“”If Singapore is a nanny state, then I am proud to have fostered one.
|—Lee Kuan Yew in his book From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000.|
“”We are well positioned to serve as a gateway to Asia, and provide a platform for businesses to benefit from the shifting of centre of gravity to this region.
|—Josephine Teo, Senior Minister of State for Finance and Transport, 2014.|
“”Singapore. You look at their airports and their highways and their roads, and their everything, their infrastructure, and then you come back at home and you land at LaGuardia, you land at JFK, you land at LAX or Newark, and it's third world airports. It's so sad what has happened to our country.
|—Donald Trump, 2015 interview with Fox News.|
Singapore, officially the Republic of Singapore and also known as Singarich, is a sovereign city-state located at a strategic location on the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, between the Straits of Malacca and the South China Sea in the Asia-Pacific.
The country came into existence after its expulsion from Malaysia on 9 August 1965. Due to internal and external threats, its continued existence was uncertain, and it faced severe unemployment and a housing crisis. Singapore subsequently embarked on an aggressive modernization program beginning in the 1960s and throughout the late 20th century that focused on establishing a manufacturing industry, developing large public housing estates, and investing heavily in public education and infrastructure.
Today, Singapore has become one of the world's most prosperous nations, with a refined free market economy and strong international trading links. As a global financial hub and popular tourist destination, Singapore generally maintains good relations with the rest of the world. However, it has relatively strict laws, being dubbed the "Fine City" by some. It is also a de facto one-party state under the People's Action Party (PAP), which continuously wins elections as alternative parties lack popularity. The largest and most influential non-PAP party in parliament is the Workers' Party (WP).
Despite the PAP being conservative on social issues, it espouses a liberal immigration policy, with visas such as temporary work permits and employment passes (EP) making up a significant proportion of its population. However, permanent residency (PR) and citizenship (SC) have tightened in recent years, as the government maintains a policy of the CIMO model. Furthermore, Singapore uses jus sanguinis and therefore does not practice birthright citizenship. Nevertheless, the government intends to grow its population to a targeted 6.9 million by 2030 (5.7 million as of 2021) compared to 1.9 million when the country gained its independence in 1965.
Singapore has an internationally-known fun fact in that it has outlawed chewing gum sales for cleanliness purposes, but officials likely won't stop you from having a pack or two inside your bag or purse lah. You won't be able to find them sold in many stores, and gum for health reasons and sugar-free gum can be found in pharmacies. The chewing gum law is frequently cited as evidence that Singapore is a nanny state. It has also been misinterpreted that consumption is also illegal when it isn't. Don't geh kiang!
Human settlement in Singapore is only known to date back to the 14th century CE. Singapore was initially ruled by a series of Malay rulers: Parameswara, followed by the Majapahit Empire, followed by the Malacca Sultanate, followed by the Johor Sultanate.
In 1819, Thomas Stamford Raffles negotiated a treaty with the Johor Sultanate, establishing a trading port on the island of Singapore, leading to the establishment of the British colony of Singapore as part of the British Empire in the same year. A few years later, Singapore became administered as part of the Straits Settlements. The Straits Settlements originally consisted of the four individual settlements of Penang, Malacca, Dinding, and most importantly, Singapore—its capital and was nicknamed the "Gibraltar of the East". The latter, having been the most developed settlement, including its port, was a major British asset in the area and was the key strategy to British imperial interwar defense planning. Two other islands, Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands, were eventually added.
Meanwhile, following the lead of other colonial powers, Japan began to build its military and empire, starting with extraterritorial rights in Korea in 1876. By 1919, Japan had occupied Taiwan, Korea, parts of Manchuria in China, and large parts of Micronesia through various means. In response to Japan's expansionism, the British Empire grew concerned about protecting its own colonies and dominions in the region, particularly Hong Kong, the Straits Settlements, British Malaya, India, Australia, and New Zealand. A plan was developed, known as the Singapore strategy, or "Fortress Singapore". The strategy evolved over time but was primarily naval-based, defending the Strait of Malacca and fortifying the southward areas of Singapore but not the northern parts of Singapore that are a short distance (1km in parts) to the Malay Peninsula.
Japan continued to make inroads into China, invading and effectively annexing all of Manchuria in 1934, then instigating the Second Sino-Japanese War (1937-1945) — a component of World War II — based upon the Marco Polo Bridge Incident in 1937. On 8 December 1941, the Japanese military nearly simultaneously invaded the Shanghai International Settlement, attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and invaded Kota Bharu in British Malaya. Kota Bharu was the northernmost port in British Malaya on its eastern coast. By 31 January 1942, Japan had beaten Allied forces in the Battle of Malaya, with remaining Allied troops retreating to Singapore. The Japanese military began the invasion of Singapore on 8 February and won the Battle of Singapore on 15 February. Prime Minister Winston Churchill notably described the fall of Singapore as "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history." Adolf Hitler also had mixed feelings about the fall of Singapore, considering it a beneficial military victory but an ultimate setback for the "white race."
Life in Japanese-occupied Singapore ("Syonan-to") was very harsh for its non-Japanese civilians, with food shortages, mass terror, and war crimes in the form of civilian massacres (primarily directed at ethnic Chinese, as they were assumed to be spies for the larger war back in China). Prisoners of war also suffered harsh conditions. Life for the ethnic Chinese in Singapore, who made up most of the population, was awful because of longstanding Japanese prejudice against the Chinese.
Post-World War II up to independence
“”Repression… is like making love — it is always easier the second time! The first time there may be pangs of conscience, a sense of guilt. But once embarked on this course, with constant repetition, you get more and more brazen in the attack and in the scope of the attack. First… you attack only those whom your Special Branch can definitely say are Communists. They have no proof except X told Z who told Alpha who told Beta who told the Special Branch. Then you attack those whom you Special Branch say are actively sympathising with and helping the Communists, although they are not Communists themselves. Then you attack those whom your Special Branch say, although they are not Communists themselves. Then you attack those who your Special Branch say, although they or fellow travellers, yet, by their intransigent opposition to any collaboration with colonialism, they encourage the spirit of revolt and weaken constituted authority and thereby, according to the Special Branch, they are aiding the Communists. Then finally, since you have gone that far, you attack all those who oppose you… Repression is an easy substitute for hard work and organisation.
|—Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore Legislative Assembly Debates, 4 October 1956:10|
Following World War II, worldwide decolonization began apace peacefully and by revolution. The idea of continued colonialism in Singapore was particularly untenable due to the embarrassment of 'Fortress Singapore' falling in a mere 7 days and the hardships and war crimes that Singaporeans suffered under the Japanese Empire. Britain acceded to a peaceful decolonization strategy for Singapore and Malaya, though a staunchly anti-communist one.
The First Legislative Council (1948-1951) and Second Legislative Council (1951-1955) were only slightly better than the colonial status quo, with minimal representation of Singaporeans. This time was marked by the start of a communist insurgency in Malaya, known as the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960), led by the Malayan National Liberation Army, the military wing of the Communist Party of Malaya. Though mainly taking place in the far north of Malaya, the insurgency was the excuse for creating the Emergency Regulations Ordinance 1948, which later became modified as the Internal Security Act in 1960 (ISA).:391-401 The acts allowed for so-called "preventive detention", which allows the executive branch to imprison people indefinitely without charge or trial, and without a writ of habeas corpus.:402-403 Because the ISA bypassed habeas corpus, it was recognized as early as 1952 in court that the act abolished the rule of law.:414 From 1950 to 2013, there were 1190 people detained under these two acts and likely others whose detentions have not been documented.:432-488 By creating this tool of exclusive authority for the executive branch, the British colonial administration made the means for ongoing autocracy in Singapore.
Rise of the People's Action Party
In 1954, members of the University Socialist Club were arrested for publishing an article titled "Aggression in Asia" in the club's journal Fajar. The members were charged with sedition in the first such trial in Singapore. Ironically, one of the lawyers who successfully defended the club members was a young Lee Kuan Yew.:121 The aftereffect of the trial's outcome was increased free speech in Singapore, increased visibility for socialism in Singaporean politics, and the launching of Lee's political career. Lee, along with Lim Chin Siong, S. Rajaratnam, Toh Chin Chye, and Lim Kim San founded the People's Action Party (PAP) in 1954.
Following social unrest and riots in 1955, then-Chief Minister David Marshall resigned. Lim Yew Hock was elected in 1956 as the first Singaporean to lead Singapore under limited internal self-government. Shortly after his inauguration and with British approval,:17-18 Lim Yew Hock began a crackdown on communists, leftists, and trade unionists by utilizing the ISA. Up until that time (1950 to mid-1956), only 76 people had been known to be imprisoned under the ISA. On one day alone (26 October 1956), Lim Yew Hock imprisoned 86 people under the ISA and continued apace during his term in office through 1959.:432-445 Among those imprisoned were Lim Chin Siong and other members of the PAP.:432-445 The British were apparently impressed by this crackdown and granted Singapore the right to full independence in 1958 with the passage of the State of Singapore Act in the United Kingdom.
In 1959, the PAP won a landslide victory (43 of 51 seats) in the legislative assembly in the first election with full internal self-government. The victory had been based on courting the Chinese-speaking majority, labor unions, and radical student organizations. The election also marked Lee's election as the first Prime Minister. The autocratic tendencies of the PAP — both inside and outside of the party — were noticed during the PAP's first 15 months in office.:88
In 1960 due to ongoing efforts by Lee to control the labor unions, PAP member Ong Eng Guan attempted to challenge Lee's leadership. In response, Ong was expelled from the PAP and formed the United People's Party (UPP).:24
In 1961, following a by-election, left-wing members of the PAP planned to oust Lee from the Party. Instead, Lee called for a no-confidence Parliament vote in July 1961, to which the left-wing members voted against or abstained. Consequently, Lee expelled those members from the PAP, and the expelled members formed the Barisan Sosialis ("Socialist Front"), with Lim Chin Siong as its Secretary General, in September 1962.
The expulsion enabled Lee to consolidate power within the PAP but not within Singapore because many grassroots PAP members shifted their allegiances to the Barisan Socialis.:29 The Barisan Sosialis was a major threat to the PAP's ability to continue holding a parliamentary majority since Singapore's strong labor union movement would no longer support the PAP without its leftist wing. Lord Selkirk, the commissioner-general for Southeast Asia, noted before the 1963 general election that::29
“”Lee is probably very much attracted to the idea of destroying his political opponents. It should be remembered that there is behind all this a very personal aspect… he claims he wishes to put back in detention the very people who were released at his insistence — people who are intimate acquaintances, who have served in his government and with whom there is a strong sense of political rivalry which transcends ideological differences.
In December 1962, the Partai Rakyat Brunei (PRB, Brunei People's Party) revolted against British colonial rule within Brunei.:46 The revolt was short-lived, and the exact causes of the revolt remain unclear. Historian Greg Poulgrain has suggested that the revolt was in reaction to threatened arrests of PRB members by the British Special Branch of Sarawak,:258 implying that it was effectively a false flag operation of the British government.:46,48 The Prime Minister of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman, had been instigated by Indonesia;:47 much later, political scientist Richard Clutterbuck also came to this conclusion.:159 Barisan Socialis, Parti Rakyat Malaysia, and the Malaysian Communist Party all sent messages of support to the PRB shortly after the revolt began.:47 Lee consequently drew connections between the Barisan Sosialis and the PRB revolt and claimed that Barisan Sosialis was preparing for a similar revolt.:47 The British government did know that the Barisan Socialis was not involved in either the Brunei revolt or the Malayan Emergency. The British used the event as a pretext for their plan to establish an anti-communist bulwark in Southeast Asia. Lee used the event as a pretext to consolidate his power in Singapore.:67
In January 1963, the Federation, the British, and Lee began planning mass political arrests under the ISA. However, none of the parties were keen to take public responsibility for the arrests.:54-56 The Federation had insisted on the arrests as a matter of public security. Lee feared that doing so would jeopardize his political future, and the British feared that it would make it appear to the British public that they were forcing the Federation on Malaya and Singapore.:55,66-68 An initial list of people to be arrested was drawn up and eventually agreed upon by the three parties: "100 in category A ('hardcore organizers of the communist conspiracy'), excluding the six Singapore assembly members, 32 in category B ('leading collaborators in the communist conspiracy'), including the three UPP members, making 133 proposed detainees.":59-60 Lee demanded that the 3 UPP members be arrested and privately admitted that it was basically for his own political survival.:60 The list eventually agreed upon included 169 people.:60 On 2 February 1963, what came to be known as Operation Coldstore began::61-62
“”A total of 130 people were taken into custody. These included 31 in the political sphere, including [Lim] Chin Siong, 40 trade union leaders, 18 from the education sphere, 11 from the cultural circles, seven members of rural committees or hawkers, nine people only identified as members of CPM and 14 others. Major figures included Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, Sandra Woodhull, Said Zahari, James Puthucheary, Dominic Puthucheary, Poh Soo Kai, Jamit Singh and Linda Chen.
In fact, it was known by the British that "there had never been any justification on security grounds of the arrest of the U.P.P. members and that they had only been included in 'Operation Cold Store' on the insistence of Lee Kuan Yew'.":66
According to historian Geoff Wade, who has analyzed the formerly-classified British documents on the decolonization of Singapore and Malaysia, there were four main processes leading up to Operation Coldstore::67-68
- The British wished to create a united Malaysia as a Cold War anti-communist bulwark. The British desired the inclusion of Singapore within Malaysia because they feared that an independent Singapore would eventually become communist due to the ethnic Chinese majority, at least some of whom had sympathies toward the People's Republic of China. Hence the British favored an ethnic Malay-dominated Malaysia led by UMNO.
- Tunku Abdul Rahman wished to maximize his own power and tried to control Singapore's entrance into Malaysia on his own terms.
- Lee wished to maximize his power within Singapore while maintaining plausible deniability of his responsibility for the political suppression of the left-wing.
- The left-wing in Singapore attempted to win power through legal means to avoid detention under the ISA. Because of this, the left-wing was not directly involved in guerrilla activities.
The aftermath of Operation Coldstore effectively enabled the creation of the PAP one-party state in Singapore and consolidated Lee's power within all of Singapore.:68-69 This was confirmed by a snap election called by the PAP and held on 21 September. The PAP only polled at 46.9%, but due to the indefinite detention of key opposition members and the first past the post voting system, the PAP obtained 37 seats (vs. 13 for Barisan Sosialis and 1 for UPP).:113-114
Meanwhile, following the 1959 election, a campaign for merging British colonies in the region, between Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei, and North Borneo. PAP leadership, but not pro-communist elements of the PAP, was strongly opposed to the merger, fearing that the main political party in Malaysia, the anti-communist United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), would help defeat them following the merger. There were also concerns that the majority Malay and Muslim population of Malaya would give preferential rights to ethnic Malays over ethnic Chinese in the majority Chinese Singapore. In 1963, UMNO changed its position over the merger based on the prospect of a possible communist takeover, and the Federation of Malaysia was subsequently established in September 1963, comprising Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, and North Borneo.
The pro-Malay discriminatory policies implemented in the Federation quickly increased ethnic tensions within Singapore and resulted in the 1964 race riots.
Meanwhile, the prospect of the resulting Federation had caused President Sukarno of Indonesia to view the Federation as a neo-colonialist construct. In 1963, Sukarno began a low-level undeclared war against the Federation, known as Konfrontasi. Konfrontasi mostly involved skirmishes along the land borders between the Federation and Indonesia on the island of Borneo, but in July 1965, Indonesia conducted a bombing campaign on Singapore.
In August 1965, due to high levels of hostility between PAP and UMNO and high levels of ethnic tensions, the Parliament of Malaysia voted unanimously to expel Singapore from the Federation, thus creating Singapore as a fully independent nation — perhaps the only country to gain independence by being peacefully forced out of another country.
The Malaysian version of the ISA was repealed in 2012,:410 five decades after the end of the Malayan Emergency and two decades after the dissolution of the Malayan National Liberation Army and the Malayan Communist Party. However, the ISA in Singapore is still in effect as of 2020, and is now mainly used against people espousing religious extremism. In Singapore, 1190 people were known to have been arrested under the ISA over 63 years from 1950 to 2013, including 768 since Operation Coldstore.:432-488 There was a lull in ISA arrests between June 1988 and August 2001, with no arrests. However, following 9/11 in the United States and the rise of Islamic terrorism, the ISA arrests resumed exclusively for people who had planned terrorist attacks in Singapore; before 9/11, the arrestees predominantly had people sympathetic to communism.:432-488
The effects of the ISA were damaging to the political prisoners, causing mental and physical health problems from the poor living conditions under detention that included prolonged solitary confinement in sometimes filthy, tiny cells.:229-230,233-234,237:339-344 The long periods of detention, up to 20 years continuously for Lim Hock Siew and a total of 32 years for Chia Thye Poh, accused of being a communist, disrupted lives and careers and caused hardship to the families of the detainees.:341-342:421
So far, there has never been an honest truth and reconciliation for Operation Coldstore and the effects of the ISA.:200-201 Access to original documents in the National Archives of Singapore requires preclearance. It is believed that it is only given to scholars who are likely to favor the PAP.:124-125
“”Any nation that denies the contribution and struggles of any section of society or people to the history of independence, nation building and progress, while promoting only the narrative of the elite, does injustice to historical truth. Such action also seriously jeopardises the development of civilsation, prevents the harnessing of the people's collective energies, and undermines national unity and solidarity. For any nation to be united and to advance, it is imperative that its history be inclusive, comprehensively documented from as many perspectives as possible and passed on for the posterity.
|—Poh Soo Kai:200|
“”An attitude of mai gong (refusing to comment) and mai chap (not wanting to meddle) became fashionable as the guiding principle of human behavior on this strange little island republic. A populace constantly looking to the party in power for signals and commands to do something or refrain from doing something is what we have now. One would have thought that Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong would rejoice at this 'achievement', claming that they had conquered the minds of the people, and that they were now all on their side! But, alas, when you look around, there is really no spontaneity and drive on the part of the people at all. On many occasions, ministers have been heard exhorting people not to take all their cues from the government.
|—Tan Kok Fang:347|
Nevertheless, Operation Coldstore is openly discussed in Singapore without any restrictions, as seen in 2018 when local activist and historian Thum Ping Tjin and Law and Home Affairs Minister K. Shanmugam debated at a public committee over whether the operation was motivated by political, not security, reasons.
Government and politics
Uniquely, Singapore is effectively a one-party democracy under the People's Action Party (PAP), which benefits from first past the post voting. Ruled by the same party since its independence and separation from Malaysia in 1965, the Government of Singapore follows a form of free market state capitalism with a hint of elitism under the mask of meritocracy. Although subjected to even more restrictions, free speech is de jure allowed in Singapore. In fact, Singapore's "free speech" is more of a freedom to pro-government rhetoric. Hong Lim Park is the only place in Singapore where public demonstrations and protests are allowed.
It is often observed that many Singaporeans willingly accept this arrangement. They surrender a great deal of personal liberty and some rights to political expression, and view that the party that has run Singapore since its founding delivers progress and predictability. Elections are largely free in Singapore, and the PAP has won support for rapidly developing the country and overseeing economic success and stability after the often turbulent periods before its independence. In turn, Singaporeans have also gotten too used to the PAP, with many believing that the country may decline in livability and progress if another party comes into power. With a fractured opposition that constantly engages in infighting (11 parties contested in the most recent 2020 general election), the PAP will likely still be the ruling party for the near future as Singaporeans wouldn't want to "rock the boat" too much.
Civil rights, law, and rights to assembly
Riots, strikes, and demonstrations are generally banned in Singapore, as it is a common argument by both the government and general populace that such events somehow hinder the productivity and affect the livelihood of Singaporeans, even among those who are generally not supportive of the government. In fact, many Singaporeans would rather complain about their issues through proper channels or visit their Members of Parliament (MPs) than participate in demonstrations/riots/strikes as they will be shunned by the rest of their family if they go against the government. Singapore has allocated a park, Hong Lim Park, for such activities. However, anyone holding the activity must first apply for a permit with the police, and no foreigners are allowed to participate in such activities, due to fears of foreign interference.
In Singapore's justice system, a single judge decides all questions of both law and fact at a trial. Jury trial was abolished in 1969. An appeals process exists but is largely irrelevant since criticizing the objectivity of the trial court (or any other Singaporean court) in any way will, by law (called scandalizing the court,) result in your appeal being dismissed out of hand and additional criminal charges filed against you especially if you were guilty.
Singapore has a reputation for fairness and impartiality in commercial law and is a popular jurisdiction for arbitration and trial in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2010, the Rule of Law Index by the World Justice Project ranked Singapore number one for access to civil justice in the high-income countries group.
In 2022, gay sex between men was decriminalized, with the repeal of the colonial-era Section 377A of the Penal Code. Although the law was already effectively unenforced, the announcement was celebrated by the LGBTQ community in Singapore, while adding that this will be the "first step on a long road towards full equality". This alludes to gay marriage, which is likely to remain unconstitutional. Marriage in Singapore is essential, as it is vital for public housing, where about 80% of Singaporeans live, and this makes it difficult for LGBTQ couples, especially the working class, to obtain, as private housing is significantly more expensive. In Singapore, a married couple could acquire public housing at age 21 if they married, but this is increased to age 35 if they are single or is acquiring it under a joint singles scheme.
Capital punishment still exists in Singapore for major crimes such as murder, kidnapping, trafficking of recreational drugs, and armed robbery under the Penal code of Singapore. Caning is still a punishment for men below 50 years old. Caning is a compulsory punishment for rape, sexual harassment, civil dissent, and vandalism. In the 1990s, it caused particular attention in the United States when American Michael P. Fay was caned in Singapore for theft and vandalism at the age of 18 while he was living in the country.
Lee Kuan Yew's death in 2015 was a watershed moment for Singapore. A few months later, there was an arrest for racial and religious hatred of a teenage blogger named Amos Yee, who published videos on Youtube mocking his death and tearing up the Bible and the Quran. His sentencing received a huge outcry from civil rights activists across the world, and eventually left for the United States. Yee later shot himself on the foot as he was arrested in Chicago in 2020 over child pornography charges. Guess the government was right this time?!
A different sense of nepotism was scrutinized when the brother of the prime minister of Singapore, Lee Hsien Yang, accused his brother the Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, of supposed abuse of power by not demolishing the Oxley Road House that had belonged to their founding father. The entire saga, also known as the Oxley Road controversy, aroused some curiosity about why the prime minister decided not to sue his brother for defamation, in stark contrast to his political opponents such as Ngerng. This prompted the famous speech from the opposition member of parliament, WP's Low Thia Kiang, who said, "By suing family, does this not also show that blood is thicker than water? Own siblings cannot sue… but political opponents and critics, sue until your pants drop".
Elections and grassroots leaders
Critics have long accused the ruling PAP of gerrymandering to maintain a significant parliamentary majority. However, the elections in 2020 were an interesting one, as a newly created constituency (Sengkang GRC) was immediately lost by the government to the Workers' Party (WP). The district of Sengkang is also a relatively newer estate compared to other parts of Singapore, with the population mainly consisting of younger couples and families. Observers cite that the PAP has not resonated with younger voters enough, who had a better grasp of the nuances of governance and the need for greater checks and balances in parliament.
Nevertheless, the PAP won 83 out of 93 seats, with the WP, the only alternative party that actually isn't a laughing stock and might one day actually replace the PAP or transform Singapore into a two-party system, winning the other 10. The WP secured 50.49% of the votes in the four GRCs and two SMCs it contested in, meaning that more people voted for the WP than the PAP in the five constituencies that WP candidates offered themselves up for election.
Before immigration was significantly tightened during the early 2010s, some critics in Singapore also believed that the government had nominal restrictions for foreigners to become PRs and eventually citizens, as the new citizens are most likely to vote for the incumbent government, believing this reason to explain behind PAP's continued electoral success. However, this could not be substantiated, and new citizens don't necessarily campaign or vote for the PAP, nor do they support all of the PAP's policies in virtue of being a new citizens. For example, Chen Show Mao, a former elected MP and politician from the opposition WP, was a Taiwanese immigrant who emigrated to Singapore during his adolescence.
Salaries of ministers and MPs
The salaries of ministers and members of parliament (MPs) are of constant domestic debate among local Singaporeans.
With a salary of US$1.7 million per year, reduced from an initial 2.9 million per year under mounting public outrage, Lee Hsien Loong is the highest-paid head of government in the world by a substantial margin. Lee Hsien Loong has reportedly claimed that he donates 50% of his salary to charity. The salary of all MPs (including non-PAP MPs) is fixed at SGD 16,000 per month before taxes as of 2017. MPs are not required to quit their job so they can hold their day job while performing their MP duties. In fact, many MPs are rich enough without the $16,000 salary. The official explanation for their ample compensation is that they have enough pride when talking to business leaders who earn equivalent salaries. Most MPs use the salary to pay their secretaries, who usually speak with their constituents for minor issues such as estate maintenance, also known locally as "bread-and-butter issues".
Attitudes to government
In general, most Singaporeans have faith in their political system in spite of its restrictions. Singapore has been widely recognized to have very low levels of corruption and high quality of life. Public support and trust for the government among independents and even some opposition politicians remains relatively high by international standards.
The Labour Front, the predecessor of the largest opposition party today, the Workers' Party (WP), was instrumental in leading Singapore towards self-governance and eventual independence. However, the relative longevity and support of the country's ruling party after 1965, the People's Action Party (PAP), can usually be explained by the leadership of its first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, who led the country for 31 years. During his tenure, Singapore, in just a few decades, has transformed from a relatively underdeveloped and impoverished agrarian society into Asia's most developed nation and one of the wealthiest, as a center of aviation, international banking, business, tourism, and shipping. Subsequently, Singapore has also been dubbed one of the Four Asian Tigers. It continues to experience stable growth, with a higher GDP per capita far above the other Asian Tigers and the Asia-Pacific in general.
This has led many Singaporeans to look favorably on Lee and his legacy, which tends to garner support for the party he had founded even long after he had stepped down. When Lee died in 2015, the general elections held later that year gave the PAP almost 70% of the popular vote and 83 out of 89 parliamentary seats, a landslide.
Like its neighbors in East Asia, Singapore is well known for its cram schools, meaning "make-up class" or "catch-up class" or to learn more advanced classes. Most students from all races attend cram school, whether in mathematics, computer skills, foreign languages, or exam preparation. This is perpetuated by a meritocratic culture that measures merit through testing, with entrance into college, graduate school, and government service decided entirely on testing. This has also led to great respect for degrees from universities in the country, such as the National University of Singapore (NUS) or Nanyang Technological University (NTU), which are widely regarded worldwide.
Universities such as NUS and NTU are also consistently ranked within the top 20 universities globally. They are considered the best universities in the Asia-Pacific by the QS World University rankings.
“”I was keen to have our women do national service as Israeli women did, because that would reinforce the people's will to defend themselves. But Keng Swee (referring to Goh Keng Swee) did not want his new ministry to carry this extra burden. As the other ministers in Defco (Defence Council) were also not anxious to draft our women, I did not press my point."
|—Lee Kuan Yew.|
Men have to enroll in compulsory conscription that has been in place since 1967 through the passing of the National Service (Amendment) Act. Women could serve as well, on an optional basis. In contrast with Israel's system, women are excluded (similar to Switzerland and South Korea) from compulsory conscription in Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew initially wanted to conscript women, but his fellow ministers disagreed.
Every male citizen and second-generation permanent resident in Singapore is subjected to one year and ten months or two years of full-time National Service (NS) unless exempt on medical grounds, such as the military, police force, or civil defense (e.g., firefighters and paramedics) and a subsequent part-time service for about a week or so (unless one isn't physically fit or was only graded for administrative duty) every year up to the statutory age limit of 40 years old.
Men who signed up for further service to obtain commissioned officers' ranks serve until age 50. During the duration of service (until the statutory age limit), every man deemed to be medically fit must pass a physical test. They are also subjected to random call ups at any point in time, also known as Mobilisation Exercise, where they must turn up at their respective camps within 2, 4, or 6 hours depending on the requirements of their vocation, usually to gauge preparedness in case of an invasion by a hostile nation.
Singapore invokes a "whole-of-society national defense concept" called Total Defence. The Singapore government felt that it was necessary to build a substantial military force to defend itself in the face of hostile neighboring countries. At the time, it only had about 1,000 regular soldiers. It also explained that countries like Switzerland and South Korea also practice conscription for similar reasons.
Furthermore, its rationale was based upon various factors. Firstly, because Singapore has a population of only about 5.5 million, an army solely of regulars would not be practical to defend the country. Secondly, the idea of National Service is supposed to support racial harmony among the races living in the country, which mainly consists of Chinese, Malay, and Indian communities. In general, conscription in Singapore continues to show strong support among Singaporeans.
Critics argue that women enjoy greater rights than men in Singapore, especially regarding conscription and court. Under the Women's Charter, women are guaranteed 50% of their partner's assets and subsequent salaries upon divorce, regardless of the reason for divorce. Notably, however, the PAP initially opposed the Women's Charter and was one of three significant reversals by the PAP in the early years (1959-1960).:88
Singapore has the lowest rape cases in all of Asia as non-consensual sex in Singapore is viewed as rape and usually comes with corporal punishment (caning) of the offender. Non-consensual sex in Singapore includes impaired consent (i.e., having intercourse with a drunk female) and, in rare circumstances, retroactively withdrawn consent (i.e., the victim regretting the sex and retracting the consent given). However, the latter are rarely approved by a judge.
Parents in Singapore are given exclusive tax rebates for childbirth (up to 75% of their annual income) to encourage having more Singaporean children and are one of the richest in the region due to their high salaries and low taxes.
Most Singaporeans live in public housing apartments managed by the state Housing and Development Board (HDB) under a 99-year lease. These flats are located at housing estates around the city, self-contained satellite towns with well-maintained schools, supermarkets, malls, community hospitals, clinics, hawker centers (food court), and sports and recreational facilities. Every housing estate includes Mass Rapid Transit (MRT) stations and bus stops that link residents to other parts of the city-state. Some estates are also complemented by smaller Light Rapid Transit (LRT) stations which act as a feeder service to the MRT.
Compared to most parts of the world, public housing in Singapore is not ostracised by a vast majority of the population and its government. It acts as a vital measure to provide immaculate and safe housing surrounded by public amenities at affordable prices, especially during its rapid development and industrialization in the early years of independence. It is also meant to foster social cohesion between social classes and races of Singapore and prevent neglected areas or districts and ethnic enclaves from developing. It is considered a unique part of Singaporean culture and identity, commonly associated with the country.
New public housing flats are strictly only eligible for purchase by Singaporean citizens. The housing schemes and grants available to finance the purchase of a flat are also only extended to households owned by Singaporeans. Permanent residents do not get any housing grants or subsidies from the Singaporean government and could only purchase resale flats from the secondary market at a market price. Such policies have helped Singapore reach a home-ownership rate of 91%, one of the highest in the world. In 2008, Singapore was lauded by the United Nations Habitat's State of the World's Cities report as the only slum-free city.
Singapore has been widely regarded as one of the safest countries in the world, with consistently low crime rates, a transparent legal system, and a reliable police force. Singapore is so safe that a Gallup poll stated that 95% of Singaporeans feel safe walking alone at night. You could also leave your personal belongings at a cafe or a restaurant, head off for a bit, and not expect them to be stolen when you return.
In one Economist Intelligence Unit Safe Cities Index, Singapore was ranked the safest globally, especially regarding digital, personal, and infrastructure security. The country also ranks highly on the Global Peace Index, consistently being in the top 10 and the highest in Asia for the past decade.
Singapore is a high-income economy with one of the highest gross national incomes in the world. The country provides one of the world’s most business-friendly regulatory environments for local entrepreneurs and is ranked among the world’s most competitive economies. Singapore has low tax rates, leading to critics labeling it as a tax haven. It has the second-highest per-capita GDP globally in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). The Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) is headquartered in Singapore. The Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) functions as its central bank and financial regulatory authority.
It has been ranked by the World Economic Forum as the most open globally, the third most transparent by Transparency International, the most pro-business by the World Bank, and the highest degree of economic freedom in the world by the Index of Economic Freedom. The major capital market is the Singapore Exchange (SGX). Singapore's currency, the Singapore dollar, is the thirteenth most traded currency globally by value and one of the strongest valued currencies in the Asia-Pacific.
In the decades after independence, Singapore rapidly developed from a low-income country to a high-income country. GDP growth in the city-state has been among the world’s highest, at an average of 7.7% since independence and topping 9.2% in the first 25 years. In the most recent World Bank's Human Capital Index, Singapore was ranked the best country globally in human capital development. Singapore has also been ranked first on the Global Competitiveness Report, published by the World Economic Forum.
Banking is a major part of the Singapore economy. While Singapore is generally transparent in the public sector, the banking industry in the private sector has historically been closely tied with laundering ill-gotten gains from individuals living in neighboring countries in the Asia-Pacific. Reminds you of a certain country? That's right, Singapore has been called the "Switzerland of Asia". This can appear particularly ironic to those in the know when Singapore occasionally suffers from bad air pollution caused by forest fires in neighboring Indonesia, some of which are associated with illegal land clearing.
The country's three main banks, DBS Bank, OCBC Bank, and United Overseas Bank (UOB), make up the top three spots as the largest banks in the region by total assets. DBS is also the largest bank by market capitalization in the area.
The Singapore government relies heavily on foreign labor, especially in construction. Former minister Lim Swee Say, who was previously the Secretary-General of NTUC (the only workers union in Singapore), has coined the term "Cheaper, Better, Faster" as a competitive strategy and solution to Singapore's economy.
Statistics on income inequality are published by the Singapore Department of Statistics. The country does not have a national poverty line. Taking the World Bank's International Poverty Line (IPL)'s poverty threshold of $1.90 a day into account, the population of Singaporeans living below the poverty line is virtually non-existent.
While Singaporeans do not suffer from absolute poverty, the government provides social support through various social assistance schemes for lower-income Singaporeans. The Ministry of Social and Family Development runs ComCare, a program that provides income support for low-income citizen households through various schemes for short-to-medium term assistance, long-term assistance, child support, and urgent financial needs.
The Community Development Councils also run various local assistance schemes within their districts. The Ministry of Manpower runs a Silver Support Scheme which provides additional financial support for low-income elderly with no family support. Meanwhile, the Ministry of Health also runs MediFund to assist families in paying off the rest of their medical bills even after government subsidies and other health financing schemes have been used. In addition, the National Council of Social Service coordinates a range of 450 non-government voluntary welfare organizations to provide social services while raising funds through The Community Chest of Singapore. Singaporeans of all socio-economic backgrounds must contribute to the Central Provident Fund (CPF), a mandatory saving and social security plan.
1 in 5 Singaporeans are millionaires. Singaporeans have an average debt of US$50,000, which has been stated as "moderate for a high-wealth country".
State investment firms
The city-state operates investment firms called Temasek Holdings and GIC. Temasek already has a portfolio of over 400 billion dollars — larger than JPMorgan Chase and approximately equal to the entire GDP of Singapore.
A conspiracy believed by some of the local populace was that their compulsory savings and retirement accounts, known as Central Provident Fund (CPF), were "gambled" away by the firm when it made "poorly-judged investments" during the global financial crisis of 2008/2009. However, Singapore reported record growth in 2010, and such discussions were quickly forgotten.
Culture and religion
Singapore has a wide variety of cultures and religions. In fact, Singapore is so culturally diverse that one can see nine different religions blessing a public infrastructure. Singapore has four official languages (English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil). A 2014 analysis by the Pew Research Center found Singapore to be the world's most religiously diverse nation.
Singaporeans are generally cohesive and view themselves as Singaporeans rather than a group of their respective races. For example, a local Singaporean of Chinese or Indian ethnicity would identify themselves with their Malay or other Singaporean counterparts rather than a Chinese from China or an Indian from India. The discussion of race and religion in a manner that could be interpreted as hostile is banned in Singapore under the Sedition Act. It is an offense to make racial or religious jokes in Singapore as the government does not wish to re-enact the Maria Hertogh riots and the 1964 race riots.
Issues such as casual racism among Singaporeans of different races were brought into the spotlight when a local Singaporean actor of Indian descent named Shrey Bhargava wrote a lengthy post on Facebook about his experience with stereotyping during an audition for a role in Ah Boys To Men 3, a local movie on National Service. Controversial local online television personality of Chinese descent, Xiaxue, responded that it was "right for the directors to do what they did" and called "bullshit" on Shrey for not being professional enough and a hypocrite. Subsequently, Shrey was questioned by the police for alleged racism (due to his discussion on racial issues). He was quickly released when the police determined that no damage was done to the social fabric of Singapore.
This incident brought the topic of casual and arguably harmless racism into the public, with many agreeing that while it might not be a big deal for the majority Chinese populace to laugh and joke about common racist stereotypes, that's because the minority in Singapore has been very tolerant as well, and would also make casual racist remarks about the Chinese.
Singlish, formally known as Colloquial Singaporean English, is an English-based creole language and accent originating in Singapore. First recorded in the late 20th century, the term Singlish is a blend of Singaporean slang and English. Singlish and English in Singapore exist along a creole continuum, ranging from standard English with local pronunciation on one end to the most colloquial registers of Singlish on the other.
As English is one of Singapore's official languages, Singlish is regarded as having low prestige, especially by the Singaporean government. It heavily discourages the use of Singlish in favor of Standard English. Singlish is also heavily discouraged in the mass media and schools, although it is not widely enforced.
Such official discouragement is routinely countered by other presentations in mainstream media, including usage by almost all Singaporeans in informal situations such as street interviews broadcast on television and radio daily and occasionally in newspapers among journalists.
Furthermore, there have been recent surges in the interest in Singlish internationally, sparking several national conversations in response. In 2016, the Oxford English Dictionary (OED) announced that it had added 19 new "Singaporean English" items such as "Hawker centre", "shook", and "sabo" in both its online and printed versions. Several Singlish words had also previously made it into the OED's online version, launched in March 2000. Words such as "lah" and "sinseh" were already included in OED's debut, while "kiasu" made it into the online list in March 2007. Reactions amongst Singaporeans were generally positive, and Singlish has often been commonly associated with the country and is considered a unique aspect of Singaporean culture.
Singapore generally punches above its weight and is prominently influential in the world for its size. As of 2021, a Singaporean citizen has visa-free access to 192 countries, making them possess the most powerful passport in the world. This most probably stems from the fact that Singaporeans are generally a wealthy nation group that rarely see the need to illegally emigrate, overstay or work in other countries.
Singapore was offered to be a major non-NATO ally during the Presidency of George W. Bush. It had turned the offer down, stating that it violated its neutrality policy, which usually refers to the appeasement of its Muslim-majority neighbors mentioned below. Nevertheless, it maintains relatively good relations with the United States.
Relations with Malaysia
Many Malaysians, especially from the state of Johor, travel to work in Singapore due to its stronger currency. Many also took up Singaporean citizenship due to the significantly higher living standards. They are generally viewed as the extended cousins of Singaporeans, as both were in the same country about half a century ago. Singapore and Malaysia were in a legal conflict over the Pedra Branca dispute. Pedra Branca is the largest of a small group of unpopulated islets that is Singapore's gateway to the South China Sea. Malaysia wished to claim Pedra Branca to tax all incoming and outgoing vessels and discourage vessels from using Singapore as the main port of call between Asia and the rest of the world.
Operation Pukul Habis
Malindo Darasa 3AB, also known as Operation Pukul Habis or Operation Total Wipeout, was a joint exercise by Singapore's neighbors Indonesia and Malaysia on 8 August 1991, which coincided with Singapore's 26th National Day, which happens annually on 9 August. The operation involved an airdrop of troops from both countries in the Malaysian state of Johor, the closest state to Singapore. It also happened during a leadership succession phase when Lee Kuan Yew passed the baton to the new Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong.
In response to the operation, a massive city-wide mobilization exercise was triggered by Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), and all reservists from all branches of the military were given loaded M-16 assault rifles with live ammunition and deployed to the coasts of Singapore to prepare for a potential invasion by sea. It was one of the largest mobilization exercises in Singapore, and it was done to dissuade her neighbors from an actual attack. In recent years, MINDEF has also proclaimed that its mission is to "enhance Singapore's peace and security through deterrence and diplomacy, and should these fail, to secure a swift and decisive victory over the aggressor."
An Airbus A380-800 belonging to Singapore Airlines
Singaporean soldiers marching during its National Day Parade
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