Singapore
Asia's cosmopolitan city
Singapore politics, Singapore government

Politics & Government

Singapore is a republic with a Westminster parliamentary system of government and, as in many small countries, it has a unicameral parliament that represents different constituencies.

 

In principle, the nation's head of state is the President, who gets elected in popular vote, once every six years.  However, in parliamentary systems like the Westminster system, which Singapore employs, the Prime Minister is the head of the government and the bulk of the executive powers rest with him and the cabinet, while the president's role is mostly ceremonial.  Constitution amendments that took place in 1991 give the president some veto powers in a few key decisions such as the use of the national reserves and the appointment of key judiciary positions. He also exercises powers over civil service appointments and internal security matters.

 

Officially, Singapore is a multi-party democracy but, in reality, its political system (and its elections system, in particular) is somewhat complicated and, therefore,  there are many who consider the country's form of government to be closer to authoritarianism such as illiberal democracy or procedural democracy, rather than true democracy.  The Economist Intelligence Unit classes Singapore as a "hybrid" country, with both authoritarian and democratic elements.

 

Singapore has been governed by the People's Action Party (PAP) since the 1959 general election when the "father of the nation", Lee Kuan Yew, became the country's first prime minister (Singapore was then a self governing colony under the British crown) The PAP has been in government ever since which means that Singapore is, practically, a one-party state.

 

Although opposition parties like Singapore Democratic Party, Workers Party of Singapore and Singapore Democratic Alliance do exist, they have never been able to get enough votes to gain control of the government (not even to get close to it...).  That is mainly because of the methods which PAP allegedly applies, in order to retain the reign.

.....................................................................................................................

.....................................................................................................................

Parliamentary elections are held once every five years and, despite of Singapore's small size (and small population), it is not done by a proportional representation on a national list basis, but by practicing plurality voting system that divides the voters between multiple electoral districts (constituencies). 

 

The Parliament can have a maximum of 99 members, 84 of whom have to be elected by the people (through the constituencies), up to six may be appointed as Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) : those are members of the opposition parties who were appointed as MPs even though they had lost in the parliamentary election. The idea behind the NCMP scheme is to provide a voice for the opposition in parliament and, normally, NCMP seats would go to the top opposition losers who obtained more than 15% of the votes in their respective constituencies.  The remaining (maximum) nine MPs are Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) : these are nine citizens without any party affiliation, who are allowed to participate and contribute to parliamentary debates without having to go through the electoral process.

 

The 84 elected MPs represent either Single-Member Constituencies (SMCs) from where a single MP can be elected, or Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) from which 3 to 6 MPs can be elected.  In each of the group Representation Constituencies, at least one MP must be from a minority race - either a Malay, Indian or Other.

 

According to the "winner takes all" principle, practiced in the plurality voting system, the party that managed to get the highest number of votes is the one who will have its candidate/s elected, while the rest of the votes are basically washed down the drain...

 

The opposition's main allegation is that due to the absence of separation of powers between the Elections Department and the ruling party, the latter can gerrymander the constituencies to their benefit (in other words, the ruling party is accused for manipulating the constituency boundaries, in order to gain an electoral advantage).

 

Another significant complaint of the opposition is that the Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) scheme, which allows 3 to 6 MPs (of the same party) to be elected from a single constituency, makes it practically impossible for independent candidates and small parties to stand a chance of winning.

The government, on the other hand, defends this system by claiming that it's the only way to secure enough seats for the ethnic minorities...

 

The May 2006 general election makes a good example of how problematic Singapore's election system is: PAP won only 66% of the overall votes but gained 82 out of the 84 seats in parliament (97% of the seats...). That is simply because the opposition parties were not strong enough to make it in any of the Group Representation Constituencies and so, in spite of receiving 34% of the votes, they managed to conquer less than 3% of the seats in parliament...   

 

 

It has also been alleged that the ruling party, PAP, files civil suits against members of the opposition for defamation, in order to obstruct their success.

Quite a few former and present members of the opposition got into financial dire straits, due to civil suits that have been filed against them by PAP: for example,

J. B. Jeyaretnam, Singapore's first ever opposition party candidate to become an MP, was declared bankrupt and was disqualified from participating in future elections after he lost a series of suits to members of the PAP

 

Censorship is another method which the PAP allegedly employs, in order to restrict opposition activity:  In 2005, filmmaker Martyn See shot a documentary on Chee called "Singapore Rebel" and was threatened with a lawsuit for making a "politically partisan" film, which is illegal in Singapore.

 

Surprisingly, in spite of Singapore's very problematic political system, it is still one of the world's least corrupted countries, and its judicial system, as well as its police force, are considered strait forward.

 

Moreover, civil liberties are generally kept and the PAP government seriously ensures that people will not be discriminated on grounds of race, religion or gender.

.....................................................................................................................

.....................................................................................................................