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Singapore History And Government

Singapore History And Government

History: For centuries before Sir Stamford Raffles acquired it from the Sultan of Johor in 1819, Singapore had been virtually abandoned. However, within decades of the change of ownership, in a historical echo of its role today, Singapore had become the main commercial and strategic centre for the region. In 1867, it became a British Crown Colony and housed one of the UK’s most important naval bases. This status remained unchanged until 1942 when the Japanese army swept down through Malaya and occupied the colony. Three-and-a-half years later the Japanese surrendered in Singapore and the colony assumed its previous status.

With the dissolution of the British Empire, Singapore was granted internal self-government in 1959. In 1963, Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia, but broke away in 1965 from the collapsing federation to become fully independent. Two years later, Singapore was expelled when Lee Kuan Yew, first elected Prime Minister in 1959 and re-elected eight times thereafter, refused to implement a federal edict granting Malays a privileged economic position (to the disadvantage of the ethnic Chinese population). The initial outlook was unpromising: Singapore is tiny and has no natural resources apart from a good harbour. However, Lee managed to galvanise the population into building a strong, export-led manufacturing and service economy. Lee Kuan Yew and his political vehicle, the People’s Action Party (PAP), enjoyed a virtual monopoly of political power from 1972 until Lee’s announcement in 1988 that he would not complete his eighth term nor seek subsequent office.

In October 1990, he formally handed over the premiership to a long-standing colleague, Goh Chok Tong, remaining as Senior Minister in the Prime Minister’s office and Secretary-General of the PAP. Some Singaporeans believed that Goh was merely a transitional figure between Lee Kuan Yew and his son Lee Hsien Loong, who entered politics after a glittering academic and military career before taking up the post of deputy prime minister. In November 1992, Goh was proposed and endorsed to take over the PAP Secretary-General’s post. In both January 1997 and September 2001, opposition parties decided to contest only a small proportion (about one-third) of the 83 seats. Not surprisingly, the PAP won both polls comfortably. Goh was widely expected to stand down in favour of Lee Junior and, indeed, finally did so in August 2004.

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In the last few years there has been some pressure, to which the Government has responded in part, for a relaxation of Singapore’s numerous laws which have given it a reputation as a prosperous but rather antiseptic and pettily repressive city-state. More seriously, Singapore has the highest per capita rate of judicial execution in the world, and the government is still highly intolerant of internal dissent. Abroad, Singapore has taken a more active role in regional affairs, mainly through the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN), the former anti-Communist bloc which is now adopting a more wide-ranging role in diplomatic, economic and – since the Bali bomb attacks – security affairs. There has been some improvement in relations between Singapore and Malaysia, between whom there are myriad disputes about matters such as access to air space, water resources and territorial boundaries.

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Government: The parliament is unicameral; executive power nominally rests with the President, but is effectively wielded by the Prime Minister and the Cabinet: the presidency is a largely ceremonial post whose incumbent is elected by parliament to serve a six-year term. The 93-member Parliament is elected for a five-year term; apart from nine presidential appointees, its members are elected under a constituency system.

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