Introduction to Singapore's Political System

Since the day Singapore officially gaining sovereignty on 9 August 1965, its politics has been dominated by the People’s Action Party (PAP). During the 2006 election the PAP won 82 out of 84 seats in the nation’s Parliament. Despite the PAP’s dealings with communists in the early days, its governing philosophy for the last several decades can best be described as Socialist Democracy.

Since the day Singapore officially gaining sovereignty on 9 August 1965, its politics has been dominated by the People’s Action Party (PAP).  During the 2006 election the PAP won 82 out of 84 seats in the nation’s Parliament. Despite the PAP’s dealings with communists in the early days, its governing philosophy for the last several decades can best be described as Socialist Democracy.

Singapore, under the leadership of the PAP, possesses a distinct political culture: authoritarian, pragmatic, rational and legalistic. Singapore’s power structure is highly centralized, characterized by a top-down style. It features appointment rather than election to most offices. Economic growth and political stability were maintained by the paternal guidance of the PAP. Thus, Singapore is not administered by politicians, but by bureaucrats, in a meritocracy where power is gained through skill, performance, and loyalty to the nation and its policies.

Furthermore, Singapore has a multi-racial and multi-religious character, where giving fair treatment to all races in education, housing and health is considered very important.  The minorities are assured of equal representation in Parliament through the Group Representation Constituency or GRC system.

There is a dominance of government-controlled companies in the local economy. But in spite of its powerful position, the Singapore government has maintained a clean, corruption-free image. In addition, rifts within the leadership in Singapore are rare. The mode of decision making is by consensus, and the leadership style is collective.

The formal Head of State of the Republic of Singapore is the President. Tony Tan Keng Yam is the current President and he was sworn in on 1 September 2011. The Prime Minister and Head of Government is Lee Hsien Loong, who was sworn in on 12 August 2004.

The Constitution

The Constitution of Singapore is the supreme law of the Republic of Singapore. It lays down the fundamental principles and framework for the Executive, the Legislative and the Judiciary — the three organs of the state. The constitution cannot be amended without the approval of more than two-thirds of the members of the parliament on the second and third readings.

Part IV of the fourteen-part Constitution contains the guarantee of the fundamental liberties of Singapore citizens: liberty of the person; prohibition of slavery and forced labour; protection against retrospective criminal laws and repeated trials; equal protection under the law; prohibition of banishment and freedom of movement; freedom of speech, assembly and association; freedom of religion; and rights in respect of education.

The Parliament

Together with the President of Singapore, the Parliament is known as the Legislature. The Parliament has a single house and is modeled after the Westminster system of parliamentary democracy. The Westminster system has Members of Parliament who are voted in at General Elections. The leader of the political party that secures the most seats in Parliament becomes the Prime Minister (PM). The PM will choose his Ministers from elected MPs to form the Cabinet. The ‘life’ of each Parliament is 5 years from the date of its first sitting after a General Election. The General Elections are held within 3 months of the dissolution of the Parliament.

The Parliament has three major functions: making laws, controlling the state’s finances and performing the critical/inquisitorial role to check on the actions of the governing party and the Ministries.

The Structure of the Parliament

  •  The Speaker of the Parliament – The Speaker of the Parliament chairs the sittings of the House and enforces the rules prescribed in the Standing Orders of Parliament for the orderly conduct of the parliamentary business.
  • The Government – The President appoints the Prime Minister and the other Cabinet Members from among the elected MPs. The Prime Minister leads the Cabinet in the administration of the Government.
  • Leader of the House – The Leader of the House is responsible for the arrangement of Government business and the legislative program of Parliament.
  • Party Whip – Party whips safeguard good communication within the party and contribute to the smooth running of the party’s parliamentary machinery.
  • Members of the Parliament – MPs act as a bridge between the people and the government by ensuring that concerns of the people are heard in the Parliament.
  • Parliament Secretariat – The Secretariat assists Parliament in its functions and in all matters related to its procedures and practices, the organisation of its business and the undertakings of its committees.

Singapore’s Political Parties

Singapore’s ruling party is the People’s Action Party (PAP), which was established on 21 November 1954. The PAP began as a unity of two left-wing factions — the pro-socialist wing led by Lee Kuan Yew and the pro-communist wing led by Lim Chin Siong. The latter soon broke away from the PAP. The PAP is the longest-surviving and most successful political party in Singapore’s history.

The 2006 elections saw three main opposition parties — the Workers’ Party (WP), the Singapore Democratic Alliance (SDA) and the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP).

Singapore’s active parties, to date, are:

  • Democratic Progressive Party
  • National Solidarity Party
  • People’s Action Party
  • People’s Liberal Democratic Party
  • Pertubuhan Kebangsaan Melayu Singapura
  • Reform Party
  • Singapore Democratic Alliance
  • Singapore Democratic Pary
  • Singapore Justice Party
  • Singapore People’s Party
  • Singapore National Front
  • Workers’ Party

Singapore has a total of 43 active, dormant and historical parties.

The Election Cycle

The Presidential Elections

The legislation governing the conduct of the Presidential Election are:

  • The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (The Government, Part V);
  • The Presidential Elections Act;
  • The Political Donations Act; and
  • Subsidiary Legislations.

The President is elected by the citizens of Singapore, and as the Head of State, holds office for a term of 6 years. The Presidential elections have to be conducted within 6 months after the office of the President becomes vacant prior to expiration of the term of office of the incumbent; or not more than 3 months before the date of expiration of the term of office of the incumbent.

The Parliamentary Elections

The legislation governing the conduct of the Presidential Election are:

  • The Constitution of the Republic of Singapore (The Legislature – Part VI);
  • The Parliamentary Elections Act;
  • The Political Donations Act; and
  • Subsidiary Legislations.

The Candidates can only mount their election campaigns after the close of nomination up to the eve of the polling day. On the polling day, each voter will receive a poll card containing information on where he (or she) can cast the vote in person. Voting is compulsory and votes are confidential. The results of the elections are then published in the government’s gazette.

The Cabinet

The Cabinet is responsible for all government policies and the day-to-day administration of the affairs of the state. The Cabinet is led by the Prime Minister and consists of other ministers. The various ministries include Community Development, Youth and Sports, Defence, Education, the Environment and Water Resources, Finance, Foreign Affairs, Health, Home Affairs, Information, Communications and the Arts, Law, Manpower, National Development, Trade and Industry, and Transport.

Secretariat and administrative support to the Cabinet is provided by the Cabinet Office, headed by the Secretary to the Cabinet. To view a complete list of the current members of the Cabinet, see Singapore Cabinet Appointments.

The Public Service Commission

The Public Service Commission (PSC) is an important pillar of Singapore’s public service system. It is the custodian of the integrity and values of the Civil Service. The Civil Service comprises of the ministries and organs of Singapore. The PSC is tasked to appoint, confirm, promote, transfer, dismiss and exercise disciplinary control over public officers. Its vital role is to safeguard integrity, impartiality and meritocracy in the Civil Service. Thus, the promotion or placement of key government officials is based on qualifications, experience and merit.

Government Jobs in Singapore

The Civil Service employs a total of 60,000 people. The jobs in the Civil service are grouped into the social, economic and security sectors, teaching, uniformed services, corporate services, and operational and administrative support.

The Ministry of Manpower’s 2008 Career Compass is a document that contains the occupational listings in the Civil Service. It gives job seekers a better understanding of the opportunities in the current and future job market of Singapore. Its major categories are: Management Executive, Management Support Officer, and Corporate Support Officer. The demand for such jobs is expected to be stable.

Government’s Role in Singapore’s Businesses

In Singapore, the state has taken on the role of promoter and practitioner of Corporate Social Responsibility, a logical development in view of the dominant role of the government in the local economy. The Economic Development Board Act exists to stimulate the growth, expansion and development of Singapore’s economy.

A good example of the role the Singapore government has played in fostering economic growth is the Changi airport and the Singapore Airlines. The Singapore government investment and holding company, Temasek Holdings is the majority shareholder with 54% shareholding of the Singapore Airlines. However, the Singapore government has regularly stressed its non-involvement in the management of the company. The Singapore government also owns Changi Airport that was developed in 1975 to replace the Paya Lebar Airport. Both of these enterprises have become enormously successfully and are a good example of the thoughtful and forward-looking economic policies promoted by the Singapore government.

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