The Republic of Singapore (Simplified Chinese: 新加坡共和国; Malay: Republik Singapura; Tamil: சிங்கப்பூர் குடியரசு), is an island city-state in Southeast Asia, situated on the southern tip of Malay Peninsula, south of the state of Johor of Peninsular Malaysia and north of the Indonesian islands of Riau. Its coordinates are .
Established as a trading port by the British in the early 19th century, Singapore became a centre of British influence in Southeast Asia. Upon achieving independence from Malaysia in 1965, the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, now also known as Singapore's "Minister Mentor", advanced Singapore from a third world to first world nation. Singapore is known for its lack of corruption compared to most other Southeast Asian governments, and for being one of the East Asian Tigers. Singapore has one of the highest per capita gross domestic products in the world.
In spite of practices such as the ban of imports of chewing gum, that have led some to label it a "nanny state" — government intervention in social issues to the extent of behaving like overly concerned parents —, Singapore is a popular tourist destination in Southeast Asia. National service is mandatory, and Singapore maintains as many as 225,000 operationally ready National Servicemen and has one of the most advanced air forces in Southeast Asia, even though Singapore has never been engaged in military conflict. Singapore has had a thorny relationship with its northern neighbour Malaysia over disagreements regarding issues such as the sale of water and land reclamation activities allegedly violating maritime boundaries . However, Malaysia remains a vital, albeit partial, hinterland.
Main article: History of Singapore
The first recorded mention of Singapore is in Chinese texts dating back to the 3rd century. The island served as an outpost of the Sumatran Srivijaya empire and originally bore the Javanese name Temasek. Temasek rose to become a significant trading city in its heyday, but later declined in significance. Most of the remnants of old Temasek no longer exist in Singapore other than archaeological evidence.
The current name of the city is derived from the Sanskrit word Singapura (Lion City), an appellation which became common by the late 14th century. The Sejarah Melayu (Malay Annals) contains a tale of a prince of Srivijaya, Sri Tri Buana (also known as Sang Nila Utama), who landed on the island sometime during the 13th century. Catching sight of a strange creature he thought was a lion, he established a settlement called Singapura—the "Lion City." In the 15th and 16th century, Singapore was a part of the Sultanate of Johore. During the Malay-Portugal wars in 1617, Singapura was set ablaze by the Portuguese forces.
In 1819, Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, an official with the British East India Company, established Singapore as a trade post and settlement, having made a treaty with the Sultan of Johore. Singapore was later made a crown colony in 1867 after a number of territorial expansions. It soon prospered economically as an entrepot town owing to its strategic location near the busy shipping routes.
During World War II, Japanese forces seized Malaya and the surrounding region. Despite numerical superiority the British were defeated as they were unprepared, surrendering in 1942 to the Japanese. The Japanese named the city Syonan (Light of the South) and held it till September 1945, when they were defeated by the Allies. In 1959, Singapore became a self-governing crown colony with Lee Kuan Yew from the PAP becoming the first Prime Minister of Singapore following the 1959 elections. It later joined the Federation of Malaysia along with Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak as an autonomous territory on September 1963 till August 1965.
After intense ideological conflict developed between the People's Action Party and the Federal Government, Singapore was expelled from Malaysia on 7 August, 1965, gaining official sovereignty two days later on August 9 with Malaysia becoming the first country to recognize it as a sovereign nation. Among the problems the fledgling nation faced included mass unemployment, housing problems, lack of natural resources and land. Lee Kuan Yew's reign as Prime Minister lasted from 1959 to 1990. During his term as Prime Minister, he successfully raised Singapore from poverty, and overcame Singapore's lack of housing and economic resources as a third world nation to elevate the nation to the first world status, proving many predictions wrong. His successor, Goh Chok Tong, took office as the second Prime Minister seeing the country through crises such as the 1997 Asian economic crisis and the SARS outbreak in 2003. On August 12, 2004, Lee Hsien Loong, the eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew, took over as the third Prime Minister of Singapore after getting the support of the ruling PAP.
Main articles: Politics of Singapore, Laws of Singapore
Singapore has a Westminster-style constitution. There is an elected figurehead president, who has veto powers in a few key decisions—such as the use of the national reserves and the appointment of key judiciary positions. True executive power rests with the Prime Minister who leads the majority party in the elected Parliament.
In practice, politics is dominated by the People's Action Party which has ruled since Independence. Over the years the PAP has been accused of taking overly harsh actions against opposition parties to discourage and impede their success, such as gerrymandering (redrawing electoral districts to one's own favour). Since most people are supportive or apathetic regarding PAP policies, the opposition parties are stereotypically associated with the truly political passionate. There are also several cases of government leaders taking out civil suits against the opposition for libel or slander. J. B. Jeyaretnam, leader of the opposition Workers' Party of Singapore, was brought down by a series of suits from the ruling party and was declared bankrupt in 2001, disbarring and preventing him from taking part in future elections. Many student activists have also been repeatedly suppressed.
Critics point out that in any case brought before the Singaporean courts involving the PAP or the Singapore Government, judges have always ruled in their favour, although a few instances of successful opposition suits have been recorded. Western democracies consider the mode of government in Singapore to be closer to authoritarianism than true democracy, and could be considered an illiberal democracy or procedural democracy.
Despite this, Singapore has what many consider to be a highly successful and transparent market economy. Singapore was originally known as a social democracy, but the PAP has consistently rejected the notion of being socialist. One difference from a social democracy could be the sense that it uses public opinion and feedback to make policies instead of rigorous lawmaking procedures. However, the PAP's policies contain certain hallmarks of socialism, which includes government owned public housing constituting the majority of real estate and the dominance of government owned and controlled companies in the local economy. The PAP has also consistently rejected Western democratic values in the past, with former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew citing incompatibilities with "Asian values". Most recently, the PAP has promulgated the loosening of social conservative policies and policies to encourage the proliferation of enterpreneurs but the effects of both efforts have not been completely manifested.
Laws in Singapore are generally strict and aimed at instilling a self-disciplined society with restrictions and harsh punishments, for example caning and execution. Currently, pornography, oral sex, and anal sex (except as a precursor to heterosexual intercourse), are illegal in Singapore. Homosexual intercourse ("carnal intercourse against the order of nature") is illegal with possible punishment of life imprisonment and caning. This issue is being actively addressed, however, by the Singapore gay movement. Magazines, newspapers, movies and TV shows have to undergo stringent government censorship before being released to the general public. Various minor offences could lead to heavy fines or caning; conviction of first-degree murder or drug trafficking, for example, and this almost always leads to the death penalty.
In 1994, an American teenager, Michael Fay, aroused passionate media interest, and protest from the United States, after he was sentenced to six strokes of the cane for vandalism. The sentencing triggered a formal request from U.S. government not to carry out the sentence. The appeal was denied, but the sentence was commuted to four strokes.
Singapore's main territory is a diamond-shaped island with her surrounding smaller islands. There are two connections from Singapore to the state of Johor, Malaysia — One is a man-made causeway to the north, crossing the Tebrau Straits, and the other is the Tuas Second Link (Linka Dua in Malaysia), a bridge in the western part of Singapore that connects to Johor.
Of Singapore's dozens of smaller islands, Jurong Island, Pulau Tekong, Pulau Ubin and Sentosa are the larger ones. The highest point of Singapore is Bukit Timah, with a height of 164m or 538 feet.
Urban area used to exist solely at the southern mouth of the Singapore River, while the rest of the land was primary forest or used for agriculture. However, from the 1960's, these areas were developed for housing and towns, such that nearly 100% of Singapore is now urban. In addition, Singapore has reclaimed land with earth obtained from its own hills, the seabed, and neighbouring countries. As a result, Singapore's land area grew from 581.5km² in the 1960s to 697.2km² today, and may grow by another 100km² by 2030.
Since Singapore lacks natural freshwater rivers and lakes, the primary source of domestic water is rainfall, caught in reservoirs or catchment areas. Even though the climate generally gives Singapore abundant rainfall, it falls short of consumption by 50%, so it imports the remaining needed amount from Malaysia. More catchment and recycled water (called NEwater) or desalination facilities have been or are being built, to reduce reliance on foreign supply.
Singapore's climate is tropical ("tropical rainforest climate" under the Köppen climate classification), with no distinct seasons. Its climate is characterised by uniform temperature and pressure, high humidity and abundant rainfall. On cooler days, the temperature can be as low as 23ºC or as high as 34ºC on average. On average, the relative humidity is around 90% in the morning, to 60% in the afternoon. During prolonged heavy rain, relative humidity often reaches 100%.
As one of the East Asian Tigers, Singapore enjoys a highly developed and successful free-market economy, characterised by a remarkably open and corruption-free environment, stable prices, and one of the highest per capita gross domestic product (GDP) in the world. The economy depends heavily on exports, particularly in electronics and manufacturing, and was hard hit in 2001 by the global recession and the slump in the technology sector, which caused the GDP that year to contract by 2.2%. The Economic Review Committee (ERC), set up in December 2001, made key recommendations in remaking Singapore's economy. The economy has since recovered in response to improvements in the world economy, and grew by 8.4% in 2004. In the longer term the government hopes to establish a new growth path that will be less vulnerable to the external business cycle than the current export-led model, but is unlikely to abandon efforts to establish Singapore as Southeast Asia's financial and high-tech hub. The per capita GDP in 2003 was US$25,200. In the fourth quarter of 2004, the unemployment rate was 3.7%.
Singapore has become noted among international travellers as an exciting travel destination, making tourism one of the largest industries in Singapore. Its cultural diversity reflects its rich colonial history and Malay, Chinese, Arab and Indian ethnicities. For many years considered to be the business hub of Southeast Asia, Singapore has an expansive shopping precinct located in the Orchard Road district. Filled with several multistorey shopping centres, the area also has many hotels, and is regarded by many as the tourism centre of Singapore.
Other popular tourist attractions include the Singapore Zoo and its Night Safari, which allows people to explore Asian, African and South American habitats at night, without any visible barriers between guests and the wild animals. The Singapore Zoo has embraced the 'open zoo' concept whereby animals are kept in enclosures, separated from visitors by hidden dry or wet moats, instead of caging the animals. Also famous is the Jurong Bird Park, wherein there are specimens of magnificent bird life from around the world, including a flock of one thousand flamingos. The tourist island of Sentosa, located in the south of Singapore, consists of about 20-30 landmarks. Built as a fortress to defend against the Japanese during World War 2, the guns can be seen at Fort Siloso, from a mini sized to a 16 pounder (7 kg) gun. Recently, the island has built the Carlsberg Sky Tower, which allows visitors to view the whole of Sentosa. Looking forward, Singapore is going to have two integrated resorts with casinos in 2009, one at Marina Bayfront and the other at Sentosa as announced on 18 April 2005.
See also: Tourism in Singapore
Singapore's existence could have been tied to the transportation industry since its infancy, and that remains true even today with a contribution of over 10% of gross domestic product annually despite an increasingly diversified economy.
The Port of Singapore, run by port operators PSA International (formerly the Port of Singapore Authority) and Jurong Port, is the world's busiest in terms of shipping tonnage handled. 1.04 billion gross tons (GT) were handled in the year 2004, crossing the one billion mark for the first time in Singapore's maritime history. Singapore also emerged as the top port in terms of cargo tonnage handled with 393 million tonnes of cargo in the same year, pipping the port in Rotterdam for the first time in the process. Singapore is ranked second globally in terms of containerised traffic, with 21.3 million Twenty-Foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) handled in 2004., and retains her position as the World's busiest hub for transhipment traffic. She is also the world's biggest bunkering hub, with 23.6 million tonnes sold in 2004.
In the aviation business, the Singapore Changi Airport, situated at the eastern end of the island, serves as a major air hub for the region and beyond, particularly as a stopover point for the "Kangaroo route" between Australasia and Europe. As one of the top 5 airports of Asia in terms of passengers handled, it crossed the 30 million passenger mark for the first time in its history in the year 2004. In anticipation of a rise in demand both in the regular and low-cost sectors, a third passenger terminal and a low-cost terminal are currently under construction, which will increase the airport's total capacity to 66.7 million passengers annually by 2008.
Within Singapore, transportation includes the heavy rail passenger MRT system, the light rail LRT system, an extensive expressway and road system, and a nationwide system of taxis and buses. During hours of heavy road traffic, cars may be subject to toll by an Electronic Road Pricing system.
Main articles: Demographics of Singapore, Religion in Singapore
Apart from the much smaller Monaco, Singapore is the most densely populated independent country in the world. 84% of Singaporeans live in public housing provided by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). 1
Singapore's population, though small at between four to five million, is relatively diverse compared to most other countries, although neighbour Malaysia also features a multiracial population. The Chinese, who constituted the majority of the island population since the colonial days, account for 76.8% of Singaporeans. Malay, who are the indigenous native group of the country, constitute 13.9%, though this number includes many Malay ethnic groups from other parts of the Malay archipelago including the Javanese, Bugis, Baweans and Minangs. Indians are the second largest minority ethnic group at 7.9% which consist of several groups — Tamils, who form the largest Indian group and others such as Malayalees, Punjabis and Bengalis. The rest are made up of smaller groups such as the Arabs and the Eurasians .
Singapore is generally a multi-religious country, mainly due to its strategic location and the variety of religious beliefs that most Singaporeans hold. More than 40% of the Singaporeans adhere to Mahayana Buddhism, the main faith of the Chinese population of Singapore, who constituted around 77% of the country's population. Taoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and ancestral worship are merged into one by most Chinese adherents to Buddhism. Most Muslims are Malay, but a few Indian Muslims exist.
The government of Singapore has been careful to maintain ethnic harmony after racial riots erupted in the 1960s. Racial harmony has been emphasized in all aspects of society, including Singapore's education policy, military and housing. So far the policy has been largely successful, and there have been few signs of ethnic tension since the early 1970s. Issues exist such as bans on fundamentalist evangelical Christian activities such as groups like Jehovah's Witness and the Islamic headscarf in public schools.
The official languages of Singapore are English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay and Tamil. English has been promoted as the country's lingua franca since independence, and it is spoken by the majority of the population. Malay remains Singapore's national language for historical reasons and it is used in the national anthem. To promote Chinese culture and the use of Mandarin, the government has introduced a "Speak Mandarin Campaign".
Main article: Culture of Singapore
As Singapore is a small and relatively modern amalgam of semi-indigenous Malay population with the majority Chinese and the minority Indian and Arab migrants with little intermarriage, there appears little in the way of specifically Singaporean culture. However, there exists a community of Peranakan or "Straits Chinese", of mixed Chinese and Malay descent and a steadily increasing Eurasian community. The major public holidays in Singapore reflect this diversity, including the religious holidays of various denominations.
Officially, the English used is modelled on British English (spelling and grammar), with some American English influences. The local colloquial dialect of English is known formally as Singapore Colloquial English (though it is more commonly called "Singlish"), and has many creole-like characteristics, having incorporated much vocabulary and grammar from various Chinese dialects, Malay, and Indian languages. Singlish is basically identical to Manglish (the English dialect of Malaysia), and is the usual language on the streets, but is frowned upon in official contexts, and this matter has been brought up in recent years in the Parliament and the ruling party.
Singapore also has several ethnic neighborhoods, including a "Little India" and a "Chinatown", formed by the Raffles Plan of Singapore to segregate the new immigrants into specific areas. Although the population are no longer segregated in distribution mainly due to the policies of the HDB now, these ethnic neighbourhoods retain selective elements of their specific culture. The usage of such neighbourhoods is mostly commercial or for a cottage industry specific to the culture of its ethnic neighbourhood, and does not play a big part in housing the population, although it is used for that purpose. Hence, these neighbourhoods have a diverse patronage who probably wish to either eat or buy something specific to that culture.
In other parts of the country, segregation is discouraged and diversity encouraged. This can often be found in the policies of the HDB, which try to make sure there is a mix of all races within each housing district. The effect of this can be observed in all parts of the country; for example a store devoted to selling Malay food might be right next to stores selling Chinese or Indian goods. This, in return, is thought by some to foster social cohesion and national loyalty, which are crucial for sustaining Singapore's growth.
Religious tolerance has been strongly encouraged since the British colonised Singapore; South Bridge Street, which was a major road through the old Chinatown, served as home to the Sri Mariamman Temple (a south Indian Hindu temple that was declared a national history site in the 1980s), as well as the Masjid Jamae Mosque that served Chulia Muslims from India's Coromandel Coast. Among other religious landmarks is the Armenian Church of Gregory the Illuminator, that was built in 1836, making it the oldest church in Singapore. It has been preserved until the present day, and Orthodox services continue to be held in it. Although orthodox religions are tolerated, some groups are banned (Jehovah's Witnesses, for example). The Societies Act forces all organizations, including churches, to be approved by the government.
People with alternative lifestyles such as homosexuals are generally ostracised by Singaporean society, both on a political level by prosecuting and convicting them, and culturally. This tension has been the subject of much debate both inside and outside of Singapore, and the outcome of public debate remains to be seen. There is no current legislative proposal to resolve this, and legislation seems in favour of the status quo. In addition, under the Societies Act the government has not allowed any gay rights group to form and openly address the issue.
- "Census 2000." Singapore Department of Statistics. Accessed on 11 Jan, 2004 , 2000.1
- "Key Facts & Figures." Ministry of Transport, Singapore. Accessed on 11 Jan, 2004 , 2003.2
- "Journey to Singapore's Yesteryears - Historical Landmarks - Armenian Church." Victoria School IT Club. Accessed on 26 Jan, 2004 , 2003.
- "National Library Board Singapore: Branches & Hours." National Library Board Singapore. Accessed on 26 Jan, 2004 , 2004.
- This article incorporates public domain text from the websites of Singapore Department of Statistics, United States Department of State, the United States Library of Congress & CIA World Factbook (2004).
Last updated: 10-22-2005 13:08:47