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Photograph: Ethos Books

Essential reading: best books about Singapore politics

Read on topics from a broad range of voices and perspectives from parties to polling ahead of the 2020 General Election

Cam Khalid
Written by
Cam Khalid

Politics can be difficult to follow, but we've got various materials at our disposal, from easy-to-follow infographics on social media to very informative books. With Singapore's General Election looming in this month, picking up a book that sheds light on the current political landscape in the city-state, the various parties involved including People's Action Party (PAP) and its opposition parties, and the different POVs of Singaporeans is essential. No matter which side of the political spectrum you fall on, there's always a reason to read and sharpen your political knowledge.

RECOMMENDED: 10 books on inequality in Singapore by local authors and bookstores that deliver to your doorstep in Singapore

Understanding Singapore Politics

By Bilveer Singh

For a succinct overview of Singapore politics, dive into the pages of this introductory text that examines the factors that shape Singapore's domestic politics, the key institutions and issues in the city-state, electoral power as well as the political direction Singapore is likely to take in the post-Lee Kuan Yew era. Plus, the role of civil and civic society including pressures for democratisation, as well as the pressing issues including the importance of race, income equality, and migration are also further looked into, giving you a beefier scope on the political side of things.

Available at Kinokuniya.

Singapore, Incomplete: Reflections on a First World nation’s arrested political development

By Cherian George

2015 was quite a year – PAP won the majority of the seats in the 2015 GE and Former Prime Minister Lee Kuan passed away the same year. Going deeper into the unfinished business of political liberalisation and multicultural integration of Singapore after those events, Cherian George published a collection of personal reflections that focuses on the country’s underdeveloped political culture and structure. According to the author, "Ours is a middle-aged country with a maturing economy – but a political system that treats us like children." In this book, he critiques Singapore's culture of fear, the lack of political transparency, and governmental groupthink.

Available at Ethos Books.


Air-Conditioned Nation Revisited

By Cherian George

Another intellectual must-read by one of Singapore's astute political observers Cherian George, this anthology of essays on Singapore politics is an extension of his influential collection Singapore: The Air-Conditioned Nation released in 2000, and Singapore, Incomplete in 2017. The former focuses on the politics of comfort and control, while the latter – as mentioned above – looks into underdeveloped democracy. Updated in time for this year's GE, the 20th-anniversary edition highlights the critical reflections on the continuity and shift in Singapore's unique political culture.

Available at Ethos Books.

Parties and Politics: A Study of Opposition Parties and the PAP in Singapore

By Hussin Mutalib

Need a comprehensive guide on PAP and the opposition parties? Hussin Mutalib's thick page-turner is the first in-depth study of Singapore's political system and democratic culture to hit the bookshelves. It discusses the historical roots, up to and including the 2001 GE. The book is split into five sections – The Introduction: Singapore's Political System and Democratic Culture; The Historical Context: Singapore Politics before 1963; Singapore's Opposition Parties: Case Studies; Impediments to a Viable Opposition in Singapore; and The Conclusion: Problems and Prospects for Opposition Parties.

Available from Amazon.


Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus

By Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh and Donald Low 

Authors Sudhir Thomas Vadaketh and Donald Low does what many are afraid to ask – they question the orthodox view of Singapore and whether the country is fit for the future they're heading in this collection of essays. The essential book explores and rethinks the country's policies and institutions, even if it weakens the very consensus that the PAP government has constructed and maintained over the decades, contributing to Singapore's success in the first fifty years. Confronted with a political landscape that is likely to become more contested, this book will lead us to question how the government plans to respond with this.

Available at NUS Press.

Living with Myths in Singapore

Edited by Loh Kah Seng, Thum Ping Tjin and Jack Meng-Tat Chia

Featuring discussions and debates which took place from 2014 to 2015 when Singapore was celebrating 50 years of full independence, this collection of thoughts from different POVs delves deeper into the myths that build social consensus as well as marginalise important stories, perspectives and possibilities that don't fit the main narrative of the city-state. It will smack the rose-tinted glasses right off your face, showing you the politics involved in everyday lives.

Available at Ethos Books.


Cooling-Off Day

By Alfian Sa'at

With election season around the corner, there's bound to be a lot of banter in the household on politics and current affairs. Take a break from the seriousness of it all and indulge on a lighter read. Cooling-Off Day ($18) is a collection of responses by Singaporeans to the 2011 General Elections. The candid interviews include voices by the candidates, taxi-drivers, teachers and first-time voters. 

Available from Ethos Books.

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