Politics of Singapore

Politics of Singapore

The politics of Singapore take place in a framework of a parliamentary republic, whereby the Prime Minister of Singapore is the head of government, and of a multi-party system. Executive power is exercised by the government. Legislative power is vested in both the government and the Parliament of Singapore.The Judiciary is independent of the executive and the legislature.The legislature is the parliament, which consists of the president as its head and a single chamber whose members are elected by popular vote. The role of the president as the head of state has been, historically, largely ceremonial, although the constitution was amended in 1991 to give the president some veto powers in a few key decisions such as the use of the national reserves and the appointment of key judiciary positions. He also exercises powers over civil service appointments and internal security matters.

Political background

Singaporean politics have been dominated by the People's Action Party (PAP) since the 1959 general election when Mr Lee Kuan Yew became Singapore's first prime minister (Singapore was then a self-governing state within the British Empire.) The PAP has been in government ever since. Singapore left the Commonwealth in 1963 to join the Federation of Malaysia, but was expelled in 1965 after Lee Kuan Yew disagreed with the federal government in Kuala Lumpur. [ cite book | author=Worthington, Ross | title=Governance in Singapore | publisher=Routledge/Curzon | year=2002 | id=ISBN 0-7007-1474-X] Foreign political analysts and several opposition parties including the Workers' Party of Singapore and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) have argued that Singapore is a "de facto" one-party state. Many consider the form of government in Singapore to be closer to authoritarianism such as illiberal democracy or procedural democracy rather than true democracy.

The Economist Intelligence Unit classes Singapore as a "hybrid" country, with authoritarian and democratic elements. Freedom House ranks Singapore as "partly free".
Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 140th out of 167 countries in its 2005 Worldwide Press Freedom Index. [cite web | url=http://www.rsf.org/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=554
title=Worldwide Press Freedom Index | accessdate=2006-04-13

It has also been alleged that the PAP employs censorship, gerrymandering and the filing of civil suits against the opposition for libel or slander to impede their success. Several former and present members of the opposition, including Francis Seow, J.B. Jeyaretnam and Chee Soon Juan perceive the Singaporean courts as favourable towards the government and the PAP due to a lack of separation of powers. There are however three cases in which opposition leader Chiam See Tong sued PAP ministers for defamation and successfully obtained damages before trial. [ cite news| title= Resolution: Singapore Case N SIN/01 - Joshua Jeyaretnam | publisher = Inter-Parliamentary Union | date = 23 March 2002 | url = http://www.ipu.org/hr-e/170/Sin01.htm ]

In a case involving J. B. Jeyaretnam, he lost a series of suits to members of the PAP and was declared bankrupt in 2001, effectively disqualifying him from participating in future elections. Similar civil suits have been filed against Chee Soon Juan, leader of the Singapore Democratic Party. In 2005, filmmaker Martyn See shot a documentary on Chee called "Singapore Rebel" and was threatened with a lawsuit for making a "politically partisan" film, which is illegal in Singapore.

In addition, the PAP government penalizes precincts that vote for opposition parties by withholding public funds from being used to upgrade government-built apartments in those precincts.

Political climate

Politics in Singapore have been dominated by the PAP since its independence in 1965. Foreign analysts and several opposition parties including the Workers Party and the Singapore Democratic Party argues Singapore is a "de facto" one party state and have accused the PAP of taking harsh action against opposition parties to discourage and impede their success, including accusations of gerrymandering and the filing of civil suits against the opposition for libel or slander. In a case involving the J. B. Jeyaretnam, he lost a series of suits to members of the PAP and was declared bankrupt in 2001, effectively disqualifying him from participating in future elections. Similar civil suits have been filed against Chee Soon Juan, leader of the Singapore Democratic Party. In 2008,Chee Soon Juan along with his sister Chee Siok Chin were again sentenced to jail for testimony they provided in court. Both have been made bankrupt and are prohibited from leaving the country. In 2005, filmmaker Martyn See shot a documentary on Chee called "Singapore Rebel" and was threatened with a lawsuit for making a "politically partisan" film, which is illegal in Singapore.

Western democracies consider the form of government in Singapore to be closer to authoritarianism rather than true democracy and could be considered an illiberal democracy or procedural democracy.

Singapore has what its government considers to be a highly successful and transparent market economy. Some people have labelled Singapore a social democracy, although the PAP has consistently rejected the notion of being socialist. However, some of PAP's policies do contain certain aspects of socialism, which includes government-owned public housing constituting the majority of real estate and the dominance of government controlled companies in the local economy. The Housing Development Board oversees a large-scale public housing programme and education in Singapore is a rigorous compulsory public education system, and the dominance of government-controlled companies in the local economy. Although dominant in its activities, the government has a clean, corruption-free image. Singapore has consistently been rated as the least-corrupt country in Asia and amongst the top ten cleanest in the world by Transparency International. [ cite web | url = http://www.transparency.org/policy_research/surveys_indices/cpi | title = Transparency International - Corruption Perceptions Index 2005 | accessdate = 2006-04-13 ]

Although Singapore's laws are inherited from British and British Indian laws, including many elements of English common law, the PAP has also consistently rejected liberal democratic values, which it typifies as Western and states that there should not be a 'one-size-fits-all' solution to a democracy. Laws restricting the freedom of speech are justified by claims that they are intended to prohibit speech that may breed ill will or cause disharmony within Singapore's multiracial, multi-religious society. For example, in September 2005, three bloggers were convicted of sedition for posting racist remarks targeting minorities. [ cite news| title= Third racist blogger sentenced to 24 months supervised probation | url = http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/180127/1/.html | publisher=Channel NewsAsia | date=23 November 2005 ] Some offences can lead to heavy fines or caning and there are laws which allow capital punishment in Singapore for first-degree murder and drug trafficking. Amnesty International has criticised Singapore for having "possibly the highest execution rate in the world" per capita. [ cite web | title = Amnesty International | work = The death penalty: A hidden toll of executions | url = http://web.amnesty.org/library/Index/ENGASA360012004?open&of=ENG-SGP | accessdaymonth =7 June | accessyear = 2005 ] The Singapore Government responded by asserting it had the right as a sovereign state to impose the death penalty for serious offences. [ cite web | url = http://www2.mha.gov.sg/mha/detailed.jsp?artid=990&type=4&root=0&parent=0&cat=0&mode=arc | title = The Singapore Government's Response To Amnesty International's Report "Singapore - The Death Penalty: A Hidden Toll Of Executions" | accessdate = 2006-04-13 ] Most recently, the PAP has relaxed some of its socially conservative policies and encouraged entrepreneurship.


The Constitution of Singapore is the supreme law of Singaporecite web | title= The Republic and the Constitution | work=Attorney-General's Chambers of Singapore website | url=http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/non_version/cgi-bin/cgi_getdata.pl?actno=1999-REVED-CONST&doctitle=CONSTITUTION%20OF%20THE%20REPUBLIC%20OF%20SINGAPORE%0a&date=latest&method=part&segid=931158659-000167#931158659-000174 | accessmonthday=April 22 | accessyear=2006] and it is a codified constitution.

The constitution cannot be amended without the support of more than two-thirds of the members of parliament on the second and third readings. The president may seek opinion on constitutional issues from a tribunal consisting of not less than three judges of the Supreme Court. Singaporean courts, like the courts in Australia, cannot offer advisory opinion on the constitutionality of laws. [cite web | title=The Judiciary | work=Attorney-General's Chambers of Singapore website | url=http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/non_version/cgi-bin/cgi_getdata.pl?actno=1999-REVED-CONST&doctitle=CONSTITUTION%20OF%20THE%20REPUBLIC%20OF%20SINGAPORE%0a&date=latest&method=part&segid=931158660-002294#931158660-002388 | accessmonthday=April 22 | accessyear=2006]

Part IV of the constitution guarantees the following: [cite web | title=Fundamental Liberties | work=Attorney-General's Chambers of Singapore website | url=http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/non_version/cgi-bin/cgi_getdata.pl?actno=1999-REVED-CONST&doctitle=CONSTITUTION%20OF%20THE%20REPUBLIC%20OF%20SINGAPORE%0a&date=latest&method=part&segid=931158659-000271#931158659-000271 | accessmonthday=April 22 | accessyear=2006]
# liberty of a person (limited).
# prohibition of slavery and forced labour
# protection against retrospective criminal laws and repeated trials
# equal protection
# prohibition of banishment and freedom of movement
# freedom of speech, assembly and association (limited)
# freedom of religion
# right to education

Part XII of the constitution allows the Parliament of Singapore to enact legislation designed to stop or prevent subversion. Such legislation is valid even if it is inconsistent with Part IV of the constitution. The Internal Security Act (ISA) is a legislation under such provision. In 1966, Chia Thye Poh was detained under the ISA and was imprisoned for 23 years without trial.


Prior to 1991, the president was the head of state appointed by parliament and was largely a ceremonial role with some reserve powers. As a result of constitutional changes in 1991, the president is now directly elected to office for a six-year term by popular vote. The first and only directly-elected President since the constitutional change was Ong Teng Cheong, a former cabinet minister. He served as President from 1 September 1993 to 31 August 1999. Since then a presidential election has never taken place. After Ong Teng Cheong, the government-appointed Presidential Elections Committee has disqualified all but one candidate. This candidate is then declared President and is referred to as the elected president. The president now exercises powers over the following: [cite web | title=The Presidency in Singapore | work=Istana website | url=hhttp://www.istana.gov.sg/PresidentSRNathan/index.htm | accessdate = 2006-07-31]
* appointment of public officers
* government budgets
* examine government's exercise of its powers under the Internal Security Act
* examine government's exercise of its powers under religious harmony laws
* investigations into cases of corruption

However, the president must consult the Council of Presidential Advisers before he takes a decision on some of these matters. The council comprises:
* two members appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister
* one member appointed by the president on the advice of the chief justice
* one member appointed by the president on the advice of the chairman of the Public Service CommissionA member of the council serves a six-year term and are eligible for re-appointment for further terms of four years each. [cite web | title=Council of Presidential Advisers | work=Istana website | url=http://www.istana.gov.sg/cpa.html | accessmonthday=April 22 | accessyear=2006]

Similar to the Speech from the Throne given by the heads of state in other parliamentary systems, the president delivers an address written by the government at the opening of parliament about what kind of policies to expect in the coming year. The current president is Sellapan Ramanathan.


The cabinet forms the executive or the government and it is answerable to parliament. It consists of sitting members of parliament and is headed by a prime minister, the head of government. The current prime minister is Lee Hsien Loong.

Neither the prime minister nor members of the cabinet are elected by parliament. Instead, the prime minister is appointed by the president, who in his/her view is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the parliament. Cabinet members, also known as ministers, are appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister. [cite web | title=The Executive | work=Attorney-General's Chambers of Singapore website | url=http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/non_version/cgi-bin/cgi_getdata.pl?actno=1999-REVED-CONST&doctitle=CONSTITUTION%20OF%20THE%20REPUBLIC%20OF%20SINGAPORE%0a&date=latest&method=part&segid=931158659-000425#931158659-001110 | accessmonthday=April 22 | accessyear=2006]

Unlike the cabinet in the United States where it functions largely as an advisory council to the head of government, the cabinet in Singapore collectively decides the government's policies and has influence over lawmaking by introducing bills.



The unicameral parliament is the legislature in Singapore with the president as its head. [cite web | title=About Us | work=Parliament of Singapore website | url=http://www.parliament.gov.sg/AboutUs/aboutus-main.htm | accessmonthday=April 22 | accessyear=2006] Before independence in 1965, it was known as the Legislative Assembly. It currently consists of 84 members of parliament. Based on the concept of parliamentary sovereignty in the United Kingdom, it is supreme to all other government institutions and may change or repeal any legislation passed by previous parliaments with a majority. The maximum term of any one parliament is five years, after which a general election must be held within three months of the dissolution of parliament.

The 84 elected members of parliament (MPs) are elected on a plurality voting basis and represent either single-member constituencies (SMCs) or group Representation Constituencies (GRCs). In GRCs, political parties field a team of between three to six candidates. At least one candidate in the team must belong to a minority race.cite web | title=The Legislature | work=Attorney-General's Chambers of Singapore website | url=http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/non_version/cgi-bin/cgi_getdata.pl?actno=1999-REVED-CONST&doctitle=CONSTITUTION%20OF%20THE%20REPUBLIC%20OF%20SINGAPORE%0a&date=latest&method=part&segid=931158660-001483#931158660-001529 | accessmonthday=April 22 | accessyear=2006]

Formerly, there were no GRCs, and all constituencies of Singapore were represented by one member, but amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Act in 1991 led to the creation of GRCs, thus creating a plurality voting system in the process. [cite web|title=Parliamentary Elections Act|publisher=Singapore Statutes Online|url=http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/non_version/cgi-bin/cgi_getdata.pl?actno=2001-REVED-218&doctitle=PARLIAMENTARY%20ELECTIONS%20ACT%0A&segid=946439076-000003|accessdate=2006-05-08] [cite web|title=Legislation history|publisher=Singapore Statutes Online|url=http://statutes.agc.gov.sg/non_version/cgi-bin/cgi_getdata.pl?actno=2001-REVED-218&doctitle=PARLIAMENTARY%20ELECTIONS%20ACT%0A&segid=946439077-003161|accessdate=2006-05-08]

This development has led to complaints from opposition parties that they are often unable to field one, let alone three or more candidates. Out of the 84 members of parliament, 10 are female. [cite web | title=List of current ministers | publisher=Parliament of Singapore website | url=http://www.parliament.gov.sg/AboutUs/Org-MP-currentMP.htm | accessdaymonth=8 May | accessyear=2006] In the last general election in 2006, the incumbent People's Action Party (PAP) won 82 of the 84 seats, with the same configuration as the previous election in 2001, but with a loss of 9% of the popular vote. [ cite news | title = Singapore's PAP returned to power | publisher = Channel NewsAsia | date = May 7, 2006 | url = http://www.channelnewsasia.com/stories/singaporelocalnews/view/206936/1/.html ] .

The constitution also provides for the appointment of other members of parliament not voted in at an election. Up to six Non-Constituency Members of Parliament from the opposition political parties can be appointed. Currently, there is one Non-Constituency Member of Parliament.

A constitutional provision for the appointment of up to nine Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) was made in 1990. NMPs are appointed by the president for a term of two and a half years on the recommendation of a Select Committee chaired by the Speaker of Parliament and are not connected to any political parties. In 2005, nine NMPs were sworn in, out of which five were female.

Both non-constituency and nominated members of parliament cannot vote on the following issues:
* amendment of the constitution
* public funds
* vote of no confidence in the government
* removing the president from office

Law making

Before any law is passed, it is first introduced in parliament as a draft known as a bill. Bills are usually introduced by a minister on behalf of the cabinet, known as Government Bill. However, any member of parliament can introduce a bill, known as a Private Member's Bill. All bills must go through three readings in parliament and receive the president's assent to become an Act of Parliament.

Each bill goes through several stages before it becomes a law. The first stage is a mere formality known as the first reading, where it is introduced without a debate. This is followed by the second reading, where members of parliament debate on the general principles of the bill. If parliament opposes the bill, it may vote to reject the bill.

If the bill goes through the second reading, the bill is sent to a Select Committee where every clause in the bill is examined. Members of parliament who support the bill in principle but do not agree with certain clauses can propose amendments to those clauses at this stage. Following its report back to parliament, the bill will go through its third reading where only minor amendments will be allowed before it is passed.

Most bills passed by parliament are scrutinised by the Presidential Council for Minority Rights which makes a report to the Speaker of Parliament stating whether there are clauses in a bill which affects any racial or religious community. [cite web | title=Law Making | work=Singapore Parliament website | url=http://www.parliament.gov.sg/AboutUs/Func-LM.htm | accessmonthday=April 22 | accessyear=2006] If approved by the council, the bill will be presented for the president's assent.

The last stage involves the granting of assent by the president, before the bill officially becomes to become a law.

Elections and political parties

Voting has been compulsory in Singapore since 1959 [cite web | title=Singapore voter turnout | work=International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance website | url=http://www.idea.int/vt/country_view.cfm?CountryCode=SG | accessmonthday=April 22 | accessyear=2006] and there is universal suffrage. The legal voting age is 21. The Elections Department of Singapore is responsible for the planning, preparation and conduct of presidential and parliamentary elections and of any national referendum in Singapore. It is a department under the Prime Minister's Office.

Unlike the United States presidential elections of 2004 where electronic voting was used in several states, paper ballots are still used in Singapore. However, there is a concern that voting secrecy might be compromised as ballot papers have serial numbers on them. As stated in the Elections Department website: [cite web | title=Ballot Secrecy | work=Elections Department of Singapore website | url=http://www.elections.gov.sg/secrecy.htm | accessmonthday=April 22 | accessyear=2006]

"...ballot papers can be examined only under strict conditions, and there are safeguards that make it extremely difficult to find out how any particular voter voted. After the count, all ballot papers and their counterfoils have to be sealed in the Supreme Court vault for six months, after which all the ballot papers and other election documents are destroyed. During those six months, these documents can only be retrieved by court order. The court will issue such an order only if it is satisfied that a vote has been fraudulently cast and the result of the election may be affected as a result. Our courts have issued no such order since elections have been held here since 1948."

2005 Presidential election

The Singapore presidential election of 2005 was to be held on 27 August 2005 to elect the President of Singapore. Since on August 13, 2005, the Presidential Elections Committee announced that Sellapan Ramanathan was the only candidate that had received the Certificate of Eligibility, he was named the next President without election.

2001 Parliamentary election

More info: *Singapore general election, 2001"

People's Action Party

The PAP has been the dominant political party in Singapore, re-elected continuously since 1959. It is headed by Lee Hsien Loong, who succeeded Goh Chok Tong. Goh's predeceesor Lee Kuan Yew served as Singapore's prime minister from independence through 1990. Since stepping down as prime minister, Lee has remained influential first as Senior Minister, and now as Minister Mentor.

PAP has held the overwhelming majority of seats in parliament since 1966, when the opposition Barisan Sosialis Party resigned from parliament and left the PAP as the sole representative party. PAP won all of the seats in an expanding parliament in the general elections of 1968, 1972, 1976 and 1980. PAP's share of the popular vote in contested seats declined from 78% in 1980 to 65% in 1997. However, the elections of 2001 saw the party's share of the popular vote climb to 75%, winning 82 of the 84 seats. Singapore general election, 2006 marked the first time since 1988 the PAP did not return to power on nomination day, with the opposition parties fielding candidates in over half of the constituencies. Overall PAP saw its share of the vote fall to 66.6%.

The Alternative Parties

J.B. Jeyaretnam of the Workers' Party became the first alternative party member of parliament in 15 years when he won a 1981 by-election. Despite acquiring an increasing percentage of the popular vote-- 34% overall in 2006-- alternative parties gained small numbers of seats in the general elections of 1984 (2 seats of 79), 1988 (1 seat of 81), 1991 (4 seats of 81), 1997 (2 seats of 83) and 2001 (2 seats of 84). The opposition parties attribute the disproportionate results to the nature of the GRC electoral system. [cite web |title=Elections in Singapore | work=Electionworld website (Internet Archive copy) | url=http://web.archive.org/web/20050206105008/http://www.electionworld.org/singapore.htm | accessmonthday=January 29 | accessyear=2005]

Women's participation in politics

Women traditionally played a significantly smaller role than their male counterparts in patriarchal Singapore. Nonetheless, in recent years, there is an increasing level of female participation in the Singapore political arena.



Singapore has consistently been rated as one of the least corrupt countries in the world. [cite web | title=Corruption Surveys and Indices | work=Transparency International website | url=http://www.transparency.org/surveys/index.html | accessmonthday=April 22 | accessyear=2006] The World Bank's governance indicators have also rated Singapore highly on rule of law, control of corruption and government effectiveness. However, it is widely perceived that some aspects of the political process, civil liberties, and political and human rights are lacking. [cite web | title=Governance Indicators: 1996-2004 | work=World Bank website | url=http://www.worldbank.org/wbi/governance/govdata/ | accessmonthday=April 22 | accessyear=2006]

Ministers in Singapore are also the highest paid politicians in the world, receiving a 60% salary raise in 2007 and as a result Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's pay jumped to 3.1 million Singapore dollars, five times the $400,000 earned by President George W. Bush. Although there was a brief public outcry, the government's firm stance was that this raise was required to ensure the continued efficiency and corruption-free status of Singapore's world-class government. [ [http://www.iht.com/articles/2007/04/09/news/sing.php Singapore announces 60 percent pay raise for ministers - International Herald Tribune ] ]

It is a member of Asian Network of Major Cities 21.

See also

*Constitutional government
*Laws of Singapore


External links

* [http://www.istana.gov.sg/ Istana]
* [http://www.parliament.gov.sg/ Parliament of Singapore]
* [http://www.cabinet.gov.sg/ Cabinet of Singapore]
* [http://www.supcourt.gov.sg/ Supreme Court of Singapore]

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