Singapore is a an island city-state and entrepôt at the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula.
As a financial hub and popular tourist destination, Singapore is a thriving modern economy, and maintains generally good relations with the rest of the world, despite its repressive regime and questionable human rights record. Its economical and political success revolves around the idea of mass "importation" of cheap/good/fast labour and easy citizenship which guarantees its one party rule. It intends to grow its population to a whopping 6.9 million by 2030 compared to 1.887 million when the country gained its independence in 1965.
- 1 Government and politics
- 2 Society
- 3 Economy
- 4 Culture and religion
- 5 Foreign relations
- 6 See also
- 7 Notes
- 8 References
Government and politics
Singapore is effectively a one-party democracy which benefits from first past the post voting. Ruled by the People's Action Party (PAP) under the leadership of Founding Father Lee Kuan Yew since its independence and separation from Malaysia in 1965, the Government of Singapore follows a progressive form of state crony capitalism with a hint of elitism under the mask of meritocracy. Free speech is de jure allowed in Singapore but subjected to so many conditions that it effectively doesn't exist. In fact, the "free speech" of Singapore is more of a freedom to common sense and pro-government rhetoric.
Civil rights, law and rights to assembly
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. In fact, many Singaporeans would rather complain about their issues through proper channels or visit their Member 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. However, anyone holding the activity must first apply a permit with the Police and no foreigners are allowed to participate in such activities.
In Singapore's justice system, a single judge decides all questions of both law and fact at a trial. 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), result in your appeal being dismissed out of hand and additional criminal charges filed against you.
Homosexual activity remains criminalized under Section 377A of Singapore's penal code. 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.
Capital punishment still exists in Singapore for major crimes such as murder/kidnapping/possessions of recreational drugs and armed robbery under the Penal code of Singapore. Caning is still a punishment for men below 65 years old. Caning is a compulsory punishment for rape, sexual harassment, civil dissent and vandalism.
Whilst the ruling Lee family has long been fond of suing political opponents for defamation (how dare they get elected?), 2014 saw this trend exacerbated when the sitting Prime Minister sued an ordinary citizen, the young social activist Roy Ngerng. Guess who won? Clearly annoyed that unemployed Roy managed to gather enough funds through crowd-funding to pay his legal fees, PM Lee then made sure that the damages hearing would be heard at the High Court which meant the minimum award sum would be $200,000.
Judgement was handed down in December 2015 and Ngerng was ordered to pay S$150,000 in damages to PM Lee with comments from the judge that "The comparatively low standing of the defendant warranted a substantial reduction". That's the way it runs in Singapore folks.
Lee Kuan Yew's death in 2015 was promptly commemorated by the arrest of a teenage blogger.
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 (son of Lee Kwan Yew), of abuse of power by not demolishing the Oxley Road House that had belong to the founding father Mr. Lee Kuan Yew. The entire saga, also known as Oxley Road Saga, had a lot of controversy when the prime minister decide not to sue his brother for defamation, in stark contrast to his political opponents. This prompted the famous speech from the opposition member of parliament, Mr. 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".
Gerrymandering and grassroots leaders
Critics have long accused the ruling PAP elite of gerrymandering to maintain a significant parliamentary majority. The Elections Department fixes electoral boundaries and is part of the executive branch which reports to the (always PAP) Prime Minister. This has raised its ugly head yet again in advance of the Parliamentary elections scheduled for September 2015.
It would be safe to assume that a large percentage of the PAP grassroots leaders are also part-time informants for the Internal Security Department (ISD). Visitors are encouraged to abstain from Singapore politics while in Singapore as any politically incorrect conversation overheard by the grassroots leaders may subject the unsuspecting tourists to an indefinite jail term, and/or caning.
Salaries of ministers and MPs
The salaries of ministers and members of parliament (MPs) are of constant debate.
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 mentioned that he donates 50% of his salary to charity but this claim could not be substantiated. The salary of MPs are 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 and the official explanation for their large compensation is so that they have enough pride when talking to business leaders who earn equivalent salaries.
Women enjoy greater rights than men in Singapore. 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. Women are excluded from compulsory conscription in Singapore and enjoy better wages due to local feminism movements. In fact, Singapore has the lowest rape cases in the region as non-consensual sex in Singapore is viewed as rape and comes with compulsory caning of the offender. Non-consensual sex in Singapore includes impaired consent (i.e. having intercourse with a drunk girl) and retroactively withdrawn consent (i.e victim regretting the sex and retracting the consent given). Women in Singapore are given exclusive tax rebates for childbirth (up to 75% of their annual income) and are one of the richest in the region due to their high salaries and low taxes. Adultery is legal in Singapore and women have the right to have sex with more than one man.
Men on the other hand are not so lucky. Many of the local populace agree that a man born in China or India is more fortunate than a man born in Singapore. Singapore has a compulsory conscription in place since 1967 through the passing of the NS (Amendment) Act. Every male citizen in Singapore is subjected to two years of full-time National Service and a subsequent part-time service every year up to the statutory age limit of 40 years old. Men who obtained officers' ranks are required to 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 or face jail time, fines and even capital punishment. 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. Employers in Singapore must release their male employees to compulsory service. As a result, many employers shun hiring local men, instead choosing to hire local women or foreigners. Singaporean men are also despised if they wear their army uniform on public transports as they are deemed to be smelly and lazy if they sit down in trains.
New citizen controversies
Many locals in Singapore believe that the government has no restrictions for foreigners to become new citizens as the new citizens are most likely to vote for the incumbent government. In fact, many call it the "pyramid scheme" where foreigners are attracted by the lucrative job opportunities and relatively low taxes. However, many new citizens soon discover that their children are subjected to national service and migrate to other countries as soon as they become Singaporeans. This has sparked the ire of many locals who feel that they have got the short end of the stick as they are stuck in the country with no means of escaping from it.
The Singapore government relies heavily on foreign labour, which they called "Foreign Talents" (FTs). 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 the solution to Singapore's economy. This term was later used by many bosses in small and medium enterprises to justify the retrenchment of older local workers and replacing them with young foreign labour as young Singaporean men have national service commitments and it will affect their productivity.
Banking is a major part of the Singapore economy. Though on some level, Singapore may appear to have little corruption, the banking industry has historically been closely tied with laundering ill-gotten gains from neighboring counties in Southeast Asia. This can appear particularly ironic to those in the know when Singapore annually suffers from very bad air pollution caused by forest fires in neighboring Indonesia, some of which are associated with illegal land clearing.
Singapore has also signed multiple free trade agreements that also allow India, China and the Philippines to dump their additional population in Singapore. In fact, the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (CECA) which was signed between Singapore and India has allowed India to replace the majority of the information technology workforce in Singapore with many companies hiring Indian FTs through their Indian human resources counterparts. This became such an issue for many locals but despite that, the government insist that it is for the greater good of the economy to import a cheaper, better, faster workforce.
The Infocomm Development Authority of Singapore(IDA), now renamed as GOVTECH, was involved in a saga in April 2015 when one of the local citizens discovered that IDA had hired an Indian "Foreign Talent", Nisha Padmanabhan, with a fake masters degree from unaccredited Southern Pacific University. IDA was a statutory board under the Ministry of Information and was considered to be a public sector under government payroll. Many citizens were infuriated because the government had decided to hire a foreigner with a diploma mill degree rather than local people with genuine degrees. The controversy sparked much debate and it ultimately ended when the Indian FT resigned and moved to Silicon Valley.
The city operates an investment firm called Temasek Holdings, which manages a portfolio of over 200 billion dollars — larger than JP Morgan Chase 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 have both been notoriously litigious toward political critics over the years.
Many of the local populace suspects that the compulsory savings and retirement accounts, know as Central Provident Fund (CPF), was "gambled" away by the firm when it made poorly-judged investment in the crisis of 2008/2009.
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, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil), although new citizens from India and the Philippines are campaigning for the inclusion of Punjabi and Tagalog as official languages as well. Singaporeans are generally cohesive and view themselves as Singaporeans rather than as a group of their respective races. In fact, local Singaporean Chinese would identify themselves with their local Malay or Indian counterparts rather than with Chinese from China. Locals who do not like foreigners stealing their jobs are labeled as xenophobic racists. 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/religious jokes in Singapore as the government does not want a re-enactment of the Maria Hertogh riots.
Casual racism was brought into the spotlight when a local Indian actor 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 propaganda movie on National Service. Local online television personality Xiaxue, was quick to respond that it was right for the directors to do what they did and called bullshit on Shrey Bhargava 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) and was released when the police determined that no damage was done to the social fabric of Singapore. This incident brought the topic of casual 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, the minority in Singapore has been very tolerant as well.
Singapore is so influential in the world that anyone with the Singapore passport has visa-free access to 173 countries including North Korea.[note 1] Singapore maintains friendly diplomatic relations with North Korea despite the trade embargo against North Korea. However, the general public in Singapore do not have the financial luxury to obtain a passport, which costs SGD$80, nor travel the world as they are constantly taxed by the government and as a result earn one of the lowest real salaries (Gross Salary - Compulsory Retirement Account Contributions - Taxes) in the region.
Relations with Malaysia
Many Malaysians travel to work in Singapore from Johor and are viewed as the extended cousins of Singaporeans. However, many Singaporeans secretly envy the Malaysians as they stay in much larger houses and earn a good salary after exchange rates. Many Malaysians who worked in Singapore has no loyalty towards Singapore. In fact, they would openly admit that Singapore's salary is good but its cost of living is so high that they would not want to move here. Singapore and Malaysia are 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, under the Najib Razak government, wishes to claim Pedra Branca so that they can 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. This is in line with China's One Belt One Road Initiative to reduce the influence of Singapore and its key western allies in the region.
Operation Pukul Habis
Malindo Darasa 3AB (a.k.a. Operation Pukul Habis) was a joint exercise by Indonesia and Malaysia held on August 8th, 1991 which coincided with Singapore's 26th National Day. The operation involved an airdrop of troops from both countries in Johor and it happened during the transition phase when Lee Kuan Yew passed the baton to the new Prime Minister, Goh Chok Tong.
In response to the operation, a massive island-wide mobilisation exercise was triggered by Singapore's Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) and all reservists 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.
- No visa is required for Singapore citizens traveling to North Korea and vice-versa!
- Planet Plutocrat: The countries where politically connected businessmen are most likely to prosper (Mar 15th 2014) The Economist.
- See the Wikipedia article on Capital punishment in Singapore.
- Singapore PM takes to the stand for hours in blogger defamation case
- Blogger Roy Ngerng ordered to pay PM Lee S$150,000 in damages
- Teenage blogger who called Lee Kuan Yew a 'horrible person' is arrested by Singapore police by Lucy Clarke-Billings (Monday 30 March 2015) The Independent
- 10 things I learnt about the politics of gerrymandering in S’pore from reading The Straits Times
- Lucrative salaries keep MPs and Ministers from retiring (January 2, 2017) States Times Review.
- Human Rights Watch World Report 2011
- Layout candid recorded videos to corruption in Sarawak Directorate Taib Imam