Overview of Singapore

Politics of Singapore

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Singapore held its first general election in 1959, when Singapore was granted full internal self-government. The leftist People's Action Party (PAP) swept into power, along with their leader Lee Kuan Yew, a young lawyer who had been educated at Cambridge. After nearly 3 strife-torn years of being a part of the Federation of Malaysia during which there were race riots and fears of Singapore 's economic dominance threatening to take the political power base from Kuala Lumpur, Singapore was expelled and went on to become an independent city state. Vulnerable as it was ( it faced being absorbed back into the Federation of Malaysia on extremely unfavourable terms, and there was also the danger of being attacked by the Indonesian military), Singapore sought to have its sovereignty recognised internationally by joining first the United Nations and then the Commonwealth in 1965. A new Foreign Office was established which, under Foreign Minister Sinnathamby Rajaratnam, forged diplomatic relations with other countries. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations, was co-founded by Singapore in 1967 along with Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines and Thailand to “accelerate economic growth, social progress and cultural development in the region” and “promote regional peace and stability through abiding respect for the justice and rules of law… among countries in the region” ( The ASEAN Declaration/Bangkok Declaration 1967) .

The PAP has dominated the political arena until today. The republic utilises a Westminster system with a unicameral parliamentary government. The president at the Istana is head of state and, while historically a figurehead, in 1991 the Constitution of Singapore was amended to so that this the president would be popularly elected, and also to grant him powers of veto in certain key decisions. Most of the executive powers are held by the Cabinet, ministers led by the Prime Minister of Singapore. The Prime-ministers to date have been: Lee Kuan Yew (1959-1990), Goh Chok Tong (1990-2004), & Lee Hsien Loong (2004-present).

Singapore is a democracy, in that it has a popularly elected president and prime-minister. It has been alleged, however, particularly by foreign political analysts that Singapore is more of an authoritarian state than a true democracy. It has been classed by the Economist Intelligence Unit as a “hybrid” country, with both elements of both authoritarianism and democracy. Opposition parties such as the Workers Party have asserted that Singapore is a de facto one party state. The leaders of the PAP, though, were convinced that for a city-state such as Singapore with no natural resources (apart from its deep water port) partisan politics was a luxury that could not yet be afforded. Whatever the reason, Singapore has proved to be extremely stable, both politically and economically, and has been repeatedly rated by Transparency International as the least corrupt country in Asia and amongst the top ten cleanest from corruption in the world.

Update 18/04/2008

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