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Singapore Modern History

The People's Action Party (PAP) has ruled Singapore throughout its modern history. Between 1959 and 1990, the then party leader Lee Kuan Yew was the country's prime minister and strong man. Singapore has been characterized by high economic growth, but also by clear state control of both politics and the economy. An underlying fear of ethnic conflicts between the country's Chinese, Indians and Malays also characterizes modern history.

When Singapore became independent in 1965, it was a country with ethnic and political contradictions, without natural resources and with a small domestic market. The governing PAP sought to create a national identity by emphasizing Singapore's particularity and integrating the communities into schools and residential areas.

  • ABBREVIATIONFINDER: List of most commonly used acronyms containing Singapore. Also includes historical, economical and political aspects of the country.

The government also invested in attracting foreign investors through favorable terms. Among other things, labor market laws were passed that extended the working hours of employees and limited the influence of unions.

At the same time, the world economy was booming, which contributed to Singapore's industrialization of record speed and soon to emerge as an economic miracle. The country developed into a regional and international financial center.

Eventually, competition intensified due to cheaper labor in neighboring countries. In the late 1970s, the government successfully invested in changing the economy by attracting more high-tech and less labor-intensive production.

Contemporary History of SingaporeHard control

The economic success was largely based on the political stability brought about by PAP's strong position. But stability had a downside in the form of tight control over opposition and mass media. The PAP held all seats in Parliament until 1981, when the Labor Party leader JB Jeyaretnam won a filling election. In the 1984 elections, the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP) also managed to win a mandate.

The SDP retained its mandate in the 1988 elections and then became the only opposition party in parliament. Jeyaretnam had previously been sentenced for perjury and suspended from politics. Two years later, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew resigned as head of government since 1959. However, Lee remained in government.

Lee was succeeded by Goh Chok Tong, who appeared to be somewhat more liberal. Goh advocated a more open political climate and some easing of media control was noted. Perhaps it was in order to seek a popular mandate for Goh as a new election was announced as early as 1991. However, the PAP received the lowest proportion of votes ever, 61 percent, and the opposition won four seats in parliament. That didn't stop Goh from sitting.

General elections for the presidential post were held for the first time in 1993. Government candidate Ong Teng Cheong won by almost 59 percent of the vote.

Singapore continued to be a prosperous and stable society, strengthening its position as a regional financial center. The good economy benefited the public through tax relief, better housing and scholarships for gifted students from low-income families. With promises of continued stability and economic growth, PAP again strengthened its position in the 1997 elections and received all but two mandates. In 47 of the 63 constituencies, the opposition did not even stand.

Asian crisis

After the 1997 elections, the government had to deal with the economic crisis that then hit Asia. Growth declined, unemployment increased, tourist visits decreased, stock markets fell and tax revenues declined for the first time in a decade. The crisis lasted until 1999, when growth again accelerated.

That year, it was time to elect a new president. Ong Teng Cheong did not stand for re-election. His relationship with the government was strained as he was considered to have made too great a claim to exercise his powers of power. Of the three candidates that were launched, only one was considered to have sufficient qualifications (see Political system). Singapore's former US ambassador SR Nathan (actually Sellapan Rama Nathan) was thus able to take up the presidential post without elections being held. It was a process that was repeated before the 2005 presidential election, when only SR Nathan was considered to meet the criteria and could remain for another term.

Following the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, Singapore joined the United States in the fight against terrorism. The risk of attacks against Singapore was also considered to be high. Between 2001 and 2004, 40 people were arrested on suspicion of conspiracy with the Southeast Asian militant Islamist network Jemaah Islamiah.

In parallel with the fight against terrorism, the PAP government continued to intervene against the opposition. In 2001, the Labor Party leader Jeyaretnam was forced to leave politics after 30 years as party leader. The resignation came after he went bankrupt and was therefore banned from sitting in Parliament.

In August 2004, Prime Minister Goh resigned. New head of government became Lee Hsien Loong, son of Goh's representative Lee Kuan Yew. Goh now got the senior Lee's post as "senior minister" while Lee the elder was named "minister mentor".

PAP is challenged

Under the leadership of the Labor Party's new leader Low Thia Khiang, the opposition began to seriously challenge the PAP government. In the 2001 election, the party made up one third of the country's constituencies, and 2006 in half. It paid dividends: PAP's voter turnout fell from 75 percent to 66 percent. Despite this, PAP maintained an overwhelming dominance through the structure of the election system. The party received 82 seats in both 2001 and 2006, while the Labor Party and Singapore's Democratic Alliance (SDA) were given a mandate each in both elections.

The stronger political opposition was partly due to the historically stable and strong economic model being called into question (see also Economic overview). After the 1997 crisis, it was only four years before the Singaporean economy again plunged as a result of falling economic cycles worldwide. After successfully reversing the downturn to strong growth, Singapore 2008 faced the worst economic decline since independence.

From 2001 until the 2011 parliamentary elections, therefore, one of the most important tasks of the PAP government was to mitigate the effects of the economic crises. At the same time, security policy was highlighted as part of protecting the country from militant Islamists active in the region.

In 2011, the Labor Party made a historically good choice and received nearly 13 percent of the vote, giving it six seats. The newly formed National Solidarity Party also made a strong choice, but despite 12 percent of the votes as a result of the electoral system was left without a mandate.

The opposition's march also came to light in the presidential election later that year, when four candidates were approved. PAP's favorite, former Deputy Prime Minister Tony Tan Keng Yam, won with just under 35 percent of the vote.

In addition to increased dissatisfaction with the government, the results of the election could also be due to slight relief in the restrictions on the opposition's election campaigns. In the electoral movement, the opposition had been given more space to campaign on the internet, but not in traditional media.

The government is rejuvenated

One result of the opposition's success was that after the election, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong carried out a major government reform. Among other things, former prime ministers Lee Kuan Yew and Goh Chok Tong left their positions as senior minister and minister mentor. In an official statement, the two older politicians announced that they wanted to accommodate a younger generation.

The dissatisfaction with the electorate also led Prime Minister Lee in a speech to explain that during the coming term, Singaporeans would be in the first room. The statement was made to reduce people's concern that the country's many guest workers appeared to be taking jobs and housing, and burdening the infrastructure. He promised to invest in more housing and university places for the local population, better health care for the elderly, increased public transport and restrictions on work permits for guest workers.

In yet another attempt to appease the electorate, in January 2012, the government reduced its ministers' annual salaries by up to 37 percent and the president by 51 percent. But even after the cuts, Singapore's ministers were among the best-paid in the world. An ordinary ministerial salary was just over USD 800,000 per year, while the Prime Minister's new annual salary was USD 1.7 million.

Female President

At the end of 2012, Parliament Speaker Michael Palmer acknowledged an infidelity affair and left his seat in Parliament. His successor, Halimah Yacob, became the first female president of Singapore's parliament. Palmer's departure led to the election of his constituency. The Labor Party candidate won and the opposition party thus increased to seven seats.

In December 2012, Singapore experienced the first illegal strike since 1986 when bus drivers recruiting from China demanded higher wages. Shortly thereafter, in February 2013, Singapore was shaken by the biggest protests in the country's modern history. Nearly 4,000 people claimed that the many guest workers had become too much of a burden on the country's resources, and that housing prices risked rising and wages falling as more guest workers were invited. Demonstrations were also held in May the same year with 3,000-6,000 participants. The protests showed that the concerns that took root in the economic crises of 2001 and 2008 still remained.

At the same time, the guest workers, for their part, demanded better conditions. One year after the Chinese bus drivers conducted their illegal strike, a riot of Indian guest workers in the Little India district erupted after a guest worker from India was driven to death by a privately owned bus.

At the PAP congress in December 2013, a new section was introduced in the party program, which opened for the government to fight inequality. The reform followed a speech by Prime Minister Lee in which he said the government should prioritize the country's growing economic gaps. Among other things, he wanted to introduce housing grants to low-income families and expand the health insurance system.

 
 

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