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Singapore

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A zoomed-in view of the city-state.
If Singapore is a nanny state, then I am proud to have fostered one.
Lee Kuan YewWikipedia in his book From Third World to First: The Singapore Story: 1965-2000.[1]
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.[2]
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.[3]

Singapore, officially the Republic of Singapore, and also known as Singarich,[4] is a sovereign city-stateWikipedia 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 in the aftermath of its expulsion from Malaysia on 9 August 1965. At the time, its continued existence was uncertain due to both internal and external threats, and it had faced severe unemployment and a housing crisis. Singapore subsequently embarked on an aggressive modernisation programme 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 robust international trading links. As a global financial hub and popular tourist destination, Singapore generally maintains good relations with the rest of the world, although 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 PartyWikipedia (PAP), who continuously wins elections as alternative parties lack popularity amongst the populace. Currently, the largest and most influential non-PAP party in Parliament is the Workers' PartyWikipedia (WP).

Despite the PAP being on the conservative side 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) has tightened in recent years, as the government maintains a policy of the CIMO model.Wikipedia Furthermore, Singapore uses jus sanguinis,Wikipedia 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.[5]

Singapore has an internationally-known fun fact in that it has outlawed sales of chewing gumWikipedia for cleanliness purposes, but officials likely won't stop you from having a pack or two inside your bag or purse lah.Wikipedia It's just that 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 in fact it isn't.[6]

History[edit]

Early history[edit]

Human settlement of Singapore is only known to date back to the 14th century CE. Singapore was initially ruled by a series of Malay rulers: Parameswara,Wikipedia followed by the Majapahit Empire,Wikipedia followed by the Malacca Sultanate,Wikipedia followed by the Johor Sultanate.Wikipedia

In 1819, Thomas Stamford RafflesWikipedia 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, which included other port areas of Malaya (Penang, Malacca, Dinding), and eventually included two additional islands.

Singapore harbor in 1860.

Meanwhile, Japan, following the lead of other colonial powers, began to build its military and its empire,Wikipedia starting with extraterritorial rights in Korea in 1876. By 1919, Japan had occupied through various means Taiwan, Korea, parts of Manchuria in China, and large parts of Micronesia. 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,Wikipedia 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.

Japanese troops shoot blindfolded prisoners near Singapore.

Japan continued to make inroads into China, invading and effectively annexing all of Manchuria in 1934, then instigating the Second Sino-Japanese WarWikipedia (1937-1945) — a component of World War II — based upon the Marco Polo Bridge IncidentWikipedia in 1937. On December 8, 1941, the Japanese military nearly-simultaneously invaded the Shanghai International Settlement,Wikipedia attacked Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, and invaded Kota Bharu in British Malaya. Kota Bharu was the northernmost port of British Malaya on its eastern coast. By January 31, 1942, Japan had beaten Allied forces in the Battle of Malaya,Wikipedia with remaining Allied troops retreating to Singapore. The Japanese military began the invasion on Singapore on February 8 and won the Battle of SingaporeWikipedia on February 15. Prime Minister Winston Churchill notably described the fall of Singapore as "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history."[7] Adolf Hitler also had mixed feelings about the fall of Singapore, considering it a beneficial military victory but an ultimate setback for the "white raceWikipedia."[8]

Life in Japanese-occupied SingaporeWikipedia ("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 the majority of the population, was particularly bad because of longstanding Japanese prejudice against the Chinese.Wikipedia

Post-World War II up to independence[edit]

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[9]:10

Following World War II, worldwide decolonization began apace, both 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 one that was staunchly anti-communist.

Stamp from the British Empire period.

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 period of time was marked by the start of a communist insurgency in Malaya, known as the Malayan Emergency (1948-1960),[10] led by the Malayan National Liberation Army,[11] the military wing of the Communist Party of Malaya.Wikipedia The insurgency, though mainly taking place in the far north of Malaya, was the excuse for the creation of the Emergency Regulations Ordinance 1948, which later became modified as the Internal Security ActWikipedia in 1960 (ISA).[12]: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.[12]:402-403 Because the ISA bypassed habeas corpus, it was recognized as early as 1952 in court that the act abrogated the rule of law.[12]:414 From 1950 to 2013, there have been 1190 people detained under these two acts, and likely others whose detentions have not been documented.[13]:432-488 By creating this tool of exclusive authority for the executive branch, the British colonial administration created the means for ongoing autocracy in Singapore.

In 1954, members of the University Socialist ClubWikipedia were arrested for the publication of 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's history. Ironically, one of the lawyers who successfully defended the club members was a young Lee Kuan Yew. [14]:121 The aftereffect of the trial's outcome was increased free speech in Singapore, an increased visibility for socialism in Singaporean politics, and the launching of Lee's political career. Lee, along with Lim Chin Siong,Wikipedia S. Rajaratnam,Wikipedia Toh Chin ChyeWikipedia and Lim Kim SanWikipedia founded the People's Action Party (PAP) in 1954.

Following social unrest and riots in 1955, then-Chief Minister David MarshallWikipedia resigned, and Lim Yew HockWikipedia was elected in 1956 as the first Singaporean to lead Singapore under limited internal self-government. Shortly after his inauguration and with British approval,[15]: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, but in one day alone (October 26, 1956) Lim Yew Hock imprisoned 86 people under the ISA on that day, and continued apace during his term in office through 1959.[13]:432-445 Among those imprisoned were Lim Chin Siong and other members of the PAP.[13]:432-445[16] 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 UK.

Singapore bumboats in 1960.

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.[17] The victory had been based on courting the Chinese-speaking majority, labour unions and radical student organizations. The election also marked Lee's election as the first Prime Minister. The uncompromising and autocratic tendencies of the PAP — both inside and outside of the party — were noticed during the PAP's first 15 months in office.[18]:88

In 1960 due to ongoing efforts Lee to control the labour unions, PAP member Ong Eng GuanWikipedia attempted to challenge Lee's leadership, and in response Ong was expelled from the PAP and formed the United People's Party (UPP).[15]: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. As a consequence, 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.[19]

The expulsion enabled Lee to consolidate power within the PAP, but not within Singapore as a whole because many grassroots PAP member shifted their allegiances to the Barisan Socialis.[15]:29 The Barisan Sosialis was a major threat to the PAP's ability to continue to hold a parliamentary majority, since the strong labour union movement in Singapore would no longer support the PAP without its leftist wing. Lord Selkirk, the commissioner-general for Southeast Asia, noted prior to the 1963 general election that:[15]: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.[15]: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,[20]:258 implying that it was effectively a false flag operation of the British government.[15]:46,48 The Prime Minister of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman,Wikipedia had been instigated by Indonesia;[15]:47 much later, political scientist Richard Clutterbuck also came to this conclusion.[21]:159 Barisan Socialis, Parti Rakyat Malaysia and the Malaysian Communist Party all sent messages of support to the PRB shortly after the revolt began.[15]:47 Lee consequently drew connections between the Barisan Sosialis and the PRB revolt, and claimed that Barisan Sosialis was preparing for a similar revolt.[15]:47 The British government did in fact know that the Barisan Socialis were not involved in either the Brunei revolt or the Malayan Emergency.[15] The British used the event a pretext for their plan to establish an anti-communist bulwark in Southeast Asia, and Lee used the event as pretext for his plan to consolidate his power in Singapore.[15]:67

In January 1963, the Federation, the British and Lee began planning for mass political arrests under the ISA but none of the parties were keen to take public responsibility for the arrests.[15]: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.[15]: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."[15]:59-60 Lee specifically demanded that the 3 UPP members be arrested, and privately admitted that it was basically for the purpose of his own political survival.[15]:60 The list eventually agreed upon included 169 people.[15]:60 On February 2, 1963, what came to be known as Operation ColdstoreWikipedia began:[15]: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,Wikipedia Said Zahari,Wikipedia James Puthucheary, Dominic Puthucheary, Poh Soo Kai,Wikipedia Jamit Singh and Linda Chen.Wikipedia

It was in fact 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'."[15]: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:[15]:67-68

  1. The British wished to create a united Malaysia as a Cold War anti-communist bullwark. 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 towards the People's Republic of China. Hence the British favored an ethnic Malay-dominated Malaysia, led by UMNO.
  2. Tunku Abdul Rahman wished to maximize his own power, and tried to control Singapore's entrance into Malaysia on his own terms.
  3. Lee wished to maximize his own power within Singapore, while maintaining plausible deniability of his responsibility for political suppression of the left-wing.
  4. The left-wing in Singapore attempted to win power through legal means, so as to try 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.[15]:68-69 This was confirmed by a snap election called by the PAP and held on September 21. 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).[18]:113-114[22]

Meanwhile following the 1959 election, a campaign for the merger of British colonies in the region, between Malaya, Singapore, Sarawak, Brunei, and North Borneo. PAP leadership, but not pro-communist elements of the PAP were strongly opposed to the merger, fearing that the main political party in Malaysia, the anti-communist United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), would help to 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.

Independence endgame[edit]

The pro-Malay discriminatory policies that were implemented in the Federation very quickly increased ethnic tensions within Singapore, and resulted the 1964 race riots.Wikipedia

Meanwhile, the prospect of the resulting Federation had caused President SukarnoWikipedia 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.Wikipedia Konfrontasi mostly involved skirmishes along the land borders between the Federation and Indonesia on the island of Borneo, but in July 1965, Indonesia conducted bombing campaign on Singapore.[23]

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.

Aftermath[edit]

The Malaysian version of the ISA was repealed in 2012,[12]:410[24] five decades after the end of the Malayan Emergency,[10] and two decades after the dissolution of the Malayan National Liberation Army[11] and the Malayan Communist Party.[25] The ISA in Singapore however is still in effect as of 2020, and is now mainly used against people espousing religious extremism.[26] In Singapore, a total of 1190 people were known to have been arrested under the ISA over 63 years from 1950-2013, including 768 since Operation Coldstore.[12]: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 but exclusively for people with who had planned terrorist attacks in Singapore; prior to 9/11, the arrestees predominantly had people who were sympathetic to communism.[12]: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.[27]:229-230,233-234,237[28]: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,Wikipedia accused for being a communist, disrupted lives and careers, and caused hardship to to families of the detainees.[28]:341-342[12]:421

So far, there has never been an open truth and reconciliation for Operation Coldstore and the effects of the ISA.[29]:200-201 Access to original documents in the National Archives of Singapore requires preclearance, and it is believed that is only given to scholars who are likely to be favourable to the PAP.[30]: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[29]:200

Another consequence of Operation Coldstore and the ever-present threat of ISA detention was a lingering climate of indifference among Singaporeans:[12]:420[28]:347

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 TongWikipedia 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[28]:347

Nevertheless, Operation Coldstore is openly talked about in Singapore without much restrictions, as seen in 2018 when local activist and historian Thum Ping TjinWikipedia and Law and Home Affairs Minister K. ShanmugamWikipedia debated at a public committee over whether the operation was motivated by political, not security, reasons.[31]

Government and politics[edit]

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 SingaporeWikipedia follows a progressive form of free market state capitalism[32] with a hint of elitism under the mask of meritocracy. Free speech is de jure allowed in Singapore, although subjected to even more restrictions. In fact, the "free speech" of Singapore is more of a freedom to common sense and pro-government rhetoric. Hong Lim Park is the only place in Singapore where public demonstrations and protests are allowed.

It is often observed that Singaporeans willingly accept this arrangement. They surrender a great deal of personal liberty and some rights to political expression. In return, the party that has run Singapore since its founding, delivers progress and predictability. Elections are indeed free in Singapore, and the PAP has won genuine support amongst the people for rapidly developing the country, as well as overseeing economic success and stability after the often turbulent periods prior to its independence. In turn, Singaporeans have also gotten too used with the PAP. Most believe 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 electionWikipedia, the PAP would most likely still be the ruling party in the near future as Singaporeans wouldn't want to "rock the boat" too much.[33]

Civil rights, law and rights to assembly[edit]

Speaker's Corner at Hong Lim Park

Riots, strikes and demonstrations are generally banned in Singapore as it is a common understanding by both the government and general populace that such events disrupt and 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, in its unique way of implementing democracy, has allocated a park, Hong Lim Park, for such activities.[34] However, anyone holding the activity must first apply a permit with the Police and no foreigners are allowed to participate in such activities, mostly to avoid foreign interference.Wikipedia[35]

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 scandalising the court,Wikipedia) 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.[36]

Homosexual activity between men (legal among women) remains criminalized under Section 377A of Singapore's penal code, a law initially placed by the previous British adminstration. The government claims that they have bowed to public pressure and will no longer enforce this prohibition but seem quite uninterested in bowing to public pressure by taking it off the books, by claiming that there's "no strong scientific evidence that a person's sexual orientation is unchangeable". However, it was known that Lee Kuan Yew knew that sexual orientation was genetic and such statements were meant to satisfy a conservative religious populace, mainly the Christians and Muslims.[37]

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.[38][39] 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. FayWikipedia was caned in Singapore for theft and vandalism at the age of 18 while he was living in the country.

Parliament House in Singapore.

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,Wikipedia who published videos on Youtube mocking his death and tearing up the Bible and the Quran.[40] He eventually left for the United States and was ultimately arrested in Chicago a few years later in 2020 over child pornography charges and pedophilia. Guess the government was right this time?![41]

A different sense of nepotism was scrutinized under public light when the brother of 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.[42] The entire saga, also known as Oxley Road controversy,Wikipedia managed to arouse some curiosity as to why the prime minister decide 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,Wikipedia 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".[43]

Elections and grassroots leaders[edit]

People's Action Party rally in 2011.
Workers' Party supporters in Hougang during the 2020 general election

Critics have long accused the ruling PAP of gerrymandering to maintain a significant parliamentary majority. However, the elections in 2020Wikipedia was an interesting one, as a newly created constituency (Sengkang GRCWikipedia) were immediately lost by the government to the Workers' PartyWikipedia (WP). The district of Sengkang is also a relatively newer estate as compared to other parts of Singapore, with the population mostly 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 wishing the need for greater checks and balances in Parliament.[44]

Nevertheless, the PAP won 83 out of 93 seats, with the WP, the only other 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.[45]

Before immigration was significantly tightened during the early 2010s, some critics in Singapore also believed that the government has nominal restrictions for foreigners to become PRs and eventually citizens, as the new citizens are most likely to vote for the incumbent government, believing in 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 citizen. For example, Chen Show MaoWikipedia, 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[edit]

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.[46] Lee Hsien Loong has reportedly claimed that he donates 50% of his salary to charity. The salary of all MPs (including non-PAP MPs) are fixed at SGD $16,000 per month before taxes as of 2017.[47] 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 and the official explanation for their large compensation is so that they have enough pride when talking to business leaders who earn equivalent salaries. Most MPs use the salary to pay their secretaries who are usually the ones that speak with their constituents for minor issues such as estate maintenance, also known locally as "bread-and-butter issues".

Society[edit]

Attitudes to government[edit]

In general, Singaporeans have faith in their political system. Singapore has been widely recognised to have very low levels of corruption and a high quality of life, and general support and trust for the government among independents and even some opposition politicians since independence remains uniquely relatively high by international standards.[48]

The Labour FrontWikipedia, which was 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 as one of the Four Asian Tigers and continues to experience stable growth, with a higher GDP per capita far above the other Asian Tigers, as well as the Asia-Pacific in general.[49][50][51]

This has led many Singaporeans to look upon favourably on Lee and his legacy, which in turn tends to garner support for the party which 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.[48]

Cram schools[edit]

Singapore, like its neighbors in East Asia, is well known for its cram schools, and literally meaning "make-up class" or "catch-up class" or to learn more advanced classes. Most students from all races attend some sort of cram school, whether it be mathematics, computer skills, other 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 a remarkable respect for degrees for universities in the country, such as from the National University of SingaporeWikipedia (NUS) or Nanyang Technological UniversityWikipedia (NTU), which are widely regarded worldwide.[52][53]

As such, universities such as NUS and NTU are also consistently ranked within the top 20 universities in the world and is considered to be the best universities in the Asia-Pacific by the QS World University rankings.[52]

Conscription[edit]

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 SweeWikipedia) 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.
The Singapore Army's conscripted troops on the ground during the Afghanistan War.

Men have to enroll in compulsory conscription that have been in place since 1967 through the passing of the National Service (Amendment) Act.[54] Women could serve as well, on an optional basis. Women are excluded (similar to Switzerland and South Korea) from compulsory conscription in Singapore, in contrast with Israel's system. Lee Kuan Yew originally did wanted to conscript women as well, but his fellow ministers disagreed.[55]

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 defence (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 whole duration of service (until the statutory age limit), every man who is deemed to be medically fit has to pass a physical test. They are also subjected to random call ups at any point in time, also known as Mobililsation 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.

National defence[edit]

Singapore invokes a "whole-of-society national defence 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 neighbouring countries, and at the time it only had about 1,000 regular soldiers. It also explained that countries such as Switzerland and South Korea also practices conscription for similar reasons.[56]

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 mostly consists of Chinese, Malay and Indian communities. In general, conscription in Singapore continues to show strong support among Singaporeans.[57]

Gender[edit]

Critics argue that women enjoy greater rights than men in Singapore, especially in regards to conscription and in 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.[58] 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).[18]: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 victim regretting the sex and retracting the consent given), although 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.

Public housing[edit]

HDB residences at QueenstownWikipedia
A LRT train approaching a station surrounded by public housing estates

The majority of Singaporeans live in public housing apartments, managed by the state Housing and Development BoardWikipedia (HDB) under a 99-year lease. These flats are located at housing estates around the city, which are self-contained satellite towns with well-maintained schools, supermarkets, malls, community hospitals, clinics, hawker centresWikipedia (food court) and sports and recreational facilities. Every housing estate includes Mass Rapid TransitWikipedia (MRT) stations and bus stops that link residents to other parts of the city-state. Some estates are also complemented by smaller Light Rapid TransitWikipedia (LRT) stations which act as a feeder service to the MRT.

As compared to most parts of the world, public housing in Singapore is not ostracised by a wide majority of the population and its government, and acts as a necessary and vital measure to provide immaculate and safe housing surrounded by public amenities at affordable prices, especially during its rapid development and industrialisation 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. As such, it is considered a unique part of Singaporean culture and identity, being commonly associated with the country.[59][60]

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, while 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 in the world.[61][62]

Public security[edit]

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 GallupWikipedia 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 and head off for a bit and not expect it to be stolen when you return.[63]

In one Economist Intelligence UnitWikipedia Safe Cities Index, Singapore was ranked as the safest in the world, especially in regards to digital, personal and infrastructure security.[64] The country also ranks highly on the Global Peace Index,Wikipedia being consistently placed in the top 10 and the highest in Asia for the past decade.[65]

Economy[edit]

Overview[edit]

Singapore is a high-income economy with one of the highest gross national income in the world. The country provides one of the world’s most business-friendly regulatory environment 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.Wikipedia It has the second-highest per-capita GDP in the world in terms of purchasing power parity (PPP). The Asia-Pacific Economic CooperationWikipedia (APEC) is headquartered in Singapore. The Monetary Authority of SingaporeWikipedia (MAS) functions as its central bank and financial regulatory authority.

Its has been ranked by the World Economic ForumWikipedia as the most open in the world, the third most transparent by Transparency International,Wikipedia the most pro-business by the World Bank,Wikipedia and the highest degree of economic freedom in the world by the Index of Economic Freedom.Wikipedia The major capital market is the Singapore ExchangeWikipedia (SGX). Singapore's currency, the Singapore dollar,Wikipedia is the thirteenth-most traded currency in the world 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 amongst 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,Wikipedia Singapore was ranked the best country in the world in human capital development. Singapore has also been ranked first on the Global Competitiveness Report,Wikipedia published by the World Economic Forum.[66]

Banking[edit]

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".[67] This can appear particularly ironic to those in the know when Singapore occassionally 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,Wikipedia OCBC BankWikipedia and United Overseas BankWikipedia (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 capitalisation in the region.

Construction[edit]

The Singapore government relies heavily on foreign labour 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.[68]

The skyline of Marina Bay.

Free trade[edit]

Singapore has also signed multiple free trade agreements with many countries, including with China, the European Union, Japan and the United States.

Inequality[edit]

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 a variety of social assistance schemes for lower-income Singaporeans. The Ministry of Social and Family Development runs ComCare, a program which 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 CouncilsWikipedia 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 pay off the rest of their medical bills even after government subsidies and other health financing schemes has been used. In addition, the National Council of Social Service coordinates a range of 450 non-government voluntary welfare organisations to provide social services, while raising funds through The Community Chest of Singapore. Singaporeans of all socio-economic backgrounds are also required to contribute to the Central Provident FundWikipedia (CPF), a mandatory saving and social security plan.

1 in 5 Singaporeans are millionaires. Singaporeans as a whole have an average debt of US$50,000, which has been stated as "moderate for a high-wealth country".[69]

State investment firms[edit]

The city-state operates investment firms called Temasek HoldingsWikipedia and GIC.Wikipedia Temasek itself already has a portfolio of over 400 billion dollars — larger than JPMorgan ChaseWikipedia and approximately equal to the entire GDP of Singapore. By "coincidence", Temasek's CEO is Ho Ching, the wife of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong. Lee has stated publicly that his feelings are "greatly hurt" by the suggestion that nepotism was involved, and he and his father prior to his death have both been notoriously litigious toward political critics over the years.[70] However, Ho Ching is set to retire in October 2021, being replaced by Dilhan Pillay.[71]

A conspiracy believed by some of the local populace was that their compulsory savings and retirement accounts, known as Central Provident FundWikipedia (CPF), was "gambled" away by the firm when it made "poorly-judged investments" during the global financial crisis of 2008/2009.[72] However, Singapore reported record growth the year after in 2010, and such discussions were quickly forgotten.

Culture and religion[edit]

The downtown district skyline with the MerlionWikipedia in the foreground

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.[73] Singapore has four official languages (English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay, and Tamil). A 2014 analysis by the Pew Research CenterWikipedia found Singapore to be the world's most religiously diverse nation.[74]

Singaporeans are generally cohesive and view themselves as Singaporeans rather than as 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 with 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.Wikipedia[75] It is an offense to make racial or religious jokes in Singapore as the government does not wish a re-enactment of the Maria Hertogh riotsWikipedia and the 1964 race riots.Wikipedia[76]

Race relations[edit]

Issues such as casual racism among Singaporeans of different races was 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.[77] 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.[78] Subsequently, Shrey was questioned by the police for alleged racism (due to his discussion on racial issues) though was quickly released when the police determined that no damage was done to the social fabric of Singapore.[79]

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.[80]

Singlish[edit]

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 slangWikipedia 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 favour of Standard English. Singlish is also heavily discouraged in the mass media and in schools, although it is not widely enforced.

Such official discouragement are routinely countered by other presentations in mainstream media, including usage by pretty much all Singaporeans in informal situations such as street interviews broadcast on television and radio on a daily basis, as well as occasionally in newspapers among journalists.

Furthermore, there have been recent surges in the interest of Singlish internationally, sparking several national conversations in response. In 2016, the Oxford English DictionaryWikipedia (OED) announced that it has added 19 new "Singaporean English" items such as "Hawker centre", "shiok", "sabo" in both its online and printed versions. Several Singlish words had also previously made it into the OED's online version, which 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.[81]

Foreign relations[edit]

Prime Minister Lee with President Trump before the summit with North Korea.

For its size, Singapore generally punches above its weight and is prominently influential in the world. A Singaporean citizen has visa-free access to 190 countries, making them possess one of the most powerful passports in the world. This most probably stems from the fact that Singaporeans are wealthy enough that they almost never or see the need to illegally emigrate or overstay in other countries.

Singapore was offered to be a major non-NATO ally during the Presidency of George W. Bush, but had turned the offer down, stating that it was in violation of its neutrality policy, which is usually refers to appeasement of its Muslim-majority neighbours mentioned below. Nevertheless, it maintains relatively good relations with the United States.[82]

Singapore has a love-hate relationship with its neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia, as well as ASEAN in general, who tends to have a sense of envy for the city-state.

Relations with Malaysia[edit]

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 standards of living. They are generally viewed as the extended cousins of Singaporeans, as both were under the same country about half a century ago. Singapore and Malaysia were in a legal conflict over the Pedra Branca dispute.Wikipedia 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 so that they could 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.

Malaysia's goals were however not realised as the International Court of JusticeWikipedia (ICJ) ruled on 23 May 2008 that Pedra Branca was under Singapore's sovereignty.[83]

Operation Pukul Habis[edit]

Malindo Darasa 3AB, also known as Operation Pukul Habis or Operation Total Wipeout, was a joint exercise by Singapore's neighbours 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, and 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 mobilisation 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 mobilisation exercises in Singapore and it was done to dissuade her neighbors from an actual invasion. 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."[84]

Gallery[edit]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

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