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Can you see it?
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.[1]
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.[2]

Singapore is 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.[3]

Singapore has an internationally-known fun fact in that it has outlawed sales of chewing gum, but officials likely won't stop you from having a pack inside your purse. It's just that you won't be able to find them sold many stores, but 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.[4]


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."[5] 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."[6]

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). 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[7]:10[note 1]

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),[9] led by the Malayan National Liberation Army,[10] 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).[11]: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.[11]: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.[11]:414 From 1950 to 2013, there have been 1190 people detained under these two acts, and likely others whose detentions have not been documented.[12]: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. [13]: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,[14]: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.[12]:432-445 Among those imprisoned were Lim Chin Siong and other members of the PAP.[12]:432-445[15] 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.[16] 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.[17]: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).[14]: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.[18]

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.[14]: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:[14]: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.[14]: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,[19]:258 implying that it was effectively a false flag operation of the British government.[14]:46,48 The Prime Minister of Malaya, Tunku Abdul Rahman,Wikipedia had been instigated by Indonesia;[14]:47 much later, political scientist Richard Clutterbuck also came to this conclusion.[20]:159 Barisan Socialis, Parti Rakyat Malaysia and the Malaysian Communist Party all sent messages of support to the PRB shortly after the revolt began.[14]:47 Lee consequently drew connections between the Barisan Sosialis and the PRB revolt, and claimed that Barisan Sosialis was preparing for a similar revolt.[14]:47 The British government did in fact know that the Barisan Socialis were not involved in either the Brunei revolt or the Malayan Emergency.[14] 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.[14]: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.[14]: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.[14]: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."[14]: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.[14]:60 The list eventually agreed upon included 169 people.[14]:60 On February 2, 1963, what came to be known as Operation ColdstoreWikipedia began:[14]: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'."[14]: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:[14]: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.[14]: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).[17]:113-114[21]

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 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.[22]

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 ISA was finally repealed in 2012,[11]:410[23] five decades after the end of the Malayan Emergency,[9] and two decades after the dissolution of the Malayan National Liberation Army[10] and the Malayan Communist Party.[24] The ISA in Singapore however is still in effect as of 2020.[25] In Singapore, a total of 1190 people were known to have been arrested under the ISA from 1950-2013, including 768 since Operation Coldstore.[11]:432-488 There was a lull in ISA arrests between June 1988 and August 2001, when there apparently none. Following 9/11, the ISA arrests resumed but exclusively for people with Muslim names; prior to 9/11, the arrestees predominantly had Chinese names.[11]: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.[26]:229-230,233-234,237[27]: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 disrupted lives and careers, and caused hardship to to families of the detainees.[27]:341-342[11]:421

Singapore is by-and-large in denial about its history because there has never been an open truth and reconciliation for Operation Coldstore and the effects of the ISA.[28]:200-201 Access to original documents in the National Archives of Singapore requires preclearance, and is only given to scholars who are likely to be favorable to the PAP.[29]: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[28]:200

Another consequence of Operation Coldstore and the ever-present threat of ISA detention was a lingering climate of fear and apathy among Singaporeans:[11]:420[27]: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[27]:347

Government and politics[edit]

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[30] 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[edit]

Speaker's Corner at Hong Lim Park: is anyone listening?

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.[31] However, anyone holding the activity must first apply a permit with the Police and no foreigners are allowed to participate in such activities.[32]

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, by claiming that there's "no strong scientific evidence that a person's sexual orientation is unchangeable".

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.[33][34] Caning is still a punishment for men below 65 years old. Caning is a compulsory punishment for rape, sexual harassment, civil dissent and vandalism.

Parliament House in Singapore.

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.Wikipedia 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.[35]

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.[36]

Lee Kuan Yew's death in 2015 was promptly commemorated by the arrest of a teenage blogger.[37]

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.[38] 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".[39]

Gerrymandering and grassroots leaders[edit]

People's Action Party rally in 2011.

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.[40]

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[edit]

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.[41] 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.[42] 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.


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

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.[43] 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),[17]:88 which likely led to the PAP realizing that despite autocratic tendencies, it needed to appease the populace.

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 female) 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[44] 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.[45]

New citizen controversies[edit]

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.


Singapore's business district.

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.[46] 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 countries in Southeast Asia.[47][48] 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.

Commercial shipping in the Singapore Strait.

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.[49]

IDA saga[edit]

Airbus A380-800 belonging to Singapore Airlines.

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.[50] 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.

Investment controversies[edit]

The city operates an investment firm called Temasek Holdings,Wikipedia 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.[51]

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.[52]

Culture and religion[edit]

The Sultan Mosque, one of the most important such buildings in Singapore.

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.[53] 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.[54] 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.[55]

Casual racism[edit]

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.[56] 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.[57] 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.[58] 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.[59]

Foreign relations[edit]

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

Singapore is so influential in the world that anyone with the Singapore passport has visa-free access to 173 countries including North Korea.[note 2] 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.

Singapore has a love-hate relationship with its neighbors, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Relations with Malaysia[edit]

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 InitiativeWikipedia to reduce the influence of Singapore and its key western allies in the region.

Operation Pukul Habis[edit]

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.


See also[edit]


  1. This quotation reflects the oppressor's view in contrast to Martin Niemöller's powerful quotations against apathy towards victimization (First they came…Wikipedia) that began circulating in 1946:[8]:175

    First they came for the socialists, and I did not speak out —

    Because I was not a socialist.

    Then they came for the trade unionists, and I did not speak out —

    Because I was not a trade unionist.

    Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—

    Because I was not a Jew.
    Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.
  2. No visa is required for Singapore citizens traveling to North Korea and vice-versa!


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  8. The Origin and Reception of Martin Niemoller's quotation, "First they came for the communists…" by Harold Marcuse (2015) Remembering for the Future Armenia, Auschwitz, and Beyond, edited by Michael Berenbaum et al. Paragon House. pp. 173-199.
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  10. 10.0 10.1 See the Wikipedia article on Malayan Races Liberation Army.
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  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 "The Historical Truth Will Be Revealed: Political Detainees in Singapore, 1950-2013" by Loh Miaw Gong (Loh Miao Ping) (2013) In: The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore: Commemorating 50 Years, edited by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang & Hong Lysa (2013) Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, Pusat Sejarah Rakyat Malaysia. ISBN 967063010X. pp. 423-490.
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  14. 14.00 14.01 14.02 14.03 14.04 14.05 14.06 14.07 14.08 14.09 14.10 14.11 14.12 14.13 14.14 14.15 14.16 14.17 14.18 14.19 "Operation Coldstore: A Key Event in Singapore in the Creation of Modern Singapore" by Geoff Wade. In: The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore: Commemorating 50 Years, edited by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang & Hong Lysa (2013) Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, Pusat Sejarah Rakyat Malaysia. ISBN 967063010X. pp. 15-69.
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  16. See the Wikipedia article on 1959 Singaporean general election.
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  18. See the Wikipedia article on Barisan Sosialis.
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  21. See the Wikipedia article on 1963 Singaporean general election.
  22. See the Wikipedia article on MacDonald House bombing.
  23. See the Wikipedia article on Internal Security Act 1960.
  24. See the Wikipedia article on Malayan Communist Party.
  25. See the Wikipedia article on Internal Security Act (Singapore).
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  27. 27.0 27.1 27.2 27.3 "Standing on the Moral High Ground" by Tan Kok Fang. In: The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore: Commemorating 50 Years, edited by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang & Hong Lysa (2013) Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, Pusat Sejarah Rakyat Malaysia. ISBN 967063010X. pp. 327-349.
  28. 28.0 28.1 "Living in a Time of Deception" by Poh Soo Kai. In: The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore: Commemorating 50 Years, edited by Poh Soo Kai, Tan Kok Fang & Hong Lysa (2013) Strategic Information and Research Development Centre, Pusat Sejarah Rakyat Malaysia. ISBN 967063010X. pp. 161-202.
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