Laissez-faire versus Strict Control of Political Finance

Hegemonic Parties and Developmental States in Malaysia and Singapore

Author: Andreas Ufen


This article compares the financing of political parties and candidates in two Southeast Asian countries. In Malaysia, some political finance regulations exist only on paper, and political financing is for the most part not restrained at all. In contrast, the financing of candidates and parties has always been tightly circumscribed in Singapore. These different strategies, “laissez-faire” versus “strict control,” are the consequence of various factors. In Malaysia, the New Economic Policy has effected a close, often economically unproductive linkage between the state, the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, and business. The rise of businesspeople has resulted in the commercialization of competition within (the United Malays National Organisation. Additionally, increasing competition between the ruling coalition and the opposition has resulted in growing expenditures for electioneering in the form of advertisements and electoral patronage. The laissez-faire style of regulation has been compounded by the difficult-to-control practices in East Malaysia (Sabah and Sarawak), where vote buying, electoral patronage based on the largesse of oligarchs, and obvious nonobservance of the rules have been typical. In contrast to Malaysia as a whole, the costs for parties and candidates are still relatively low in Singapore. As a cadre party, the PAP (People's Action Party) is relatively autonomous from private business interests, and intraparty competition is not commercialized; the developmentalist state is highly productive, and the ties between the state, the PAP, and business are not characterized by cronyism. Moreover, electioneering is not very commercialized because the opposition is still relatively weak.

Countries: Malaysia | Singapore

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December 2015