Singapore is primarily a democratic country. It has a Parliamentary representative government headed by a Prime Minister who serves as the head of government. Singapore also has a President who is also duly elected by its citizens, and who formally served only as the head of state. Like most other democratic countries, Singapore has three branches of government, namely, the executive, the legislature, and the judiciary. Though not necessary a strict application of the doctrine of separation of powers, there are still systems of checks and balances exercised among these co-equal branches of government to ensure efficiency and to prevent any possible abuse of power by one branch.
In the pre-colonial times, Singapore was part of the Kingdom of Singapura, where it was considered as an important port for trade and commerce. It then fell to the rule of the Madjapahit Empire after its invasion. It also became a territory of the Malacca Sultanate, and thereafter, the Johor Sultanate.
Modern Singapore was founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles. It remained a colony of the British Kingdom until the Second World War when the Japanese managed to take control of the country from 1942 up to their surrender in 1945. Singapore reverted to the British after the war and was given the opportunity for self-governance piece by piece. It formally began its self-governance in 1955, and was fully self-governing by 1959. It shortly became a part of Malaysia in 1962 but was expelled in 1965 over differences in ideology, formally marking the date of independence of Singapore and the continuation of its self-governance.
In its modern history, Lee Kuan Yew served as a central figure in the politics and government of Singapore. He is the first and youngest Prime Minster of Singapore when he assumed office in 1959 and is universally recognized as the nation’s founding father. His policies and decisions over his long time in service have most definitely shaped the country from its early years after the war to the leading economy that Singapore is now today.
Singapore has the common three branches of government, the executive, the legislative, and the judiciary. Executive power is vested primarily with the Cabinet, the Prime Minister and to a certain extent the President. The Cabinet as a whole effectively decides the policies of the government.
The Prime Minister, who acts as the head of government, also exercises executive power in governing the country and implementing policies together with the Cabinet, as well as seeing to it that the laws are faithfully executed. Singapore’s founding father, Lee Kuan Yew was the first Prime Minister of the country and was also the longest-serving one, having been the Prime Minster for three decades. Currently, his eldest son, Lee Hsien Long serves as the country’s Prime Minister. The President, on the other hand, has discretion over the appointment of public officers, including the Prime Minister, and the approval of the budget. Tony Tan Keng Yam’s is the incumbent President of Singapore.
The legislative power is exercised by the Parliament. The Parliament has plenary powers and it is generally charged with lawmaking powers through the enactment of bills into laws and the allocation of the government’s budget. The Parliament also acts as a check and balance vis-à-vis the Cabinet as member of the Parliament can invite members of the Cabinet for questioning with regard to government policies and other official acts. Elections are regularly conducted in Singapore. The members of the Parliament as well as the President are elected by the voting public. Suffrage is compulsory and the voting age is 21.
Judicial power is vested by the Constitution of Singapore in its Supreme Court, which consists of the Court of Appeal and the High Court, as well as in the lower State Courts. The judiciary is mainly tasked with resolving legal disputes over individuals as well as adjudication of rights in their respective jurisdictions. They also hear and decide criminal cases, and impose the requisite penalties, whenever proper. The courts are also called upon to interpret their constitution when the situation calls for it. Singaporean law is mainly a common law system where decisions of the higher courts serve as precedents to subsequent issues with facts and issues falling squarely with those of the decided case.
The People’s Action Party, or the PAP, the dominant political party in Singapore. It was founded by Lee Kuan Yew in 1954 and has been the country’s ruling party since 1959, winning the majority of seats in Parliament every election since then. It currently has 83 of the 101 seats in Parliament. The political leanings of the PAP have been characterized as centre-right and most analysts have identified pragmatism, meritocracy, multiculturalism, and communitarianism as the party’s major pillars of ideology.
The PAP, however, has been criticized for allegedly employing censorship and resulting to gerrymandering as well as filling cases against the opposition to aid its cause. The party has so far still remained as the dominant party in the country. It is the only party to have won seats in all contested elections.
Other opposition parties in the country are the Worker’s Party (WP), the Singapore People’s Party (SPP), the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP), the Reform Party (RP), and the Democratic Progressive Party (DPP). In the last elections, the Worker’s Party was the only party other than the dominant PAP to snag seats in the Parliament, winning 9 seats out of the total 101.
Singapore has a written codified Constitution which took effect on August 9, 1965. Its Constitution is the supreme law of the land. The Constitution has parts concerning the organization of government, rules on citizenship, civil and political rights and liberties of its people, rules on civil service, and amendments to the Constitutional text, among others. The interpretation of the Constitution by the courts also serves as body of Constitutional law. These decisions interpreting the law, which essentially become part of the law themselves, and the text of the Constitution are the two main sources of interpretation of the Constitution.