Memo – Lee Kuan Yew

In the excerpt Culture is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew, Fareed Zakaria carries out an interview with the former prime minister of Singapore¹. Mr. Lee is a strong leader who helped boost Singapore’s economy to one of the world’s strongest and an authoritarian regime. Throughout the interview, Mr. Lee brought attention to the overwhelming differences in cultures between the East and the West.¹ He stands by the fact that although the West leads the world in science and technological innovation, the East will not abandon its tradition in order to fully resemble the West. Although Mr. Lee has made a point that the East will not change its culture to assimilate with the West economically and politically, the interviewer explicitly implicates that he believes that culture changes will occur and change the course of development¹.  

Recently, the Singapore government has announced the use of new technology in airports that it will be scanning travellers’ eyes at some of its border checkpoints, reports state that this is currently an initiative to trial new technology which could one day replace fingerprint verification and improve efficiency at border checkpoints.² This marks one the first initiatives towards using facial recognition in airports.² Although concerns around privacy rights have been brought forth, the Singaporean government has spoken to the fact that they will protect the privacy of its citizens and travelers².

Does the implementation of new technology make Singapore more or less of an authoritarian regime?  

Although the Singaporean government may have affirmed that they will be protecting the privacy of its citizens, the implementation of this new technology also shows heightened security and control being imposed on the country’s citizens. Even though Mr. Lee instills some new hope for a democratic system, the regime remains highly authoritarian. This system may be even more threatening than the “perfect dictatorship” under the PRI in Mexico. Singapore has more control and less checks and balances, partly because of the way that their prime ministers are placed into power. Similarly, to the implementation of new technology, Iran went through a period of heightened authoritarianism when the United states imposed the shah before the Iranian revolution in 1979.

¹Fareed Zakaria and Lee Kuan Yew, “Culture Is Destiny: A Conversation with Lee Kuan Yew,” Foreign Affairs, Vol. 73, No. 2, April 1994.

²”Singapore Tests Eye Scans at Immigration Checkpoints: Reports.” The Japan Times. August 2018

Getting Majoritarianism Right

In the reading “Getting Majoritarianism Right”, Meisburger focuses on Proportional Representation (PR) and Middle East and North Africa (MENA) He argues that PR has several drawbacks that makes it not suitable for developing or emerging democracies in MENA.(1) First, PR will worsen social divisions in MENA because party leaders focus on interests of their group much more than on the public welfare. More, because party leaders, not the constituents, decide the party’s candidates, the candidates might not be representative of the district. Another danger of PR is that it might promote extremism. In a PR state, a small political party scattered around the country can gain quite a significant number of seats in the legislature. This increases the danger of an extreme ideology or interest group taking over the legislature. Meisburger also argues that while PR promotes the formation of parties in developing democracies, not necessarily democratic ones, while SMD might be more helpful in this case.

An article from the New York Times touches upon a religious conflict that took place in Egypt.(2) On Friday, a group of militants opened fire at three buses filled with Christian pilgrims right after they left a monastery. Six pilgrims were killed during the attack, and nineteen were wounded. In response to this attack, Egypt said on Sunday that it had killed 19 militants linked to this ambush. ISIS claimed responsibility for the attack.

Is PR suitable for countries with deep sectarian conflicts?

For countries in MENA, such as Egypt, religious conflicts between Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, or between different branches of Islam, are so severe that a PR system would further divide the countries by creating opposing political parties based on interests of religious or ethnic groups.

  1. Timothy M. Meisburger “Getting Majoritarianism Right The Journal of Democracy 23:1 (2012), 155-163.
  2. Declan Walsh, “Egypt Says It Killed 19 Militants After Deadly Attack on Christians,” The New York Times, November 04, 2018,

Cultural norms in relation to political representation

In “Is gender like ethnicity? The political representation of minority groups” by Mala Htun, the author analyzes the politics of gender and ethnicity and its effect on various electoral systems before introducing the best system to represent these two types of groups. The author describes how gender is a crosscutting group, meaning that it does not smoothly coincide with other social structures, class, or geography. This type of crosscutting group is best represented in government using quota systems, which can be within the parties or legislature-wide. Many countries introduce quotas with the hope that they will be a temporary stop on the road to equal representation of women in the legislatures. On the other hand, coinciding identities tend to drive party membership and voting patterns and are best suited to reservation systems that go around the parties and alter the electoral system to be more just.

In Ireland, the introduction of gender quotas by regulating the party candidates in 2016 has lead to many more women participating in politics. However, Ireland’s spot on the gender representation world ranking has been seriously declining in recent decades and the quotas did not seem to win women actual seats in the legislature. Some theorize that this has to do with the long-standing Irish sentiment that a woman’s place is in the home. However, the numbers are more encouraging in local governments, where women hold about 20% of the positions that govern at the county level.

Can cultural forces to keep women out of politics be so strong that even quotas fall short of their goal to better represent women?

Cultural norms can be beneficial or harmful for women based on their location and regime type. For example, in the UK, it is normal to see women in the workplace (even if not always in the highest-paying roles), which makes participation in politics a small step forward rather than a shocking sight. In addition, powerful figures like Margaret Thatcher and Theresa May have paved the way for other women in politics, so a quota system might be effective. However, some authoritarian societies like China have gender inequality rooted in the system so deeply that many Chinese parents have aborted or killed newborn Chinese girls since they have thought to be of less value than sons. In a society like this one, even quotas might not be effective since women aren’t very empowered even outside of politics.


Htun, Mala. “Is Gender like Ethnicity? The Political Representation of Identity Groups.” Perspectives on Politics 2, no. 3 (2004): 439–58. Found in Dickovick, James Tyler, and Jonathan Eastwood. Comparative Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings. New York: Oxford University Press, 2017. p255-268.

Demolder, Kate. “Ireland Needs to Elect More Women and This Is How We Achieve It.” January 23, 2019. Accessed January 27, 2019.

India ​: The parties

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Last night we all read about India’s party system. India has two major parties, the INC and the BJP, in addition to smaller communist and regional parties which are connected to ethnic and religious identities¹. The INC was pro-national independence and follows a social democracy ideology and also dominated the political system for a long time. The BJP party supported a pro-Hindu national identity along with neo-liberal economics.¹ In recent times the legislature has been mostly consisted of BJP members. The smaller parties are able to form coalition governments in order to find a voice in the legislature.¹

Recently the leader of the NCP, Sharad Pawar,  spoke out about the necessity of small parties forming coalitions in order to compete effectively with the BJP.  Pawar stresses the necessity for local level coalitions. In this recent article, published by Hindustan Times, Pawar expresses that he will try to “mend differences between the Congress and its rival political parties for a broad-based alliance to remove the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) from power in 2019” ².

With a large diverse country, such as India, is it possible to represent all people?

The BJP accounts for a majority of the current legislature (52%).¹ Modi, the groups leader, has been known for only supporting Hindus. Hindus account for a large portion of the Indian population; however, certainly not all. To better represent all of India’s many religions and ethnic identities, their government has adopted a system of asymmetric federalism.¹ Regional governments are able to represent the regional differences, while smaller political parties can help represent different ethnic identities. With two major parties, often in control, the voice of smaller groups sometimes goes unrecognized.

¹    Patrick H. O’Neil, Karl Fields, Don Share, “Cases In Comparative Politics”, 6th ed. W.W. Norton &      Company (2018) 475-484.

   ²HT Correspondent. “Sharad Pawar Looks to Mend Differences between Congress, Other Parties.” alliance-says-sharad-pawar/story-Mpmxu6C9ods7r3aAMVAcDL.html.

Is China turning into a welfare state?

Lily Lin 10/04/2018

In an excerpt from Gosta Esping-Andersen’s The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism, he first discusses the three types of welfare-state regimes: the “liberal” welfare state, the “corporatist” welfare state, and the “social democratic” welfare state. He demonstrates the complexity of finding the causation for such division, but three factors in particular are important: the nature of class mobilization; class-political coalition structures; and the historical legacy of regime institutionalization. (1)

The article “Beijing to ‘guarantee’ funding for health care, education and pensions in China’s poorest regions”, published on South China Morning Post in February, discusses that the government will set the nationwide minimum standards for basic public services, which makes the central government responsible for the financial burden of those programs in the country’s poorest provinces. (2) Under the existing system, most of the money for welfare and social services are from the provincial authorities, that’s why most of the underprivileged areas are often underfunded. There are a lot of critiques on how effectively this plan can tackle inequality in China, most of them are concerning about migrant workers and poor infrastructure in the rural areas.

How can “social democratic” regimes be achieved? What are some of the prerequisites for a social democratic welfare states?

The plan Beijing proposed seems to be a “social” welfare plan, based on its guarantee on funding for the poorest regions. The social rights and insurance are not directly linked to employment. However, on a second look, the difference between the urban-employed and the rest of the population including rural residents and unsalaried urban residents are implied in their accessible infrastructure, suggesting its “corporatist” nature. There is some degree of corporatism in China’s insurance system in forms of supplementary company-based insurance and a supplementary scheme for civil servants and government employees. An important feature in the “social” welfare states is full employment and minimal social issues. China has a pretty low unemployment rate but a huge population with even increasing social issues, it needs structural reforms. Throwing in a huge amount of money into the social welfare system cannot be the decisive factor of a reform.


(1) Gosta Esping-Anderson. The Three Worlds of Welfare Capitalism. (Princeton: Princeton University Press. 1990.)

(2) He Huifeng. “Beijing to ‘guarantee’ funding for health care, education and pensions in China’s poorest regions.” South China Morning Post. February 11, 2018.

China’s Government Structure

Henry Vaule



Memo #9

The annual meeting of China’s National People’s Congress will meet to discuss multiple issues. These issues include the financial opportunities of the upcoming year, the defense budget, a crackdown on corruption, free speech, the question on international affairs, and new leadership within the presidential council. At this meeting, 3,000 elected members delegate over these problems that they believe are the most pressing for China. This congress is similar to a parliament but includes communist members. Overall, this meeting helps the Chinese Government set goals and a guide for the coming year.

Although this problem was not a planned major point of discussion, China’s current trade war with the United States is one of the most important complications they are facing. In the National People’s Congress, a few questions are going to be raised about the Chinese Government’s relationship with President Trump. However, members of Congress rarely take unscripted questions and are unlikely to answer any conflicting question. Since the meeting of the National People’s Congress, this trade war has escalated. According to CNBC, the United States and China are expected to remain in a trade war for a long time. With more tariffs surfacing in 2019, analysts are expecting the United States and China to not resume trade talks. Also, it has surfaced that the two sides have yet to find common ground or agreement.  

How can a modern communist state respect and take into account all of their people’s needs?

For a communist state to thrive in today’s world, the government must establish some form of a parliamentary system like the National People’s Congress. This would allow people to bring up issues that they believe require the government’s attention.

“Six Key Issues for China’s Meetings of the National People’s Congress.” The Globe and Mail. ( April 11, 2017.)

Domm, Patti. “Trump’s Trade War with China Matters More to the Market than the Elections and It’s Not Going Well.” CNBC. (November 06, 2018.)

Political Cleavages based on Gender and Ethnicity

Henry Vaule



Memo #13


In CCR, Mala Htun investigates gender’s relation to ethnicity in political representation. She argues that unlike ethnicity, there are very few political cleavages based on gender. Instead, gender is crosscutting, which means that one cleavage or group overlaps with another. Htun also emphasizes that gender does not correlate with class or rank. Although a specific group within the cleavages of gender and ethnicity have experienced discrimination, the division of gender includes much more people. Today, countries have made progressive changes to include more of the minority ethnic groups within their governments. However, a large proportion of these countries have failed to make the same changes for the minority gender, which in most cases are women.


Even though American is known as an epicenter for democracy and acceptance, our history is filled with bigotry towards certain groups. Congress recently swore in two Muslum Congresswomen, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib. The Congresswomen won in the midterm elections in November. Both women and Muslims are still facing varied forms of hatred in America. This recent election marks a great point for Muslims and women because these politicians are the first Muslim women to ever be elected into Congress. This election helped contradict any negative notions about Muslims and show the increasing number of supporters Congresswomen are gaining in their respective districts.


How can granted reserved seats for each ethnic and gender group within a legislature, benefit and harm the productivity of a government?


Reserving a certain number of seat for each group would allow for a more diverse array of opinions that take a greater number of people into account. However, this system would also cause more differences and overall separation between cleavages.  


James Tyler Dickovick, and Jonathan Eastwood. Comparative Politics: Classic and Contemporary Readings. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017.)

Michelle Boorstein, Marisa Iati, and Julie Zauzmer. “The Nation’s First Two Muslim Congresswomen Are Sworn In, Surrounded by the Women They Inspired.” The Washington Post. (January 03, 2019.)