Singapore’s Political System – Explained For Strangers

Oha, Hot Topic!
How many times did I sit together with my friends to discuss Singapore’s political system, one-party democracy and weird way of appointing rather then voting new governmental positions… Let’s say, it isn’t an easy thing to talk about and our discussions are certainly not over yet.

But besides personal opinions and ideals, I want to give an easy and quick oversight about the general political system in Singapore, and how it is supposed to work. For everyone new to Singapore easy to understand.

THAT’S the President Of Singapore??

For 2 long years I was strong of the believe that Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, would actually be our President, simply because it was him who I was seeing non stop on TV and everywhere else.

I got enlightened only last year while walking through Istana Park on the Open-Door day, when my friend pointed out “Dude, by the way, that’s the President of Singapore over there“.
While I couldn’t spot any familiar face, the bodyguards already politely asked me to step aside since he was literally just 1 Meter away shaking hands.

The situation is pretty much a symbol for how complicated and not really clear Singapore’s Political System is especially for people who did not grow up on the little red dot.

The Governmental Hierarchy – In A Nutshell

Sparring you the moment of embarrassment, here everything you need to know.

Singapore as dry as it sounds, is a Parliamentary Republic, where the prime minister is head of the government. You cant miss him since he is on TV and every Newspaper 24/7/365. (here)
Executional power lies only within the government (the Prime Minister). Legislative power comes through the government and the parliament. In theory the judiciary power should be independent of the former two.

The parliament consists of 84 seats, is supreme to the government (can overpower their decisions), and gets elected every 5 years. Following the elections the President of Singapore appoints one of the Members Of Parliament as the Prime Minister.

The president of Singapore (here) has more of a representative character and has no real decision power besides some minor veto rights. Most people new to Singapore tend to mix him up with the Prime Minister.

Singapore’s Single Or Multi Party System?

Despite the pretty much established principles that come with a democracy, even Wikipedia states Singapore as a governmental body with a single party ruling (which then is not really a democracy). Taking the 82 out of 84 seats in the parliament that are taken by that party pretty much confirms this.

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Related Pictures (Click To Enlarge)

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‘)); ?> The People’s Action Party (PAP) has been the first ruling party of Singapore since its split of the Commonwealth in 1963 and has stayed the ruling party ever since. To throw in even more confusion, Freedom House does not consider Singapore an “electoral democracy” and ranks the country as “partly free”. Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 140th out of 167 countries in its 2005 Worldwide Press Freedom Index. (by Wikipedia)

There is however a oppositional movement in Singapore, and several other parties that you could theoretical vote. But… for some reason those parties could not establish themselves yet in any important body of the government. (see next point)

Criticism Of Singapore’s Political System

Main point of criticism is the practically not existing balancing power of a opposition and the PAPs ruling practices, lack of Press Freedom and liberal elements in the constitution and laws conceived as necessary for a real democracy by Western standards.

  • Points Of Criticism
  • • The PAPs unbroken ruling period and ruling practices
  • • Lack of press freedom and human rights (Death Penalty)
  • • Total control of any media body by the government
  • • Domination of government-controlled companies in the local economy
  • • Worlds highest salary of any incumbent head of government (3.1 Mio S$, five times the $400,000 earned by President Barack Obama)
  • My Favorite: The Ballot papers, used for the governmental elections have serial numbers on them (Uhm, voting secrecy?)

The Success Of Singapore’s Political System

Against all criticism and in my opinion the guarantee for the continuous election of the PAP is however the undisputed economical success of Singapore and its ability to create an extremely safe, clean and comfortable place to live in.

Singapore has consistently been rated as one of the least corrupt countries in the world and there are several other facts that can easily compete with above criticism.

Everybody who has lived in Singapore will agree that it is an extremely safe, organized and well maintained city state. However a good balance especially in political issues and decisions is very important as well.

And in the end… the usual respond I receive to above points is..
“Why change, why criticize? Its all good and I can live a nice life here” – What Do You Think?

Read: Article about the Political System In Singapore


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