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Political representation of racial minorities in the parliament of Singapore

  • Waikeung Tam (a1)


This research note studies the political representation of racial minorities in Singapore. Specifically, it analyzes whether racial minority members of parliament (MPs) are more likely than Chinese MPs to represent the interests of racial minorities in the Parliament. I answer this question through conducting content analyses of the parliamentary questions raised during the plenary meetings of the 10th–12th Parliament of Singapore (2002–2015). In total, 6,678 questions were asked. Our results show that racial minority MPs were significantly more likely (21.79 times) than Chinese MPs to ask questions related to racial minorities. While this study shows that racial minority MPs were significantly more likely than Chinese MPs to ask questions related to racial minorities, it also highlights the inadequacy of representation of racial minority interests in the Parliament of Singapore. During our period of study, only 1.2% of the total number of parliamentary questions focused on racial minorities. Besides MPs' race, this study finds that partisan affiliation crucially influenced the likelihood of MPs to represent racial minority interests. Political parties played an important role in shaping MPs' representational behavior. Compared to the People's Action Party (PAP) MPs, opposition MPs were significantly more likely to raise racial minority-related questions. One possible explanation could be that opposition MPs used parliamentary questions as an important tool to challenge and criticize the governing party's policies on racial minorities. Another explanation could be that PAP racial minority MPs' first loyalty has to be to the party and government rather than their co-ethnics, given that they are beholden to party elites for their seats.


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