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Singapore’s political system is a parliamentary democracy It has a very similar setup to that of the United Kingdom: Political Systems Case Study, UoWL, UK
|University of West London (UoWL)
Singapore’s political system is a parliamentary democracy. It has a very similar setup to that of the United Kingdom. This is due to Singapore having been under British colonial rule for over a century. Singapore’s political history began under British rule. Even though Singapore was not declared an independent country until August 9, 1965, it was for the most part a self-governing state. It’s the political party of the time, the People’s Action Party (PAP), has maintained great control over the political system within the country to this day. It rose to power through its pro-independence and anti British stance. The PAP only has one real opposing party currently, the Workers Party, which maintains a more liberal political stance.
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It is often stated though, that the Singaporean government rides itself of any opposition, through lawsuits, in order to keep the power. Despite having been influenced by the United Kingdom’s democratic parliamentary model and laws, Singapore has taken on a much more authoritarian form of government. Singaporean laws are very strict, the country is infamous for what some call human right violations for its punishments concerning drug use and trafficking. This came from many Singaporeans dismissing so-called Western liberal ideals after suffering from being a colonized state for so long. Another reason for the strictness and restriction of several personal freedoms is due to Singapore’s demographics. Compared to many of its surrounding countries, Singapore is very diverse. Numerous ethnic groups live together in harmony, due to laws that make it so freedom of speech is limited.
The government argues that this ensures that racism is kept at bay. Punishments for breaking any law within the country are very strict compared to Western countries. Singaporeans overwhelmingly stand by their government and its strict laws, saying it allows them to live in a country that is one of the safest and richest in Asia, and the world. It is a well-known fact that “the lives of Singaporeans have also improved as reflected in the drastic decline in the unemployment rate from 14 percent to 2.1 percent during 1959–2016” (Quah, 2018).
Singapore’s political system almost mirrors the United Kingdom’s government. The country’s Parliament’s “functions include making laws, taking up a critical/inquisitorial role to check on the actions and policies of the Government and scrutinising the State’s finances” (Anon, 2020) . The state has three branches of government that are all separate from one another. This system is also similar to that of the United States, which also copied Britain’s model. The three branches include the Legislature, the Judiciary, and the Executive. Each of the three branches has additional sectors. The Parliament and President comprise the Legislative Branch, their job is to create laws for the country. The Prime Minister and the Cabinet, the Executive Branch, manage the laws, and the Judiciary interprets the laws.
Singapore also has a clear distinction between the President, Halimah Yacob, and the Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong. The President’s job is to be the State’s Head, while the Prime Minister oversees the government.
Within Singapore’s Parliament, there is only one chamber, making it unicameral. This is one of the ways in which Singapore’s political system differs from that of Britain. Like Great Britain though, Parliament members are elected by the public. The Prime Minister is determined by whichever party gets the most votes. The current President is the leader of the dominant People’s Action Party. The Prime Minister has to be asked by the President first though before they can take up the position. Then he or she can decide who will form their Cabinet based on their parties’ elected Members of Parliament. The President serves a term of six years. Currently, the President is similar to the Queen in the United Kingdom, serving more of a role that is ceremonial, since the President can not veto any legislation. The President is elected by the public, while passing a series of criteria laid out by the government, with a first-past-the-post system. The current President, Mrs. Halimah, ran unopposed.
Singapore’s Parliament changes quite frequently, every five years to be exact when voting takes place. The two most recent Parliaments were the 12th Parliament of Singapore, which ran from October 10, 2011 until August, 25 2015, and the current 13th Parliament of Singapore. The 12th Parliament had in total ninety nine people that made up Singapore’s parliament, and only two political parties held seats. Of that group, eighty seven elected members within Singapore’s Parliament had to win a majority of votes from Singaporean citizens.
Those members had to win the majority of votes within their constituency. Each constituency must have at least one minority running for MP. This would include ethnic groups like Malays or Indians, since the majority of Singaporeans identify as ethnically Chinese. Singapore is divided into twenty six constituencies, and each constituency has anywhere from three to six MPs assigned to them.
Since the country is so small, there are not that many constituencies, yet seventy-five MPs still represented those fourteen. The remaining twelve worked by themselves on the other twelve constituencies. There were then at most an additional nine members who were nominated by the President; they were known as a Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP). They were required to be neutral and unbiased in their political stance. The remaining three members were non-constituency members (NCMPs), all of whom were from the opposing party. Despite their differences, these three members were all MPs, just different types. These MPs then elected a Speaker of the Parliament.
The current 13th Parliament of Singapore is almost identical to the old one, except the number of positions has changed. There are now one hundred and five seats within Parliament. The People’s Action Party has eighty two seats and their opposing party, the liberal Workers Party only has nine, though this is an increase from the three seats they held in the last Parliament. Nine neutral members still remain, and so does one Speaker of 5 Parliament. The next election, when the 14th Parliament of Singapore will be created, will occur during August of 2021. Singapore uses a first-past-the-post system, meaning that whoever gets the most votes in each constituency wins a seat.
Elections are mandatory for eligible voters. Eligible voters are those who are citizens twenty one or older who ordinarily reside within the country. Refusal to take part in casting a ballot will result in the removal of one’s name from a list that will prohibit them from ever voting again. Said person would also not be able to run for any government position. The only way to get out of this is to write to the government with the excuse as to why you did not vote and the payment of a fine. All of this was laid out in the country’s Constitution. It was written and set into law with the formation of Singapore in the 1960s. It is the supreme law of the land.
Regardless of the democratic system in place within the country, many argue that there is a great lack of basic human rights and too strict of restrictions within the country. Free speech is very limited and the government controls the media. Another problem many say is that only one party, the People’s Action Party, has any power within the government. Laws are also strictly enforced and failure to cooperate can result in strict punishments.
Caning is still allowed within the country, as is the death penalty. A drug offence can lead to a person being either caned and jailed for life, but receiving the death penalty is more likely. The government has been described as an authoritarian regime, yet some Singaporeans don’t mind this. Many are okay with giving up some of their personal freedoms for the gain of their society, and the statistics back this claim up. Singapore is one of the safest countries in the world, crime is almost non-existing due to its strict zero tolerance policy towards breaking the law. Restriction of speech and media control is also defended by claiming that it protects minorities within the country from racist remarks being publicized. The percentage of those
who are homeless in the country is extraordinarily low, out of five million people “only around 1,000 people sleep on the streets each night. Over ninety percent of Singaporeans, rich and poor, live in government housing with no negative social problems such as those related to housing projects in countries like the United States” (Xinghui, 2019) .
While Singapore’s political system may seem unjust to Westerners, it works for Easterns who had been subjected to years of colonial rule. Singapore’s government offers protection from reverting back to Western liberal “so-called values” that led to their suffering, through the use of strict laws and monitoring of its citizens. Just recently with the Covid-19 pandemic, Singapore has been doing well in keeping its numbers down, though not with its migrant workers who often get ignored and forgotten by the government. This was through monitoring and enforcing strict punishments for those who broke any quarantine laws.
Singapore’s no-tolerance policy towards crime has allowed the country to be one of the safest in the world, and its strict control of the media has controlled racist sentiment within the diverse country. Yet, more citizens are starting to call out the darker side of Singapore, especially its treatment of migrant workers, so it’s hard to say how long the government’s tight grip over its citizens can last, especially with protests catching fire in other Asian countries like Hong Kong.
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