Located at the southern tip of the Malay peninsula, Singapore is literally a ‘city-state’ comprised of six small islands with limited land area. Slightly more than 4 1/2 million people occupy and area about 3 1/2 times the size of Washington, DC.
After receiving their independence from British rule, that had been reestablished after World War II, Singapore, essentially an island nation, joined other island nations to become Malasia. This affiliation was short-lived and Singapore broke away and established a separate country in the mid 1960s.
A parliamentary democracy was set up, with a Westminster system, a unicameral government with only one Chamber. Executive power rests with the Cabinet, headed by the Prime Minister. The office of President is mainly a ceremonial one, but he does have limited veto powers on the use of national reserves and judiciary appointments. The Presidency is an elected position, but it has only been contested once since Singapore became a nation. The Parliament is the legislative branch of the government.
The Members of Parliament are either elected, non-constituency or nominated to their posts. The majority are elected to five year terms in a General Election. The MPs represent either Single Member Groups or Group Resentation Constituencies. There are 94 MPs; 84 elected Members, one non-constituency MP and nine Nominated MPs.
The Nominated MPs, not representing any political party, are appointed by the President for 2 1/2 year terms. The slate of appointees is drawn up by a Special Select Committee of Parliament headed by the Speaker.
There is essentially a one-party system controlled by the People’s Action Party (PAP), though there are other political parties; the Workers’ Party of Singapore, the Singapore Democratic Party and Singapore Democratic Alliance. Most analysts consider Singapore to be a procedural democracy, rather than a true democracy. The nation has also been described as a “hybrid regime made up of authoritarian and democratic parts.”
Though the elections have not been plagued by voter fraud and illegalities, it has been charged that the electoral system has been manipulated by the PAP. It has also been alledged that the courts are aligned with the PAP. In essense, The Republic of Singapore is authoritarian with only a superficial resemblance to a true democracy.
The legal system is descended from English Common Law, influenced by British Indian laws. PAP, the ruling party, rejects many of the democratic values laid out by the laws, accusing them of being ‘Western’ and not entirely suitable for Singapore. There are no jury trials. There is restricted freedom of speech in this multicultural, multiracial society. In 2005, three bloggers were convicted of sedition for posting racist remarks on the internet.
Criminal punishment ranges from heavy fines, to caning, to capital punishment for first degree murder and drug trafficing. Singapore has the highest execution rate per capita in the world.
Despite the heavy-handedness, the system seems to work for this city-state. Tourists report that the city is clean, modern, cosmopolitan and relatively crime-free. There is good shopping, fine restaurants, sights to see and a new casino to draw even more money form the tourist trade.
For more information on Singapore, visit http://www.singaporemicroblog.com/