concerns to the PAP it would be able to

govern more effectively.

Both Hong Kong and Singapore do not have histories of wide spread

citizen participation government. Although Singapore was a democracy for many

years the supremacy and dominance of the PAP party in national affairs had the

effect of eliminating political culture and creating an administrative state.

But recent trends in Singapore have signaled a shift away from its pliant public

of the past. In contrast Hong Kong has showed no such trends toward a

democratization of the political system and the turnover of Hong Kong to China

in 1997 makes the emergence of strong citizen participation in government even

less likely. In both Hong Kong and Singapore democracy and rights have not been

a major issue to the populace who have been far more concerned with stability

and industrial progress; but these trends could change with the changing

dynamics of Asia in the coming years as Singapore’s populace becomes more

educated and affluent and Hong Kong comes under the control of China.

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