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Comparative Political Systems: East Asia

Political culture is a set of attitudes, views, and beliefs that characterize a definite political process. It gives meaning to the assumptions as well as the rules set in place to administer the behaviors expected from a political system (Inglehart, 1988). Political culture focuses on the way a society articulates and debates antagonistic issues. Therefore, the presence of political culture creates a set of norms that together with the societal belief, foster self-governance within the public spheres. Talking about Confucian values, they have greatly shaped the political culture of Taiwan and Singapore. The Confucian values that strongly advocate for the importance of self-control and autonomy within a nation are deeply embedded in both countries while placing a high value on community and family. The Singapore government is enthusiastic about the Confucianistic rule, which has helped to rapidly transform society. Over the decades, Taiwan’s political culture underwent a gradual evolution to become a modern liberal democratic state (Werlin & Eckstein, 1990). Currently, Taiwanese people elect their representative leaders ranging from local government officials to the top. This paper compares the political culture of Singapore and Taiwan.

Level of Political Liberalism

The levels of political liberalism vary between Singapore and Taiwan because both countries have adopted slightly different political cultures. The level of electoral consistency and openness is steady in Singapore since its independence (Zhang, 2012). With regard to the legislature of Singapore, it is not fully opened. On the other hand, Taiwan’s electoral openness has increased over time, with slight improvements in the accessibility of the election. From the different studies, it is evident that Taiwan has reached its full openness of elections, having a considerable number of inclusions and low competition (Nathan, 2007). In addition to openness, civil liberty plays a key role as it is an important aspect of democracy. The liberties of both countries dropped over the year, which is an indication of authoritarian leadership. Although single-party rule limits the rights of citizens, it has contributed to the rapid growth of Singapore human capital and good governance that has attracted a lot of investors (Cheng, 1996). Singapore found a healthy way of preserving its sense of identity while attracting foreign investors who have increased the technological capacity and internationalization of its markets.

Compared to Singapore, Taiwan has over time has transformed into a liberal democratic country, becoming more westernized compared to Singapore. For decades after the Second World War, Taiwan was under the dictatorial rule of Chiang, who respected due to China’s past glory. His leadership party Chinese National Party (KMT) had forcefully seized power with the help of the gun. The party was not able then to abandon the Chinese authoritarian traditions because its acquisition of power was not democratic. When they lost the civil war to Mao in 1949, Chiang and those supporting him found themselves in exile in Taiwan. Under the leadership of Chiang Ching-Kuo, the opposition parties were formed in 1967, which led to the repeal of the martial laws that existed since the 1950’s (Weller, 2005). Currently, Taiwanese citizens are enjoying democratic freedom that allows them to select their leaders from all the representative officials ranging from township officials to presidents. With the direct elections of the president since 1996, currently, Taiwan is an independent nation. Since then, two presidents have been elected, and in 2004, the voters rejected the candidate from the KMT party that had been ruling Taiwan for over half a century. With the current government leadership, Taiwanese people enjoy the freedom of speech, religion, and assembly that was not the case under the authoritarian leadership of the Chiang (Weiming, 1996).

Nation Building Regimes and Political Cultures

In comparison to Singapore, Taiwanese state-building did not occur at the same time. Taiwan has a higher likelihood of the creation of a stronger political and economic power because most of the events that led to the autonomy of the country occurred at the same time (Mujani & Liddle, 2013). Unlike Singapore, Taiwan’s authoritarian leadership led to the formation of a nation with a considerable identity crisis. The state suffers from inefficiencies associated with poor leadership and corruption as well as national identity. In addition, state-building in Taiwan began long before the division of the Republic of China. In both countries, the opposition rose at the same time as both nations were struggling for their communal identities. Thus, democratic consciousness presented by the attitudes of the citizens reflects the standards of a society. The structural changes in the political systems and the experience of democratic participation are one of the motivating factors in the transformation of Taiwanese politics.

Since the achievement of its independence in 1965, Singapore has been under the rule of the People’s Action Party (PAP) that has dominated Singapore’s political culture and systems. The party has been able to win elections due to its socialist democracy driving its leadership. Under the leadership of PAP, Singapore’s political power is centralized, and individuals to hold the positions are rather appointed than elected. It is, therefore, considered the supreme law, useful for the three branches of government, namely judiciary, legislative, and executive. Because of its superiority, the constitution cannot be amended unless two-thirds of the parliament approves it after the second and third readings. In addition, the constitution has the basic rights governing all citizens. These rights prohibit slavery, forced labor, and banishment from the community. Singapore citizens enjoy the rights to freedom of speech, protection against backdated criminal charges, freedom of assembly, freedom of education and religion.

The leaders in Singapore were very eloquent and expressed their ideologies in speeches, interviews and even in writing (Paldam, 2002). Their major aim was to earn the trust of citizens as they struggled to survive within the corridors of powers. Their policy decisions were justified on the grounds of national survival as they viewed the government as a means of justifying their presence in power. They prized their own intellectual knowledge and considered their own decisions the best, while the senior leadership considered their own decisions as a solution to both long-term and short-term problems.

Democracy and Development

Democracy is measured by the citizen’s participation in the formation of the nation, the presence of fair electoral systems and the rights of citizens. Singapore is known for its communitarian capitalism that does not conform to western values. Singapore’s democratic rule is evident through the elections and rule of law. The Singapore Parliament forms the legislative arm. With regard to the general elections, they are held every five years; therefore, each of the elected members stays in the office for five years (Tan, 2003). The Singapore Parliament makes the laws, controls state finances and performs other critical duties as required by the ministries and the leading party. The speaker of the parliament chairs the parliament proceedings and insures that all the members conduct themselves in an orderly manner. The prime minister is appointed by the president, who fulfills the cabinet and administrative duties. The elected members of the parliament act as a bridge between the government and people, and they gather the concerns of people for discussion. The secretariat of the parliament insures that all the operations are smoothly conducted in the parliament.

Singapore’s political culture was centralized, static and authoritarian in spite of the fact that it was influenced by British parliamentary procedures. Apparently, its political culture is different from western political systems. Although Singapore’s elections are regularly held, there were no changes in leadership because the citizens did not expect the political parties to alternate its powers. Despite the liberties stated in the constitution, the rulers of the multiethnic community formed a small group that used their knowledge to advance the nation, while they considered a large population to be ignorant.

Political Party

Singapore is led by a single political party known as the People’s Action Party (PAP), which was initiated after Singapore gained its independence in 1963. Since its independence, the success story of economic prosperity is largely attributed to its unique one-party governance system. Through the PAP leadership, Singapore has improved its economy, and it is currently ranked as one of the richest countries with a very competitive economy. PAP has been the only ruling party for the last four decades, and since then, it has provided tangible results to people of Singapore. Under the leadership of this political party, Singapore has successfully advanced in both social and economic spheres and has hence become politically stable (Liu, Sibley, & Huang, 2014). The political stability has stressed social harmony through the implementation of policies that are aimed at insuring that all nation-building activities are modernized through the introduction of social reforms based on different important ideologies. Through its leadership, the party has alleviated poverty in the country as a result of the improvement in the education values. Consequently, this has encouraged business investment from foreign countries and the implementation of multiethnic programs that insures the success of the pluralistic society (Green, Ashton, James, & Sung, 1999). The civil-military relations in Singapore add a lot to the national identity as they value patriotic, loyal and organizational sense. Furthermore, teamwork is encouraged at all levels of the state and society (Ng, 1999).

Singapore’s development experience is rotted in Confucianism that is characterized by the use of single-party development policies to advance the countries social values. Singapore’s success is largely attributed to commerce and Confucian values of education and economic human capital. Moreover, Confucian principles value education and moral government, which has considerably contributed to Singapore’s cultural growth as the basis of human capital development. Thus, Confucian values have shaped Singapore’s political culture. These values put a strong emphasis on the existence of moral government, hierarchical relations and emotional bonds that have led to the striving of a harmonious society. Hereby, the citizens are able to live their daily lives as they all strive towards a virtuous society rather than the use of forced power to define their human relationships. Singapore’s political culture advocates for its unique identity through the use of social institutions such as family units to advance the civic values that are fundamentally inherent in the social harmony policies.

Authoritarian Regime Building

Before the acquisition of independence, Singapore’s power was controlled by a group of individuals who played a key role in the country’s independence (Bromley & Romano, 2012). The leadership team ruled through successorship programs when the members were identified with regard to their potential to rule and manage others. The social and economic powers were maintained by the leading political teams; therefore, justice was exercised only through the authority of the leading economic powers (Lee, Tsai, & Chai, 2012). The powers were then administered by dictators that aimed only at maximizing their political benefits and not the leadership policies. In current Taiwan’s political culture, the old authoritarian culture is disappearing. Apparently, there are only a few older generations that still linger in the authoritarian environment dominated by the KMT political party. The KMT had constructed an extensive system of leadership, with the current political system disguising the level of inertia that arises from one-party leadership (Chun, 1996).

The several structures such as the permeating mobilizing networks are yet to be dismantled. In addition, the political culture of Taiwan is influenced by its geopolitical location. The frictions caused by the existence of international limbo and the asymmetric location relating to the mainland pull a deeper economic integration. The problem is that the economic implications have made it difficult to formalize the political break; thus, the political conflict is aggravated by the perennial aggression over the symbolic nationality and the legacy of the Republic of China. Due to the issues arising from this symbolic nationality, there are massive political mobilizations with regard to the citizens’ identity and nationality. Thus, the KMT party failed to establish a universal welfare state with similar political systems as the states from northern Europe (Cassing, 2000).

In addition to the formation of the multinational society with a highly mobilized political party, KMT managed to preserve the one-party political regime in a democratic environment. The party established campaigns that helped the KMT to win power, thereby earning the loyalty of citizens. Singapore has a multinational society with approximately 70% Chinese, 20 % of the population are Malayans, while the least 10% are Indians (Werlin & Eckstein, 1990). The initiation of ethnic voting caused the segregation of the different groups of citizens, forming communal groups. Since the PAP party faces strong Chinese ties, it uses the Chinese communal grievances to mobilize support. It formed the nation after it decided to employ a Chinese dictatorship, unlike Taiwan’s case. Thus, the voices of the Chinese elite classes were rebuked by the government.

Patronage State Legacy

Unlike Singapore, Taiwan is still greatly affected by the patronage state legacy with strong one-party leadership. KMT was more successful in Taiwan in clinging to its assets and powers by all possible means (Weiming, 1996). Due to many linkages, abandonment of the one-party system in Taiwan is occurring gradually, giving one party the chance to develop blocked reforms. Therefore, to complete the dismantling process, it is necessary to distribute powers and benefits that are linked to China and focus more on the development of the reforms relating to the Taiwanese government. One of the basic features of the social structures that are politically relevant is the significance of direct personal relationships. Currently, Taiwan has already incorporated democratic political institutions without effecting the reorganization of the whole nation (Dent, 2003). For example, when the election system was introduced, the political loyalties were based on the existing social networks rather than on party identification. Apparently, the use of this tradition still affects the way the elections are conducted in Taiwan. For example, the possibility of mobilization of particular ties such as the local factions and the purchase of votes during elections are still witnessed during the Taiwanese elections. In addition, the methods used in casting elections were devised before liberation, but they still possess most of the features from the one-party authoritarian leadership exercised before.

The existence of a peaceful and amicable relationship between the Taiwanese people and the Chinese Republic is vital as it will provide security and economic thrive for these two states. However, the possibility of a future coalition is narrowed by the adverse differences in political cultures. Nevertheless, there is a growing interaction between Taiwanese and Chinese people hence the development of a closer tie (Englehart, 2000). Due to this interaction, the popular ideology of political unification is declining, and the amount of Taiwanese people that opt to belong to Chinese nationality is on the rise. The islanders have a tendency of identifying Taiwan as their homeland, attracting considerable attention from policy communities. Therefore, the rising perception will increase the interest of Taiwan to become a sovereign nation (Nathan, 2007).

Effects of Globalization on Political Culture of Singapore and Taiwan

With the current changes in globalization, the economic structures of both Singapore and Taiwan have shifted. Consequently, this has led to changes in political culture. The improved level of education has triggered to social rejection of the authoritarian system and hence the adoption of democracy. In fact, Taiwan’s democratic process is facilitated by the changes in the economic and social structures. For example, based on the GDP, the KMT government exercises more powers, thereby controlling more markets and resources in comparison to the PAP party. However, in Singapore, the economy is dependent on foreign investment and the performance of foreign markets, while Taiwan’s economy is more inclined to employ the resourced from domestic consumption (Chua, 1998). After its movement to the modern systems of governance, Taiwan is still under authoritarian leadership. For example, different languages are currently allowed in schools other than Mandarin. Human rights are also respected; as a result, Taiwan is ranked as a free nation because of its divine democracy. Thus, the comparison of Taiwan and Singapore gives the possibility to test the existing theories about the successes of one-party rule.

Conclusion

Political culture plays an important role in shaping the politics of a nation. It is significant to fully understand the importance of the attitudes, beliefs, and orientation of political. In spite of strong opposition movements, the PAP political party of Singapore managed to build the nation under the success of one-party authoritarian leadership. Under modern leadership, transformations in Singapore have proven the effects of social changes aimed at modernization. The increase in the citizens’ understanding of their rights has informed and educated the voters to choose the parties that are more favorable to them. In the 1960s, Singapore was able to run the authoritarian leader with a large electoral force. Confucian leadership culture thrives in Singapore’s political system. Under the Confucian values, Singapore leaders expect to become a virtuous government through winning the citizens’ trust. On the other hand, Taiwan exercises multiparty political systems, and uniformity is no longer mandatory. People of Taiwan enjoy their freedom, and the majority of other countries in the world support this form of freedom. Taiwanese citizens and other friendly nations such as the United States that support this kind of sovereign independence shoulder the responsibility for Taiwan’s defense.