The Roots of Resilience: Party Machines and Grassroots Politics in Singapore and Malaysia examines governance from the ground up in the world’s two most enduring electoral authoritarian or “hybrid” regimes—Singapore and Malaysia—where politically liberal and authoritarian features are blended to evade substantive democracy. Although skewed elections, curbed civil liberties, and a dose of coercion help sustain these regimes, selectively structured state policies and patronage, partisan machines that effectively stand in for local governments, and diligently sustained clientelist relations between politicians and constituents are equally important.
While key attributes of these regimes differ, affecting the scope, character, and balance among national parties and policies, local machines, and personalized linkages—and notwithstanding a momentous change of government in Malaysia in 2018—the similarity in the overall patterns in these countries confirms the salience of these dimensions. As Meredith L. Weiss shows, taken together, these attributes accustom citizens to the system in place, making meaningful change in how electoral mobilization and policymaking happen all the harder to change.
This authoritarian acculturation is key to the durability of both regimes, but, given weaker party competition and party–civil society links, is stronger in Singapore than Malaysia. High levels of authoritarian acculturation, amplifying the political payoffs of what parties and politicians actually provide their constituents, explain why electoral turnover alone is insufficient for real regime change in either state.