at a glance
An introduction guide to visiting Singapore. Good to know information & more!
Politics and Economy
Singapore’s parliamentary political system has been dominated by the ruling People’s Action Party (PAP) and the family of current prime minister Lee Hsien Loong for decades. The structure of the electoral system limits the growth of opposition parties.
Singapore successfully and rapidly industrialized after independence, raising the standard of living for its citizens. However, despite a growing middle class, the country did not fully democratize. Singapore, like many countries in the region, served to destabilize the theory that capitalistic economic prosperity goes hand in hand with democratic institutions. Rather, it boasts one of the highest GDP per capita’s in the world (just behind the U.S.) and still restricts free and competitive elections.
Demographics and Representation
There are three primary ethnic groups in Singapore: Chinese, Malay, and Indian. The Malay are considered the indigenous residents of the country. The overwhelming majority or the population are of Chinese descent. Some policies have been adopted to try to include the minority groups in government. For example, under a 2016 amendment to the constitution, no single ethnic group may be excluded from the presidency for more than five consecutive terms. However, the Malay remain underrepresented in official positions and government policies, such as the promotion of Mandarin language and the banning of headscarves in public schools, target the Malay minority.
Additionally, there are four official languages: English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil. English serves as the communal language between the different ethnic groups. To further add to the pluralistic patchwork, there is also religious diversity that does not strictly follow ethnic lines. Among faithful followers, the primary religions are Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam.
As a state of Malaysia, Singapore gained independence from the British in 1963. Many of those in Singapore believed Malaysia privileged the Malay ethnic group at the expense of the Chinese. These sentiments lead to deadly race riots and culminated with the Malaysian prime minister expelling Singapore from the country. The expulsion was largely welcomed by those in Singapore and many politicians quickly got to work securing the recognition of sovereignty of the tiny new country.
During the post-independence years, many Singaporeans faced hardship with high unemployment and housing shortages. Singapore succeeded in attracting foreign investment with favorable business conditions and directed revenues into public housing, infrastructure, and education. Furthermore they nationalized critical businesses such as their airline, telecommunications, and utilities. The port of Singapore was essential for attracting business and remains one of the busiest in the world today.