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
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
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
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
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.
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
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.
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
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.