PAP v PAP: The Party’s struggle to adapt to a changing Singapore

By Cherian George & Donald Low

The 2020 General Election results have raised expectations that Singapore will transition to a more competitive democracy. But this is far from preordained. Nor is there a clear societal consensus that the city-state needs this amid a pandemic and its deepest economic crisis since independence. 

For now, the People’s Action Party still controls all the levers of power. With the opposition still not ready to step up as an alternative government-in-waiting, Lee Kuan Yew’s prognosis still applies: the PAP’s internal dynamics will be the primary determinant of its continued viability. 

PAP v. PAP expands on one dimension of this inner struggle: between a conservative attachment to what worked in the past, and a boldly progressive vision for the future. Cherian George and Donald Low argue that a reformed PAP — comfortable with political competition and more committed to justice and equality — would be good for Singapore, and serve the long-term interests of the party. 

An adaptive PAP, buttressed with stronger democratic legitimacy, would also maintain one of Singapore’s most important strengths: a strong consensus on the virtues of an expert-led, elite government. Only by strengthening democratic practices and norms can Singapore maintain its edge in a world pulled apart by identity politics, populist nationalism and nativism, and an erosion of trust in public institutions.

The anthology draws from the authors’ many years of commentary on Singapore government and politics, and also includes new essays responding to the exceptional events of 2020.

Price: S$24

Pages: ~170

ISBN: 978-981-14-7658-7

Read the Preface

Sample chapter: Difficult conversations about cultural diversity

About the Authors

Cherian George is professor of media studies at Hong Kong Baptist University, and associate dean for research at its School of Communication. His previous books on Singapore include Air-Conditioned Nation Revisited (2020) and Freedom From the Press: Journalism and State Power in Singapore (2012). He worked as a political journalist for The Straits Times in the 1990s before pursuing his PhD in communication from Stanford University. > MORE

Donald Low is senior lecturer and professor of practice in public policy at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, the director of the university’s Institute for Emerging Market Studies, and the director of Leadership and Public Policy Executive Education. He is the author of Hard Choices: Challenging the Singapore Consensus (2014). Before joining academia, he served nearly 15 years in the Singapore government. > MORE

Praise for PAP v PAP

“A book written with eagle-eyed clarity about much-needed reforms in the Singapore political system. A must-read for anyone genuinely concerned about the future of Singapore.” — Remy Choo Zheng Xi, lawyer and civil society activist.

“I am an admirer of Cherian George and Donald Low. They have written a thoughtful critique of the PAP and urged the party to change. I certainly regard them as loving critics of Singapore. They love Singapore and want to build a better Singapore. … [I]n my view, the PAP is one of the most successful political parties in the world. … The party should feel proud of its record and confident about its future. It should welcome constructive critics and not feel threatened by them.” — Tommy Koh, international law professor and diplomat.

“You can disagree with the content but you cannot, in good faith, fault them for their clear intention to keep the discussion as academic, civil and respectful as possible. They identify themselves with ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ views — which will provoke others to view them through the lens of contempt. The language of contempt has already entered into our political conversation, but my hope is that we are not so far gone in partisan politics that we cannot still find it in ourselves to take off the lens of contempt and try on the lens of sincere respect again.” — Kuik Shiao-Yin, former Nominated Member of Parliament and co-founder of The Thought Collective.

“PAP v. PAP is a forensic and fascinating collection on Singapore’s future policy dilemmas, from two of its most thoughtful and challenging thinkers. Produced in a spirit of constructive criticism and written in an easy accessible style, it makes for invaluable reading for anyone interested in Asia’s greatest economic success story — and indeed for the future political economy of Asia itself.” — James Crabtree, author of The Billionaire Raj.

Buy the book

The book is in paperback and e-book versions. The audio book is available to Storytel subscribers. The “paperback” link below will take you to Books Kinokuniya. Listed below are other retailers that stock the book.


In Singapore (most will mail overseas)

Kinokuniya: Ngee Ann City and other outlets.

Epigram Bookshop: Maxwell Road.

Books Actually: Upper Weld Road.

Independent Market: Holland Village and Tanglin Mall.

City Book Room: North Bridge Centre.

Grassroots Bookroom: Bukit Pasoh Road. Tel: 6337 9208

The Moon: Mosque Street.

In Hong Kong

Bleak House Books: San Po Kong.


Email if you have questions about the book that haven’t been answered above.



11 November 2020: Book talk hosted by AcademiaSG and Teh Tarik with Walid (90 minute recording).
  • Podcast: Interview by Kwan Jin Yao, SocialService.SG, December 2020.