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Singapore - GOVERNMENT

Singapore - Government


AFTER TWENTY-FIVE YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE, Singapore enjoyed a reputation for political stability and honest, effective government. Probably the world's only ex-colony to have independence forced upon it, Singapore responded to its unanticipated expulsion from Malaysia in August 1965 by concentrating on economic development and by fostering a sense of nationhood. Though the survival of the miniature state was in doubt for a time, it not only survived but also managed to achieve the highest standard of living in Southeast Asia. The country also enjoyed a rare political continuity; its ruling party and prime minister triumphed in every election from 1959 to 1988. Singapore's government had an international reputation for effective administration and for ingenious and successful economic policies. It was also known for its authoritarian style of governance and limited tolerance for opposition or criticism, qualities the government deemed necessary to ensure survival in a hostile world and which its domestic and foreign critics claimed indicated a refusal to consider the opinions of its citizens or anyone outside the closed circle of the aging leadership. In the early 1990s, the leadership would face the issues of political succession and of modifying the relationship between the state and the increasingly prosperous and well-educated society it had created.


Singapore - Form of Government


The Republic of Singapore is a city-state with a governing structure patterned on the British system of parliamentary government. In 1989 legislative power was vested in a unicameral Parliament with eighty-one members who were elected for five-year terms (or less if the Parliament was dissolved prematurely). Members of Parliament were elected by universal adult suffrage from forty-two single-member constituencies and thirteen group representation constituencies. Voting was compulsory for all citizens above the age of twenty-one. The group representation constituencies elected a team of three members, at least one of the whom had to be Malay, Indian, or a member of one of Singapore's other minorities. The group representation constituencies, introduced in the 1988 general election, were intended to ensure multiracial parliamentary representation to reflect Singapore's multiracial society. In another departure from the British model, members of Parliament elected on a party ticket had to resign if they changed parties. A 1984 amendment to the Parliamentary Elections Act provided for the appointment to Parliament of up to three nonconstituency members if the opposition parties failed to win at least three seats in the general election. The nonconstituency members were chosen from the opposition candidates who had polled the highest percentage of votes. The seventh Parliament, elected on September 3, 1988, and meeting for the first time on January 9, 1989, included one elected opposition member and one nonconstituency member.

Singapore had only one level of government--national government and local government were one and the same. The form of the government reflected the country's unusually small area and modest total population of 2.6 million. Below the national level, the only recognized territorial divisions were the fifty-five parliamentary constituencies. Members of Parliament thus performed some of the same functions as municipal aldermen in foreign cities and often won political support by helping to find jobs for constituents or doing other favors requiring intercession with the powerful civil bureaucracy. The single-member constituencies varied in population from 11,000 electors to as many as 55,000; some of the variability reflected population movement away from the old urban core and out to new housing developments.

As in all British-style polities, the government was headed by a prime minister who led a cabinet of ministers of state selected from the ranks of the members of Parliament. The cabinet was the policy-making body, and its members directed the work of the permanent civil servants in the ministries they headed. In 1989, the cabinet comprised fifteen members. Below the prime minister were a first deputy prime minister and a second deputy prime minister. They were followed by the ministers in charge of such functional departments as the Ministry of Finance or the Ministry of Defence and by two ministers without portfolio. The prime minister could reassign his cabinet members to new portfolios or drop them from the cabinet, and successful ministers headed several progressively more significant ministries in their careers. There were thirteen ministerial portfolios in 1989: defence, law, foreign affairs, national development, education, environment, communications and information, home affairs, finance, labour, community development, trade and industry, and health. Some portfolios were split between different ministers. The first deputy prime minister (Goh Chok Tong) was also first minister for defence. The minister for communications and information (Yeo Ning Hong) also served as second minister for defence (policy). The minister for trade and industry (Brigadier General (Reserve) Lee Hsien Loong) was concurrently second minister for defence (services). The foreign affairs and law portfolios were similarly divided.

The cabinet met once or twice a week; its meetings were private and confidential. Administrative and staff support to the prime minister and cabinet was provided by the Office of the Prime Minister, the officials of which included a senior minister of state, a political secretary, a secretary to the prime minister, and a secretary to the cabinet. The Office of the Prime Minister coordinated and monitored the activities of all ministries and government bodies and also directly supervised the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau and the Elections Department. Each minister was assisted by two secretaries, one for parliamentary or political affairs and the other for administrative affairs. The latter, the permanent secretary, was the highest ranking career civil servant of the ministry.

The constitutional head of state was the president, who occupied a largely powerless and ceremonial role. The president was elected by the Parliament for a four-year term. He could be reelected without limit and removed from office by a two-thirds vote of Parliament. In turn, the president formally appointed as prime minister the member of Parliament who had the support of the majority of Parliament. On the advice of the prime minister, the president then appointed the rest of the ministers from the ranks of the members of Parliament. The president, acting on the advice of the prime minister, also appointed a wide range of government officials, including judges, and members of advisory boards and councils.

In 1988 the government discussed amending the Constitution to increase the power of the president. A white paper introduced in Parliament in July 1988 recommended that the president be directly elected by the people for a six-year term and have veto power over government spending as well as over key appointments. It also proposed an elected vice president with a six-year term of office. The proposed changes originated as a device intended to permit Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who had been prime minister since 1959, to retain some power should he retire, as he had hinted, and assume the presidency. No specific dates for the proposed constitutional change were given in the white paper. As of late 1989, no action had been taken.


Singapore - Constitutional Framework


Singapore became an autonomous state within Malaysia, with its own constitution, on September 16, 1963. It separated from Malaysia on August 9, 1965. On December 22, 1965, the Legislative Assembly passed a Singapore Independence Bill and a Constitutional Amendment. The Constitutional Amendment provided for a parliamentary system of government, with a president, whose duties were largely ceremonial, elected every four years by the Parliament.

The Constitution can be amended by a two-thirds vote of Parliament. A 1966 amendment allowed appeal from the Court of Appeal in Singapore to the Judicial Committee of Her Majesty's Privy Council in Britain. In 1968 an amendment created the office of vice president and liberalized the requirements of citizenship. A 1969 amendment established the Supreme Court in place of the High Court and Court of Appeal as the highest appeal tribunal. A 1972 amendment entitled "Protection of the Sovereignty of the Republic of Singapore," introduced a measure to ensure the sovereignty of the city-state. It prohibited any merger or incorporation with another sovereign state, unless approved in a national referendum by a two-thirds majority. Under the same terms, it also prohibited the relinquishment of control over Singapore police forces and armed forces. In 1978 the Fundamental Liberties section of the Constitution (Part IV, Articles 9-16) was amended; the amendment extended government powers by establishing that arrests to preserve public safety and good order and laws on drug abuse would not be inconsistent with liberties set forth in that section of the Constitution.


Singapore - Major Governmental Bodies


The President

The Constitution states that the president shall be elected by Parliament for a term of four years. In consultation with the prime minister, the president appoints to his personal staff any public officers from a list provided by the Public Service Commission. In the exercise of his duties, the president acts in accordance with the advice of the cabinet or of a minister acting under the authority of the cabinet. The president may use his discretion in the appointment of the prime minister and in withholding consent to a request for the dissolution of Parliament.

The Executive

The Constitution stipulates that the executive authority of Singapore is vested in the president and exercised by him or the cabinet or any minister authorized by the cabinet, subject to the provisions of the Constitution. The cabinet directs and controls the government and is responsible to Parliament. The president appoints a member of Parliament as prime minister and, in accordance with the advice of the prime minister, appoints an attorney general. The attorney general advises the government on legal matters and has the discretionary power to initiate, conduct, or terminate any proceedings for any offense.

The Legislature

The legislature consists of the president and Parliament. Members must be citizens of Singapore, twenty-one years of age or older, on the current register of electors, able to communicate in either English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese, or Tamil, and of sound mind. Membership ceases with the dissolution of a Parliament, which takes place every five years or at the initiative of the president. A general election must be held within three months of the dissolution of Parliament. Parliament convenes at least once a year, scheduling its meetings after the first session is summoned by the president. Members may speak in English, Malay, Mandarin Chinese or Tamil, and simultaneous translation is provided. Parliamentary procedure follows the British pattern: all bills are deliberated in three readings and passed by a simple majority. Only the government may introduce money bills, those that allocate public funds and so provide for the ongoing operations of the state. Once passed, bills become laws with the assent of the president and publication in the official Gazette.

The final step in the passage of laws is the examination of bills by the Presidential Council for Minority Rights. The council, established by the Constitution (Amendment) Act of 1969, must determine if bills or other proposed legislation discriminate against any religious or ethnic community or otherwise contravene the fundamental liberties guaranteed by the Constitution. It also renders advisory opinions on matters affecting ethnic and religious communities that are referred to the council by the Parliament or government. The council is composed of ten members appointed for life and ten members and a chairman appointed for three-year terms by the president on the advice of the cabinet. Any bill on which the council renders an adverse opinion may not become law unless modified to its satisfaction or passed by two-thirds of the Parliament. The council has no jurisdiction over money bills or over any bill certified by the prime minister as affecting the defense or security of Singapore or the country's "public safety, peace, or good order." In addition, bills certified by the prime minister as so urgent that it is not in the public interest to delay their enactment are also exempted from review by the council.


The electoral system is based on single-member constituencies. The law (amendments to the Constitution and to the Parliamentary Elections Act) providing for group representation constituencies also stipulated that the total number of members of Parliament from group representation constituencies had to total less than half the total number of members. Slightly more than half the constituencies would remain single-member constituencies. The candidate receiving the largest number of votes wins the election in that constituency. The consequence of this electoral rule, common to most Britishstyle constitutions, is to eliminate parliamentary representation for minority parties and to encourage the organization of parties whose candidates can win pluralities in many constituencies. In theory it is possible for a party to win every seat in parliament by receiving a plurality in every constituency.

The Judiciary

Singapore's judicial power is vested in the Supreme Court, consisting of a chief justice and an unspecified number of other judges. All are appointed by the president, acting on the advice of the prime minister. The judiciary functions as the chief guardian of the Constitution through its judicial review of the constitutionality of laws. The Supreme Court of Judicature Act of 1969, and various subsequent acts ensured judicial independence and integrity by providing for the inviolability of judges in the exercise of their duties and for safeguards on their tenure.

The Constitution establishes two levels of courts--the Supreme Court and the subordinate courts. The subordinate courts are the magistrates' courts, trying civil and criminal offenses with maximum penalties of three years' imprisonment or a fine of S$10,000; the district courts, trying cases with maximum penalties of ten years' imprisonment or a fine of S$50,000; the juvenile courts, for offenders below the age of sixteen; the coroners' courts; and the small claims courts, which hear civil and commercial claims for sums of less than S$2,000. The Supreme Court consisted of the High Court, which has unlimited original jurisdiction in all civil and criminal cases and which tries all cases involving capital punishment; the Court of Appeal, which hears appeals from any judgment of the High Court in civil matters; and the Court of Criminal Appeal, which hears appeals from decisions of the High Court in criminal cases. The final appellate court is the Judicial Committee of Her Majesty's Privy Council in London. According to Article 100 of the Constitution, the president may make arrangements for appeals from the Supreme Court to be heard by the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council. In May 1989, Parliament abolished the right to appeal to the Privy Council except for criminal cases involving the death sentence and civil cases in which the parties had agreed in writing to such an appeal at the outset. The judicial system reflected British legal practice and traditions, except for trial by jury. Singapore abolished jury trials except for capital offenses in 1959; all jury trials were abolished by the 1969 amendment of the code of criminal procedure.

The chief justice and other judges of the Supreme Court are appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister. The prime minister, however, is required to consult the chief justice on his recommendations for the Supreme Court. Judges of the subordinate courts are appointed by the president on the advice of the chief justice. Singapore's judges and superior courts repeatedly demonstrated their independence from the government by ruling against the government in cases involving political opponents or civil liberties. The government response in such cases was to amend the law or to pass new laws, but it did not attempt to remove or to intimidate judges. Although internal political struggle in Singapore from the 1950s through the 1980s was often intense, and the ruling government was quite willing to intimidate and imprison its political opponents, it always followed legal forms and procedures.

The attorney general is appointed by the president, on the advice of the prime minister, from persons qualified to become judges of the Supreme Court. A judge may be removed from office only for misbehavior or incapacitation, which must be certified by an independent tribunal. The attorney general, who is assisted by the solicitor general, is the principal legal advisor to the government, serves as the public prosecutor, and is responsible for drafting all legislation. The office of the attorney general, the Attorney General's Chambers, is divided into the legislation, civil, and criminal divisions.


Singapore - The Public Service


The public services included the Singapore Armed Forces, the Singapore Civil Service, the Singapore Legal Service, and the Singapore Police Force. A Public Service Commission (PSC), consisting of a chairman and no less than five nor more than nine other members, was appointed by the president, with the advice of the prime minister. The PSC acted to appoint, confirm, promote, transfer, dismiss, pension, and impose disciplinary control over public officers. A Public Service Division, established within the Ministry of Finance in 1983, managed civil service personnel. It was headed by a permanent secretary who was responsible to the minister for finance.

A Legal Service Commission, with jurisdiction over all officers in the Singapore Legal Service, was composed of the chief justice as president, the attorney general, the chairman of the Public Service Commission, a judge of the Supreme Court nominated by the chief justice, and not more than two members of the Public Service Commission nominated by that commission's chairman. The Legal Service Commission acted to appoint, confirm, promote, transfer, dismiss, pension, and exercise disciplinary control over officers in the Singapore Legal Service.

The investigation of corruption in both the public and private sectors was under the sole authority of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau, part of the prime minister's office. The Auditor General's Office, an independent agency functioning without interference from any ministry or department, monitored Parliament to ensure its compliance with laws and regulations and to identify irregularities in its disbursement of government resources.


Singapore - The Public Bureaucracy


The government played an active role in managing the society and developing the economy and was the country's largest single employer. Government bodies and their employees fell into two distinct categories. The regular ministries and their civil service employees concentrated on recurrent and routine administrative tasks. The three ministries of education, health, and home affairs (including police, fire, and immigration) employed 62 percent (43,000) of the 69,700 civil servants in 1988. Members of the civil service in the strict sense of the term were those public employees who were appointed by the Public Service Commission and managed by the Ministry of Finance's Public Service Division. Active projects in economic development and social engineering were carried out by a large number of special-purpose statutory boards and public enterprises, which were free from bureaucratic procedures and to which Parliament delegated sweeping powers. As of 1984, there were eighty-three statutory boards employing 56,000 persons. About 125,000 members of the 1987 total work force were public employees.

The two branches of the public service served different functions in the political system. The civil service proper represented institutional continuity and performed such fundamental tasks as the collection of revenue, the delivery of such goods as potable water, and the provision of medical and educational services. The various quasigovernmental bodies, such as statutory boards, public enterprises, commissions, and councils represented adaptability, innovation, and responsiveness to local conditions. The constitutional framework of Singapore's government, with its Parliament, cabinet, courts, and functional ministries, resembled that of its British model and its peers in other countries of the British Commonwealth of Nations. The particular collection of boards and councils, which included everything from the Central Provident Fund to the Sikh Advisory Board, reflected the successful adaptation of the British model to its Southeast Asian environment.

Public service employment carried high prestige, and there was considerable competition for positions with the civil service or the statutory boards. Civil servants were appointed without regard to race or religion, and selected primarily on their performance on competitive written examinations. The civil service had four hierarchical divisions and some highly ranked "supergrade" officials. On January 1, 1988, there were 493 supergrade officers, who included ministerial permanent secretaries and departmental secretaries and constituted less than 1 percent of the 69,700 civil servants. Division one consisted of senior administrative and professional posts and contained 14 percent of the civil servants. The mid-level divisions two and three contained educated and specialized workers who performed most routine government work and who made up the largest group of civil servants, 33 and 32 percent of all civil servants, respectively. Division four consisted of manual and semiskilled workers who made up 20 percent of employees. In 1987, there were 3,153 appointments from the 9,249 applicants for positions in divisions one through three; 2,200 (some 70 percent) of the appointees were women.

The Singapore public service was regarded as almost entirely free from corruption, a fact that in large part reflected the strong emphasis the national leadership placed on probity and dedication to national values. The Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau enjoyed sweeping powers of investigation and the unreserved support of the prime minister. Official honesty was also promoted by the relatively high salaries paid to public officials; the high salaries were justified by the need to remove temptations for corruption. In a system with clear echoes of the Chinese Confusian tradition, and the British administrative civil service, which recruited the top graduates of the elite universities, Singapore's public service attempted, generally successfully, to recruit the most academically talented youth. The Public Service Commission awarded scholarships to promising young people for study both in Singapore and at foreign universities on the condition that the recipients join the civil service after graduation. Young recruits to the development-oriented statutory boards were often given substantial responsibilities for ambitious projects in industrial development or the construction of housing estates. Officials had greater social prestige than their peers in business; power and official title outranked money in the local scale of esteem.


Singapore - Statutory Boards


The eighty-three statutory boards were a distinctive feature of Singapore's government. In law, a statutory board was an autonomous government agency established by an act of Parliament that specified the purpose, rights, and powers of the body. It was separate from the formal government structure, not staffed by civil servants, and it did not enjoy the legal privileges and immunities of government departments. It had much greater autonomy and flexibility in its operations than regular government departments. Its activities were overseen by a cabinet minister who represented Parliament to the board and the board to Parliament. Statutory boards were managed by a board of directors, whose members typically included senior civil servants, businessmen, professionals, and trade union officials. The chairman of the board of directors, who was often a member of Parliament, a senior civil servant, or a person distinguished in some relevant field, was appointed by the cabinet minister who had jurisdiction over the board. The employees of the board were not civil servants, as they were not appointed by the Public Service Commission. The salary scales and terms of service of employees differed from board to board. Statutory boards did not receive regular allocations of funds from the public treasury, but were usually expected to generate their own funds from their activities. Surplus funds were invested or used as development capital, and boards could borrow funds from the government or such bodies as the World Bank. Statutory boards included the Housing and Development Board, the Central Provident Fund, the Port of Singapore Authority, the Industrial Training Board, the Family Planning and Population Board, and the Singapore Muslim Religious Council (Majlis Ugama Islam Singapura).

The statutory boards played the major role in the government's postindependence development strategy, and their activities usually served multiple economic and political goals. The Housing and Development Board (HDB) provided a good example. The HDB was established by the first People's Action Party (PAP) government on February 1, 1960, to provide low-cost public housing. The Lands Acquisition Act of 1966 granted the board the power of compulsory purchase of any private land required for housing development. The prices paid by the board were about 20 percent of the estimated market value of the land, which was in fact if not in form being nationalized. Between 1960 and 1979, the percentage of land owned by the government rose from 44 to 67 percent, increasing the government's control over that scarce resource and benefiting lowincome voters, who supported the PAP, at the expense of the much smaller number of private landowners. Rents for Housing and Development Board apartments were subsidized, and selling prices for the apartments were set below construction costs and did not include land acquisition costs. Purchase prices for board apartments in the 1980s were 50 to 70 percent below those of privately owned apartments. By 1988 Housing and Development Board apartment complexes were home to 86 percent of the population, and construction of new apartments continued.

The HDB succeeded in its primary goal of building large numbers of high-quality apartments. Its success depended on several factors, among them: access to large amounts of government capital; sweeping powers of land acquisition; the ability to train its own construction workers and engineers; the freedom to act as a building corporation and develop its own quarries and brick factory; the opportunity to enter into partnerships and contracts with suppliers of construction materials; and the ability to prevent corruption in contracting and allocation of apartments to the public. The government raised the capital for housing construction from the Central Provident Fund, a compulsory savings plan into which all Singapore workers contributed up to 25 percent of their monthly incomes, and from low-interest, long-term loans from such international development agencies as the World Bank.

By providing adequate housing at low cost to low-paid workers in the 1960s, the PAP delivered a highly visible and concrete political reward to the electorate and laid the foundations for its unbroken electoral success. In the 1960s and early 1970s, before the growth of export-oriented industry, housing construction provided much employment and an opportunity for workers to learn new skills. By controlling the pace and scale of housing construction, the government was able to better regulate the economy and smooth out cycles of economic activity. The result of rehousing practically the entire population was to make the government either the landlord or the mortgage holder for most families and so bring them into closer contact with the state. The government used resettlement to break up the ethnic enclaves and communities that had characterized colonial Singapore. It put its policy of multiracialism into practice by seeing that all apartment buildings contained members of all ethnic groups in numbers that reflected their proportion of the national population. The program kept the cost of housing in Singapore relatively low and helped to avert pressure to raise wages. Because access to subsidized housing was a benefit extended only to citizens, it served to promote identification with the new state. Providing most of the population with low-cost housing gave the government and ruling party much favorable publicity, won public support, and was used as evidence for the correctness of the government's policies of centralized planning and social engineering implemented by experts on behalf of a passive public.

In a similar fashion, the Central Provident Fund benefited the citizens by providing them with secure savings for their old age and the satisfaction of having their own account, which could be used as security for the purchase of a Housing and Development Board apartment, for such expenses as medical bills, for college tuition, or to finance a pilgrimage to Mecca. The government benefited by gaining control of a very large pool of capital that it could invest or spend as it would and by removing enough purchasing power to limit inflationary tendencies. Furthermore, the proportion of the wage contributed to the fund by both workers and their employers could be adjusted at any time, enhancing the government's ability to control the economy. In 1988 the Fund took 35 percent of all wages up to S$6,000 per month; 25 percent was paid by the worker and 10 percent by the employer. Among its other functions, the Central Provident Fund was one of the major instruments used by the government to control wages.


Singapore - Public Enterprises


Apart from the statutory boards, which met general development and infrastructure goals, the government owned or held equity in many businesses that operated in the private sector. The government asserted that such businesses received no special subsidies and would be liquidated if they proved unprofitable. The wholly government-owned Temasek Holdings (Private) Limited was the country's largest corporation. Operated as an investment and holding corporation, its offices were in the Ministry of Finance, which provided the corporation with free accounting and secretarial services. Some government enterprises included former government departments, such as the Government Printing Office, which in 1973 became the Singapore National Printers Limited and offered its services to the private sector at market rates. Most government enterprises either provided key and potentially monopolistic services, such as Singapore International Airline or Neptune Orient Line, an ocean shipping firm, or they met strategic and defense needs. The Ministry of Defence wholly owned or had large equity shares in a range of companies engaged in weapons production, electronics, computer software, and even food production. In some cases the government banks, holding companies, or corporations were partners or had shares in local operations of multinational corporations. In such cases, the goal was both to attract the corporations to Singapore by offering investment funds and the promise of cooperation from government departments and to ensure that the corporations transferred proprietary technology and training to Singapore. The strategic nature of much government enterprise was acknowledged by the January 20, 1984, passage of the Statutory Bodies and Government Companies (Protection of Secrecy) Act. The law barred the unauthorized disclosure of confidential information by anyone associated with a statutory board or government enterprise and was considered necessary because the Official Secrets Act did not cover those bodies.


Singapore - Parapolitical Institutions


After independence, Singapore's rulers perceived the population as uncommitted to the new state and as lacking a common identity. Accordingly, the government devoted much effort to fostering popular identification with the nation and commitment to the government's goals. In 1985 the Ministry of Community Development was formed by combining the former Ministry of Social Affairs with activities previously administered by the Office of the Prime Minister and by the Ministry of Culture. The new ministry coordinated a network of grassroots agencies intended to promote community spirit and social cohesion. These were the People's Association, the Citizens' Consultative Committees, the Residents' Committees, and the Community Center Management Committees. The People's Association was a statutory board established in 1960 and until 1985 a part of the Office of the Prime Minister. Its primary activity was to manage a system of 128 community centers, which offered recreational and cultural programs, along with such services as kindergartens and a limited number of day-care centers for children of working parents. The members of the various consultative and management committees were volunteers who received prestige but no salary. Each parliamentary constituency had a Citizens' Consultative Committee, whose members were in frequent contact with their member of Parliament. All Housing and Development Board apartment complexes had Residents' Committees, headed by volunteers and intended to promote neighborliness and community cohesion. The committees' activities included organization of neighborhood watch programs and tree-planting campaigns, in which the committees were assisted by the civil servants of the Residents' Committees Group Secretariat. In 1986 the government began organizing Town Councils in the larger housing estates. Though not official government bodies, the councils' immediate purpose was to take over some responsibilities for management of the complexes from the HDB. Their larger purpose was to promote a greater sense of community and public involvement in the residents of the clusters of high-rise apartment buildings. In March 1985, the government inaugurated a Feedback Unit, a body intended to collect public opinion on proposed government policies and to encourage government departments to respond quickly to public suggestions or complaints.

The various advisory committees and the Feedback Unit provided functions that in many countries are provided by political parties. In Singapore the parapolitical institutions, which had the clearly political goal of generating public support for government policies, were presented as apolitical, inclusive, communityoriented bodies, headed by people motivated by a selfless desire for public service. Such an approach reflected a decision made by the country's rulers in the 1960s to avoid trying to organize a mass political party, in part because many less-educated citizens tended to shy away from partisan and overtly political groups. Others habitually avoided government offices and officers but would participate in community-oriented and attractive programs. The ruling elite had had serious problems both with opposition parties and with left-wing opposition factions within the PAP and apparently found the controlled mobilization offered by the parapolitical institutions more to its liking. Members of all the advisory and consultative boards were appointed by the government and were carefully checked by the security services before appointment. The government closely watched the performance of the leaders of the community organizations and considered the organizations a pool of talent from which promising individuals could be identified, promoted to more responsible positions, and perhaps recruited to the political leadership.


Singapore - Political Parties


In 1989 the government of Singapore had been led since 1959 by one political party, the PAP, and one man, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. In the 1988 parliamentary elections, opposition candidates challenged the ruling party in an unprecedented seventy contests, but the PAP still won eighty of the eighty-one seats in Parliament with 61.8 percent of the popular vote, 1 percent less than in 1984, and 14 percent less than in 1980.

The PAP was founded in 1954, and in the 1950s acted as a leftwing party of trade unionists, whose leadership consisted of English-educated lawyers and journalists and Chinese-educated and pro-communist trade union leaders and educators. It won control of the government in the crucial 1959 election to the Legislative Assembly, which was the first election with a mass electorate and for an administration that had internal self-government (defense and foreign relations remained under British control). The PAP mobilized mass support, ran candidates in all fifty-one constituencies, and won control of the government with forty-three of the fifty-one seats and 53 percent of the popular vote. After a bitter internal struggle the English-educated, more pragmatic wing of the party triumphed over the pro-communists in 1961 and went on to an unbroken string of electoral victories, winning all the seats in Parliament in the 1968, 1972, 1976, and 1980 general elections.

With a single party and set of leaders ruling the country for thirty years, Singapore had what political scientists called a dominant party system or a hegemonic party system, similar to that of Japan or Mexico. There were regular elections and opposition parties and independent candidates contested the elections, but after the early 1960s the opposition had little chance of replacing the PAP, which regularly won 60 to 70 percent of the popular vote. The strongest opposition came from the left, with union-based parties appealing to unskilled and factory workers. In the early 1960s, the union movement split between the leftist Singapore Association of Trade Unions and the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), which was associated with Lee Kuan Yew's pragmatic wing of the PAP. In 1963 the Singapore Association of Trade Unions was banned and its leaders arrested as pro-communist subversives. The NTUC was controlled by the PAP and followed a government-sponsored program of "modern unionism," under which strikes were unknown and wages were, in practice, set by the government through the National Wages Council.

The dominance of the PAP rested on popular support won by economic growth and improved standards of living combined with unhesitating repression of opposition leaders, who were regularly arrested on charges of being communist agents or sympathizers. In the mid-1980s, eighteen other political parties were registered, although many of them were defunct, existed only on paper, or were the vehicles of single leaders. Much of the electoral support for opposition parties represented protest votes. Those voting for opposition candidates did not necessarily expect them to win or even wish to replace the PAP government. They used their votes to express displeasure with some or all PAP policies.

At the top of the PAP organization was the Central Executive Committee (CEC). In 1954 the PAP constitution provided for a CEC of twelve persons directly elected by party members at the annual general meeting. The CEC then elected its own chairman, vice chairman, secretary, assistant secretary, treasurer, and assistant treasurer. This practice continued until August 1957, when six procommunist members of the party succeeded in being elected. In 1958 the party revised its constitution to avoid a recurrence. The document called for CEC members to be elected at biennial party conferences by party cadre members, who in turn were chosen by a majority vote of the committee. The CEC was the most important party unit, with a membership overlapping the cabinet's. The two bodies were practically indistinguishable. Chairmanship of the CEC was a nominal post. Actual power rested in the hands of a secretary general, a post held by Lee Kuan Yew since the party's founding. He was assisted by a deputy secretary general who was charged with day-to-day party administration.

Subordinate to the CEC were the branches, basic party units established in all electoral constituencies. The branches were controlled by individual executive committees, chaired in most cases by the local delegate to Parliament. As a precaution against leftist infiltration, the CEC approved all committee members before they assumed their posts. One-half of the committee members were elected, and one-half nominated by the local chairman. Branch activities were monitored by the party's headquarters through monthly meetings between members of the party cadre and the local executive committee. The meetings provided a forum for party leaders to communicate policy to branch members and a means to maintain surveillance over local activities.

The party's cadre system was the key to maintaining discipline and authority within the party. Individual cadres were selected by the CEC on the basis of loyalty, anticommunist indoctrination, education, and political performance. Cadre members were not easily identified but were estimated to number no more than 2 percent of the party's membership of 1989, a list of cadres had never been published.

Although clearly the dominant party, the PAP differed from the ruling parties of pure one-party states in two significant ways. Unlike the leaders of communist parties, the leaders of the PAP made no effort to draw the mass of the population into the party or party-led organizations or to replace community organizations with party structures. Singapore's leaders emphasized their government roles rather than their party ones, and party organizations were largely dormant, activated only for elections. Compulsory voting brought the electors to the polls, and the record of the government and the fragmented state of the opposition guaranteed victory to most if not all PAP candidates. In many general elections, more than half of the seats were uncontested, thus assuring the election of PAP candidates. The relatively weak party organization was the result of the decision of the leaders to use government structures and the network of ostensibly apolitical community organizations to achieve their ends. By the 1970s and 1980s, the leaders had confidence in the loyalty of the public service and had no need for a separate party organization to act as watchdog over the bureaucracy. The government was quite successful at co-opting traditional community leaders into its system of advisory boards, committees, and councils, and felt no need to build a distinct organization of party activists to wrest power from community leaders. Second-echelon leaders were recruited through appointment and co-optation and were preferentially drawn from the bureaucracy, the professions, and private enterprises, typically joining the PAP only when nominated for a Parliamentary seat. The path to Parliament and the cabinet did not run through constituency party branches or the PAP secretariat. In the view of the leadership, political parties were instruments used to win elections and could be dispensed with if there was little prospect of serious electoral competition.


Singapore - Political Dynamics


Power Structure

In 1989 political power in Singapore was in the hands of a small group of individuals who had been instrumental in Singapore's gaining independence. The leadership core ruled through a second echelon of potential successors, who tended to be technocrats, administrators, and managers rather than politicians or power brokers. The PAP leaders, convinced that a city-state without natural resources could not afford the luxury of partisan politics, acted after 1965 to "depoliticize" the power structure. Economic growth and political stability would be maintained instead by the paternal guidance of the PAP. Politics, as a result, was only exercised within very narrow limits determined by the PAP. Singapore was thus administered by bureaucrats, not politicians, in a meritocracy in which power was gained through skill, performance, and demonstrated loyalty to the leaders and their policies.

At the top of the hierarchy in 1989 were fifteen cabinet ministers, who were concurrently members of Parliament and the CEC, the PAP's highest policy-making body. Among these ministers was an inner core of perhaps five members. Below this group was a tier of senior civil servants who, in addition to their official duties, filled managerial and supervisory roles as directors of public corporations and statutory bodies. PAP members of Parliament without cabinet or government portfolios also tended to function at this level of the power hierarchy, providing links between the government and the populace.

Rifts within the leadership were rare. Although minor differences over policy may have existed, the top leaders presented a united front once decisions were made. The mode of decision making was consensus, and the style of leadership was collective, but in 1989 Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was by far the first among equals on both counts. The leaders identified themselves with the nation, were convinced that they knew what was best for the nation, and interpreted opposition to themselves or their policies as a threat to the country's survival.

The overwhelming majority of the leadership were not propertied or part of the entrepreneurial class. They did not appear particularly motivated by profit, gained lawfully or through corruption (which was almost nonexistent), or by the perquisites of their office (which although increasing, remained less than could be achieved in the private sector). Their reward, instead, derived from their access to power and their conviction that they were working for the nation and its long-term survival. Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his close associates were highly conscious of their roles as founding fathers of the new city-state.

The power structure was extremely centralized. It was characterized by a top-down style, featuring appointment rather than election to most offices; the absence of institutional restraints on the power of the prime minister and cabinet; and more effort devoted to communicating the government's decisions and policies to the public than to soliciting the public's opinion. The high degree of centralization was facilitated by the country's relatively small size and population. Although members of Parliament were elected by the public, they were selected by the core leadership, often ran unopposed, and regarded their positions as due to the favor of the prime minister rather than the will of the voters. At the highest levels, the distinction between the bureaucracy and the political offices of Parliament was only nominal, and many members of Parliament were selected from the upper ranks of the civil service and the public enterprises. Many high-level civil servants had direct access to the prime minister, who consulted them without going through their nominally superior cabinet minister.

Political Culture

Singapore possessed a distinct political culture, which fit into no simple category formulated by political scientists. It was centralized, authoritarian, and statist. It was also pragmatic, rational, and legalistic. In spite of possessing the superficial trappings of British institutions such as parliamentary procedure and bewigged judges, Singapore was, as its leaders kept reiterating, not a Western country with a Western political system. Although elections were held regularly, elections had never led to a change of leadership, and citizens did not expect that political parties would alternate in power. Nor was there a tradition of civil liberties or of limits to state power. The rulers of an excolony with a multiethnic population, and a country independent only by default, assumed no popular consensus on the rules of or limits to political action. Singapore was a city-state where a small group of guardians used their superior knowledge to advance the prosperity of the state and to bring benefits to what they considered a largely ignorant and passive population.

Singapore's leaders were highly articulate and expressed their principles and goals in speeches, books, and interviews. Their highest goal was the survival and prosperity of their small nation. They saw this as an extremely difficult and risk-filled endeavor. Conscious of the vulnerability of their state and aware of many threats to its survival, they justified their policy decisions on the grounds of national survival. They viewed government as an instrument intended to promote national ends and recognized no inherent limits on government concerns or activities. They prized intellectual analysis and rational decision making, and considered their own decisions the best and often the only responses to problems. The senior leadership prided itself on its ability to take the long view and to make hard, unpopular decisions that either responded to immediate dangers or avoided problems that would become apparent one or two decades into the future. They valued activism and will, and tried to devise policies, programs, or campaigns to deal with all problems. In a characteristic expression of Singapore's political culture, the rising young leader Brigadier General (Reserve) Lee Hsien Loong, when discussing the threat to national survival posed by declining birth rates, said "I don't think we should ... passively watch ourselves going extinct." Passivity and extinction were linked and identified as trends the government's policies must counter.

The leadership's conviction of the state's vulnerability to manifold dangers and of the self-evident correctness of its analysis of those dangers resulted in very limited tolerance for opposition and dissent. According to Singapore's leaders, their opponents were either too unintelligent to comprehend the problems, too selfish to sacrifice for the common good, or maliciously intent on destroying the nation. Although by the 1980s Singapore had the highest standard of living in Southeast Asia, its leaders often compared it with generalized Third World countries. They saw such countries suffering from widespread corruption and demagogic politics, both reflecting concentration on immediate payoffs at the expense of long-term prosperity and the common good. For Singapore's leaders, politics connoted disruptive and completely negative activities, characterized by demagoguery, factionalism, and inflammatory appeals to communal, ethnic, or religious passions. When they spoke of "depoliticizing" Singapore's government, they had this view of politics in mind.





Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew marked his sixty-fifth birthday in October 1988 and celebrated thirty years as prime minister in May 1989, and the question of political succession received increasing attention. The prime minister and his long-time associates devoted a good deal of their attention to the issue during the mid- and late 1980s. They continued their efforts to identify promising younger leaders and bring them into the cabinet. The process of selection was an elaborate one, which began by identifying welleducated administrators from the public service or private sector. Those people selected would be promoted to managerial positions, often when in their thirties; those who succeeded would be considered for appointment to a government position, often by being designated a parliamentary candidate. In addition to identifying good administrators, the older leaders tried to select persons of integrity and good character who were able to work as members of a team. Second-generation leaders were then tested by being given ministerial portfolios and encouraged to go out and meet the common people. The selection favored technocrats and administrators and rewarded those able to defer to senior leaders and get along smoothly with their peers. The senior leaders were aware that the process did not test the ability of the second-generation leaders to cope with a severe political crisis, but apparently could find no way to select for that skill.

The first-generation leaders were confident of their own rectitude and ability to use their very extensive powers for the common good, but they were not confident that their successors would be so self-restrained. Throughout the 1980s, they considered various limits on executive power that would minimize the possibility of arbitrary and corrupt rule. These included constitutional changes such as a popularly elected president with significant powers. The leaders claimed, perhaps with hindsight, that their refusal to build up the PAP as a central political institution and their efforts to bring a wide range of low-level community leaders into the system of government advisory bodies reflected a deliberate effort to disperse power and, in this sense, to "depoliticize" the society. The effort to encourage the circulation of elites between the government and the private sectors and between the military and the civilian structures served the same end. In so centralized a system, much depended on the decisions of the prime minister and undisputed leader, who was reluctant to appoint a designated heir or to approve any measure that would diminish his authority. The expectation clearly was that a much more collective leadership would replace the old guard.

The next generation of leaders, called the "new guard," was led by Lee Kuan Yew's son, Lee Hsien Loong. A brigadier general in the army, he first attained prominence in mid-1984 when he was cited as a possible candidate for the December 1988 general election. His prominence soared when, as minister of trade and industry and second ministor of defence (services), he was appointed head in 1986 of the critical Economic Committee assigned to redraft Singapore's economic strategy.

Lee Hsien Loong's ascendancy and his consolidation of administrative and political power assisted the political fortunes of bureaucrats who formerly had served in the Ministry of Defence (known as the "Min-def mafia") and ex-army officers who had served with Lee when he was a brigadier general. The ascendancy of the socalled "Min-def/ex-army officer group" under Lee initially was suggested by some observers when the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) appeared to assume new importance in government policy decisions. In March 1989, when the government announced a substantial pay raise for the civil service, the military received an even larger raise with guarantees that future raises would be consistently higher than those allotted for the civil service. The government also announced that the policy of assigning SAF officers to twoyear rotations in civil service positions would continue. The policy ensured that the SAF would be represented in all branches of the government and that the distinction between the civilian and military bureaucracies would be less clear.

The younger Lee's ascendancy to positions of greater power both in the PAP and the cabinet demonstrated his increased political stature. He was elected second assistant secretary general of the party in 1989, a post that had been vacant since 1984. This position placed him second in line in the party hierarchy behind his father and Goh Chok Tong, who was first assistant secretary general of the party and deputy prime minister and minister for defence in the cabinet. Lee enhanced his position in the cabinet when, as minister for trade and industry, he was named chairman of a special economic policy review committee. In this capacity, he gained the power to review the policies of all the ministries for their economic impact on Singapore. Previously such reviews were conducted only by the Ministry of Finance. Some Singapore observers speculated in 1989 that Lee would one day be appointed minister for finance and add control of Singapore's purse to his influence over the armed forces.

Generational ties supplemented the institutional links. Lee Hsien Loong and his associates were in their mid- to late thirties in 1989. Lee's nearest rival for power was Goh, who was forty-seven years old. Goh and his few allies in the cabinet, who were in their mid- to late forties, appeared to be increasingly losing ground to the younger group, however. For those with a military background, the military connection remained important even though they had resigned from the military before undertaking their civilian posts. The obligation of all males to periodically undergo reservist training assured that the military connection was not severed. If the army became a source of future cabinet ministers, some political observers expected that ethnic Malays and Indians would find it even more difficult to gain access to senior government positions. Ironically, the army in pre-independent Singapore was predominantly Malay and Indian. After independence, however, the government changed this bias by increasing Chinese representation through universal conscription.


Singapore - Relations Between State and Society


By the late 1980s, Singapore's leaders generally agreed that the extensive economic and social transformation achieved after independence required a changed pattern of relations between the government and society. Government policies and practices devised to deal with the much simpler economy and less educated and prosperous citizenry of the 1960s were becoming increasingly ineffective in the 1980s. The major issues were economic, involving debate over the optimal form of government involvement in the economy, and political, centering around highly contentious questions of the limits of government efforts to regulate the lives of citizens and to suppress dissent and criticism.

The Government's Economic Role

Singapore had achieved economic success with an economy that was heavily managed by the government. The state owned, controlled, or regulated the allocation of capital, labor, and land. It controlled many of the market prices on which investors based their investment decisions and was the exclusive provider of social services and infrastructure. The 1985- 86 recession, however, stimulated discussion of impediments to economic performance and of dysfunctional aspects of the government's role in the economy. A 1987 report by the governmentappointed Private Sector Divestment Committee recommended that the state dispose of most of its interest in private companies over a ten-year period. It recommended privatizing forty-one of ninetynine government-controlled companies and investing the proceeds in high-technology companies.

Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the government controlled wages through the annual wage guidelines set by the National Wages Council, a body in which representatives of employers, trade unions (which were controlled by the PAP), and the government reached a consensus on wage levels for the coming year. The council's wage guidelines were in the form of macroeconomic projections and were applied across the board in all sectors of the economy. In December 1986, the cabinet approved a National Wages Council report calling for a revised wage system that permitted greater flexibility, (the flexi-wage policy) with more use of bonuses and wage increases linked to increases in productivity. It was, however, not clear how the productivity of white-collar workers and civil servants, who constituted an increasing proportion of the work force, was to be measured. The call for wages to reflect the productivity and profitability of particular industries and firms implied more bargaining between workers and employers and a diminished role for the government, which could not impose a single rate on hundreds of distinct firms.

Although there was general agreement on the need for changed economic policies and modes of administration, significant tensions remained between those who favored greater flexibility and liberalization and those who wanted government direction of the economy. For Singapore's leaders, the challenge was to devise more sophisticated means of ensuring overall control while permitting greater autonomy and flexibility at lower levels.

The Limits of Government Control

The highly ordered quality of life in Singapore itself became a political issue. Many citizens felt that they were overregulated , governed by too many laws that were too easy to break. Singapore's leaders attributed the cause of the assumed decline of Western societies to the excessive individualism fostered by Western culture and warned that Singapore would suffer a similar fate unless saved by a national ideology.

The perceived need for an ideology was a phenomenon of the 1980s. Previously, Singapore's leaders had been concerned with physical survival more than cultural survival and had dismissed official ideologies as contrary to Singapore's status as an open port unfettered by conventional wisdom or fashionable orthodoxies. In the 1980s, as peace prevailed in the region, the government shifted its focus to the cultural sphere. Cultural preservation replaced physical survival as the major concern of leaders who feared being overrun by foreign cultures.

Looking ahead, senior leaders identified two major dangers to the nation: the failure of the nation to reproduce itself and the loss of national identity. The first threat was manifested in steadily falling birth rates, particularly among the nation's best educated citizens, many of whom failed even to marry. The second threat, loss of identity, it was feared, would lead to loss of cohesion and hence to the destruction of the nation.

Singapore's leaders addressed these problems by proposing a series of policies intended to encourage citizens to marry and reproduce and to create a distinct Singaporean identity. The programs addressing the population problem included extensive publicity and exhortation, along with material incentives for giving birth to third and fourth children. Women university graduates were singled out for special attention because of their failure, in general, to marry and pass on their supposedly superior genes. The efforts to foster a Singaporean identity involved defending positive traditional Asian values against the perceived threat from Western culture. Both the schools and the society at large emphasized mastering Asian languages, such as Mandarin Chinese, and promoting Confucianism. Such programs, which attempted to modify the personal and intimate behavior of citizens but did not clearly reflect the demands of economic development, aroused a good deal of opposition, especially from younger and better educated citizens. The leadership's paternalistic style and its intolerance of criticism became political issues and were blamed by some observers for the increased vote for opposition candidates in the 1984 and 1988 elections.

Opponents of programs relating to Singapore identity claimed that the leaders' purpose was to shift support for a national ideology into support for the government and the ruling PAP. Promoting Confucianism, for example, was a convenient means of convincing individuals to subordinate their interests to those of society. Others held that the government's real fear was not that Singapore would lose its culture or values but that continued Westernization of the society would mean more pressure for real democracy, more opposition candidates, and the possibility of a change in government.

The electoral vote for the PAP dropped considerably, going from 75.6 percent in 1980 to 62.9 percent in 1984 and by a lesser amount to 61.8 percent in 1988. In 1988 the PAP campaign slogan was "More Good Years" and the opposition had no solid issues with which to attract support. The election resulted in another landslide victory for the PAP and the winning of eighty out of eighty-one parliamentary seats.

The PAP's style of leadership emphasized control by a strong bureaucratic leadership intolerant of political opposition. The PAP mind-set has been traced to its battle for political preeminence with its communist rivals in the 1950s and 1960s. In the late 1980s, Singapore had one of Asia's highest standards of living and was not regarded as fertile ground for a communist insurrection. The PAP maintained that Singapore was too small for a two-party system to work effectively and did not anticipate sharing power. It stymied the development of a legitimate opposition by a range of political tactics, such as using the provision of public services to induce citizens to vote for PAP candidates. Critics also charged that the party controlled the press, preventing the free flow of ideas. Although there was no direct censorship of the press, newspapers were closely monitored and radio and television stations were owned by the government.


Singapore - Political Opposition


In the elections of September 1988, the only opposition member to win election was Singapore Democratic Party candidate Chiam See Tong who repeated his 1984 victory. However, in the contest over eight additional seats--two representing single-seat constituencies, and six representing two newly formed three-member group representation constituencies-- the PAP received less than 55 percent of the vote. Furthermore, under a constitutional amendment passed in 1984, the opposition was to be allotted three parliamentary seats, whether it won them or not. Thus, as a result of the 1988 election, in addition to Chiam, the opposition was permitted to seat two additional, nonconstituency, nonvoting members of Parliament in the new Parliament.

In the 1988 elections, Lee Siew Choh, a candidate of the Workers' Party and one of the two opposition members chosen to sit in Parliament as nonvoting members, was forced on the campaign's opening day to go to court and pay damages for comments he made about PAP during the 1984 election. The other opposition member, Francis Seow, faced trial for alleged tax evasion, and, if convicted, faced disqualification from Parliament. Shortly afterwards, Prime Minister Lee threatened to bring a defamation suit against Workers' Party leader J. B. Jeyaretnam. Another Workers' Party candidate, Seow Khee Leng, was threatened by the government with bankruptcy proceedings. All three had been successfully sued by Lee for slander in earlier elections.

The state of the opposition was rooted in the PAP's drive, beginning in 1963, to suppress all communist and leftist influence in Singapore. The government discouraged opposition political activity through the use of open-ended laws such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), which was originally intended to deal with armed communist insurrection during the Malayan Emergency of 1948- 60. This law permitted the indefinite detention by executive order of any person suspected of leftist or procommunist activity. Amnesty International frequently cited Singapore for using the ISA to suppress legitimate, nonviolent political opposition. That organization also cited Singapore's use of deprivation of citizenship and banishment as means of repression. The government often associated opposition with foreign manipulation, which compounded its fear of dissent of any kind.

There were few issues on which the PAP could be challenged. Under PAP rule, Singapore had achieved unprecedented economic prosperity as well as marked social progress in racial harmony, education, health care, housing, and employment. The PAP's achievements had created a popular confidence in the party that was difficult to overcome. The opposition parties themselves were divided along racial and ideological lines and unable to compete with the PAP as a common front.

In May and June 1987, twenty-two people were detained without trial under the ISA for alleged involvement in a communist conspiracy. All detainees were released by the end of the year with the exception of Chia Thye Poh, who was held for more than two years. A virulent critic of the government and former member of Parliament representing the Barisan Sosialis (The Socialist Front), he was finally released in May 1989 after having been detained since October 1966. Although Chia was never charged, the government alleged that he was a member of the outlawed Communist Party of Malaya ( CPM), assigned to infiltrate the Barisan Sosialis in order to destabilize the government. In 1987 amendments were made to the Parliament Privilege, Immunities, and Powers Act of 1962, giving Parliament the power to suspend any parliamentary member's immunity from civil proceedings for statements made in Parliament and to imprison and fine a member if he or she were found guilty of dishonorable conduct, abuse of privilege, or contempt.

The Workers' Party, led by J.B. Jeyaretnam in 1989, was the principal opposition party. The Workers' Party stood for a less regimented society, constitutional reforms, less defense spending, and more government social services. It was supported by lower income wage earners, students, and intellectuals. Next was the United People's Front, founded in December 1974 as a confederation of the Singapore Chinese Party, the Singapore Islamic Party, and the Indian-supported Justice Party. It campaigned for a more democratic political system. A third party, ideologically to the left of both the United People's Front and the Workers' Party, was the People's Front, established in 1971. In 1972 its campaign platform advocated a democratic socialist republic and no foreign military ties. In 1973 the party's secretary general, Leong Mun Kwai, received a six-month prison sentence for inciting the people of Singapore to seize government leaders. Seventeen other opposition parties were registered in 1989, including the Barisan Sosialis, once the primary target of the government's political surveillance activities because of its former role in antigovernment street demonstrations, student protests, and industrial strikes. Lee Siew Choh, a nonvoting member of Parliament in 1989, was the leader of the party's moderate wing.




Governing Precepts and Goals

Minister for Foreign Affairs Suppiah Dhanabalan described the governing precepts of the country's foreign policy in 1981 as a willingness to be friends with all who sought friendship, to trade with any state regardless of ideology, to remain nonaligned, and to continue to cooperate closely with Association of Southeast Asian Nations ( ASEAN) members. These precepts, while consistent with the thrust of foreign policy from the 1960s to the mid-1980s, failed to account for the basic role that the survival of the nation played in determining foreign policy goals. A primary foreign policy consideration until the mid1980s , survival became an issue because of Singapore's size and location and Indonesia's Confrontation ( Konfrontasi) campaign against Malaysia in the 1960s. It was further linked to the concept of the "global city" first proposed in 1972 by then Deputy Prime Minister for Foreign Affairs Sinnathamby Rajaratnam. This concept suggested that Singapore's survival depended on its ability to create a continuing demand for its services in the world market. By implementing a policy of international self-assertion, Singapore would shift from a reliance on entrepôt trade and shipping to export-oriented industries.

The focus on survival was evidenced in Singapore's reaction to Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in 1978. Of the many issues surrounding the event, one of particular interest to Singapore was Vietnam's blatant disregard for the sovereignty of a small nation. Singapore's decision to draw international attention to the situation was based, in part, on the need for international recognition of its own sovereignty. Following the invasion, Singapore heightened its international profile by expanding diplomatic representation abroad and attending international forums. Singapore was a member of ASEAN, the Nonaligned Movement ( NAM), the Asian Development Bank ( ADB), the Group of 77, the International Telecommunications Satellite Organization ( INTELSAT), and the United Nations and its affiliated organizations.

With the passing of the first generation of leaders in the late 1980s, foreign policy was shaped less by the old fears produced by the events of the 1960s and 1970s and more by the experience of regional stability that prevailed during the formative years of the new guard or second generation of leaders. The self-assertion of a decade earlier was no longer required, and Singapore could afford to be less abrasive in its foreign policy style. Foreign policy objectives in the late 1980s were far more subtle than simple survival.

In March 1989, Singapore announced that it was charting a new course of "economic diplomacy" to meet future international challenges. It sought expanded economic ties with China, the Soviet Union, several Eastern European nations, and the three nations of Indochina: Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam. In a speech to Parliament on March 17, 1989, Minister of Foreign Affairs Wong Kan Seng announced that Singapore was hoping to reverse its previous staunchly anticommunist posture and normalize relations with several communist countries to promote more compatible relationships based on mutual economic interests.

Foreign policy also had to accommodate the views of predominantly Islamic neighbors who were viewed by Singapore's leaders as possible threats to its existence. As a gesture toward its neighbors and in recognition of its own regional roots, Singapore maintained its membership in the Nonaligned Movement, although it consistently rejected neutrality as a foreign policy option. Singapore's leaders had reasoned that avoiding entanglements with the great powers would leave Singapore far too vulnerable to threats from regional neighbors, as Indonesia's Confrontation campaign had demonstrated. Neutrality also was perceived to be inconsistent with the Total Defence style of defensive vigilance that the PAP attempted to instill in the citizenry following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and the Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia. The guiding concept of Total Defence was known as national integration and was meant to unify a population made up of immigrants and a mix of racial groups into a people with the "human will" to be "unconquerable."

Foreign policy, therefore, stressed maintaining a balance of power in the region. Singapore promoted the regional involvement of all great powers because it feared aggravating a neighbor by relying on any one power. Although it would have preferred relying upon the United States to guarantee its security, such dependence would not have been tolerated by the other ASEAN states. Singapore also remained suspicious of the ability of the United States to pursue a consistent foreign policy following its withdrawal from Vietnam.

Retaining its developing nation status was another foreign policy goal of the 1980s. The 1989, however, Singapore lost the concession enjoyed under the United States government's Generalized System of Preferences ( GSP) on imports from developing countries and the ability to borrow from the World Bank and the ADB at concessional rates.

<"58.htm">The United States
<"60.htm">The Soviet Union


Singapore - FOREIGN POLICY - Regional


Association of Southeast Asian Nations

Cooperation with ASEAN, which included Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, and Brunei, was the center of Singapore's foreign policy after 1975. Before 1975, Singapore's interests were global rather than regional, and its policy toward ASEAN was characterized by detachment. As the wealthiest country in Southeast Asia, it was criticized for failing to help its neighbors. After 1975, however, Singapore was criticized for being too ASEAN oriented, too active, and too vocal in the organization for its size, particularly where matters of regional security were concerned. The shift in Singapore's stance toward ASEAN followed the communist victory in Vietnam in 1975, the waning of a United States military presence in Asia, and new signs of Soviet interest in the region. Furthermore, the other ASEAN states permitted Singapore to assume a leading role in regard to the issue of Vietnam's invasion of Cambodia in 1978. The situation in Cambodia in fact, became the unifying force for the diverse countries belonging to ASEAN. Singapore's Minister of Foreign Affairs Wong Kan Seng commented in March 1989 that, if the situation were resolved, some other force would be required to unite the member nations. The resolution of the Cambodian conflict would also raise the possibility of Vietnam being considered for membership, although in 1989 Singapore was not prepared to support Vietnam's immediate entry.

ASEAN provided Singapore with a means of improving its bilateral relations with Indonesia and Malaysia, two neighbors who were potential threats to Singapore's security. Singapore's leaders never identified the external enemy Singapore's armed forces were trained to deter. When asked in 1984 who was Singapore's biggest threat, Prime Minister Lee responded only that "the biggest threat...is that any threat will come from someone bigger than us."


The acrimony that once characterized Singapore's relationship with Malaysia began to change in the 1980s when the two countries adopted a course of reconciliation. The improvement in relations began when Mahathir Mohamad became prime minister of Malaysia. Lee Kuan Yew and Mahathir achieved a personal rapport that established the tone for a rapprochement, but Singapore's expulsion from Malaysia in August 1965 continued to color the relationship. Singapore's primary concern was that Malaysia maintain a political system that tolerated multiracialism. In Singapore's view, the undermining of this political principle in Malaysia would have regional ramifications. Regional tolerance of multiracialism, for example, might be reduced if an Islamic revival in Malaysia led to the establishment of an Islamic state and the status of Malaysia's Chinese population were subsequently endangered.

Singapore was linked with Malaysia militarily through the 1971 Five-Powers Defence Arrangement, an arrangement under which the security of Singapore and Malaysia was guaranteed by Britain, Australia, and New Zealand. Singapore cooperated with both Malaysia and Indonesia in maintaining the security of the Malacca and Singapore straits. Another link with Malaysia was the Inter-Governmental Committee (IGC), a forum established in 1980 for the informal discussion of bilateral issues by delegations headed by each country's minister for foreign affairs.


Singapore's relationship with Indonesia, like its relationship with Malaysia, was built on a foundation of past discord, specifically Indonesia's Confrontation campaign against Malaysia from 1963 to 1966. After President Sukarno (1945-67) was deposed, relations were based to a large degree on Lee Kuan Yew's personal relationship with President Soeharto (1967---). Because bilateral relations lacked an institutional foundation, they were vulnerable to the departure of either leader.


Singapore's relationship with Indochina in mid-1989 permitted the conduct of normal commercial transactions, but discouraged aid, training, infrastructural development, and trade in strategic goods. In April 1989, the Ministry of Home Affairs and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed Singaporean companies that they could not invest in Vietnam until the Vietnamese had withdrawn their troops from Cambodia. The companies were allowed to conduct negotiations with Vietnam, but could not commit any investments until the Vietnamese withdrawal was complete. A few Singaporean companies had invested in Vietnam while normal commercial transactions were still going on, before the government had a clear policy concerning investments. Minister for Foreign Affairs Wong Kan Seng indicated in 1989, however, that Singapore was looking beyond the Cambodian problem to its future relations with Indochina.


Singapore - The United States


Relations between Singapore and the United States became strained in 1988 after the United States was accused of meddling in Singapore's internal affairs and a United States diplomat was expelled as a result of the charge. The United States had objected to the government's policy of restricting the circulation of several Hong Kong-based newspapers, including the Asian Wall Street Journal and the Far Eastern Economic Review, and to the use of the Internal Security Act to detain indefinitely dissidents or those deemed a threat to the existing order. The expelled diplomat was accused of instigating members of the opposition to contest the 1988 elections. The essence of a speech on United States-Singapore relations, given by Lee Hsien Loong before the Asia Society in Washington, D.C., on May 16, 1989, was that the relationship was strong but that the United States should refrain from interfering in Singapore's internal affairs.

The United States was Singapore's largest trading partner in the 1980s. It also was viewed as a benevolent power whose military presence in the region kept Soviet influence in check, balanced China's increasing military strength, and obviated Japan's rearming. Singapore was concerned, however, that the United States eventually would tire of its role in the Asia-Pacific region. This concern was somewhat allayed in 1989 when President George Bush, demonstrating his commitment to maintain American interests in the area, both dispatched Vice President Dan Quayle on an Asian tour and visited the region himself in the first few months of his administration.


Singapore - China


In 1989 Singapore had not yet established diplomatic relations with China, largely out of deference to Indonesia, the ASEAN state most concerned about China's intentions in the region. Indonesia's move to initiate diplomatic relations with Beijing in February 1989, however, was expected to clear the way for Singapore to follow. Regarding Indonesia's announced intentions, Singapore's First Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong stated in February 1989 that it was "logical" for Singapore "to follow suit"; however, he saw no need to move hastily because Singapore already had a cordial trading relationship with China. Singapore's trade with China in 1988 amounted to US$2.98 billion, a 27 percent increase over 1987. Reexports to China were up by 108 percent over the same period.

The other side of improving relations with China was maintaining good relations with Taiwan. Although Singapore lacked diplomatic ties with Taiwan in 1989, the two enjoyed a flourishing economic exchange. Trade with Taiwan in 1988 reached S$5.2 billion, exceeding that with China ($5.7 billion). Some analysts suspected, however, that once serious negotiations to establish diplomatic ties began with Beijing, China was likely to pressure Singapore to end its relationship with Taiwan, particularly in matters of military cooperation such as the training in Taiwan of Singaporean troops. Others speculated that the relationship would not be affected. Lee Kuan Yew said in March 1989 that he did not expect Singapore's relationship with Taiwan to change because both countries had been aware for some time of Singapore's intention to follow Indonesia in normalizing relations with China and both had taken such a development into consideration. A visit by Taiwan's President Li Teng-Hui shortly after Indonesia's diplomatic initiative, was interpreted as a sign of continuing warm relations between Taiwan and Singapore.


Singapore - The Soviet Union


In 1989 Singapore maintained both economic and diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union. From the mid-1960s until the mid1970s , Singapore's leaders promoted trade relations with Moscow in the belief that a Soviet role in Southeast Asia would ensure the permanent interest of the United States in the region. The Soviet Union was viewed as a major power and as a counterweight to China, and, therefore, as a significant factor in maintaining the regional power balance. This view changed when the Soviets established a military presence at Cam Ranh Bay in Vietnam, following the signing of the Soviet-Vietnamese Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation in November 1978, and actively supported the Vietnamese invasion of Cambodia a month later. At that time, according to Singapore, Moscow became a threat to regional stability.

Soviet diplomacy toward the region changed, however, in the mid-1980s under the leadership of new geeneral secretary Mikhail Gorbachev. Beginning with a milestone foreign policy address in Vladivostok in July 1986, he initiated extended ties with the ASEAN states and committed the Soviet Union to playing a more constructive role in resolving the Cambodian issue. His interest in improving ties with the region and his new emphasis on Soviet economic development acted to modify regional perceptions. Singapore, as well as many of its ASEAN partners, became increasingly receptive to upgrading their bilateral relations with Moscow.

Trade, banking, and shipping were the three critical areas of Singapore's economic ties with Moscow. Singapore's exports were mainly in the form of repairs to Soviet vessels in Singapore shipyards. Other exports included rubber, coconut oil, and fuel oil. In return, the Soviets exported fish and fish products, cast iron, light machinery, and crude oil. Beginning in the mid-1980s, the Soviets encouraged Singaporean firms to invest in joint ventures in the Soviet Union. Singapore's shipyards were reported in 1988 to be interested in reconstructing and developing the port of Nakhodka, the second largest port in the Soviet Far East after Vladivostok.


Singapore - THE MEDIA


The government did not normally censor the press, but it owned the radio and television stations and closely supervised the newspapers. Under the Newspapers and Printing Presses Act (NPPA), passed in 1974 and amended in 1986, the government could restrict-- without actually banning--the circulation of any publication sold in the country, including foreign periodicals, that it deemed guilty of distorted reporting. These laws provided the legal justification for restrictions placed on the circulation of such foreign publications as the Asian Wall Street Journal and Time magazine's Asian edition in 1987. The government also restricted the circulation of Far Eastern Economic Review and Asiaweek in 1987 for "engaging in the domestic politics of Singapore."

Singapore had seven daily newspapers at the end of 1987: two in English, The Straits Times and The Business Times; three in Chinese, Lianhe Wanbao, Shin Min Daily News, and Lianhe Zaobao; one in Malay, Berita Harian; and one in Tamil, Tamil Murasu. With the exception of the Tamil Murasu, all were published by Singapore Press Holdings Ltd, a group that comprised Singapore News and Publications Ltd, the Straits Times Press Ltd, and the Times Publishing Company. Daily newspaper circulation in 1988 totaled 743,334 copies, with Chinese language newspapers accounting for the highest number (354,840), followed by English (340,401) and Malay (42,458) newspapers.

The Singapore Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) operated five radio channels and three television channels. Established in 1980, it provided programming in Singapore's four official languages-- Malay, Chinese, Tamil, and English--and was supported by revenue from radio and television licensing fees and commercial advertising. Each of four of the five radio stations broadcast in one of the four official languages, while the fifth alternated between English and Mandarin. The television stations, which provided a total of about 163 hours of programming a week, also broadcast in separate languages. Channel Five's programming was in Malay and English, Channel Eight's in Mandarin and Tamil, and Channel Twelve's in English. In many cases, programs also were subtitled in several languages.

By 1989 Singapore's leadership had been in place for three decades, during which it guided an extraordinarily successful program of economic development and physical rebuilding. In the 1990s, a new generation of leaders would take over, and the debate over the need to change the political system that had been so successful in the past would grow. Some elements of an increasingly prosperous and well-educated population, who took Singapore's national viability and survival for granted, questioned the elderly leaders' assertions that a host of pressing dangers justified their authoritarian and paternalistic style of governance. To the leaders, however, the country's prosperity and their continued electoral victories demonstrated the correctness of their policies and methods of rule. They envisioned a new generation of leaders who would continue the proven practices established by the country's founding fathers. The inherent tensions between generations and between the advocates of change and those of continuity were likely to mark the politics of the 1990s.


CITATION: Federal Research Division of the Library of Congress. The Country Studies Series. Published 1988-1999.

Please note: This text comes from the Country Studies Program, formerly the Army Area Handbook Program. The Country Studies Series presents a description and analysis of the historical setting and the social, economic, political, and national security systems and institutions of countries throughout the world.

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