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Government, Politics and Legal Systems for Expats in Singapore

Author: Jim Newham
Submitted: August 2014

Government and Politics

The Republic of Singapore is a representative democracy, though one that is not without its flaws. The system of government is based on the UK Westminster system, with a president as head of state. Since presidential powers were expanded in 1991, the role of president has been more than just ceremonial. The current president is Tony Tan (Chinese name: Tan Keng Yam.)

Since 1993, the president has been elected by popular vote, though the requirements to be a suitable candidate are very stringent, there has sometimes only been one candidate. The president has the power to veto certain elements of government expenditure and the appointment of important public figures. Together with Parliament, the president makes up the Singaporean legislature.

The most powerful figure in Singaporean politics in the prime minister, who is head of the government. The current Prime Minister, Lee Hsien Loong, has held the post since 2004. The prime minister appoints and is leader of the Cabinet, which is the source of executive power. The Cabinet represents and is responsible to Parliament.

The Singaporean legislative body, the Parliament, is unicameral; the single chamber consists of 99 members (MPs.) Of these, 87 are directly elected and 12 are appointed; the latter do not represent parliamentary constituencies. Elected members serve five-year terms and election is by means of compulsory universal suffrage. The minimum voting age is 21.

Democracy in Singapore is limited in several ways. Although a multi-party system operates, government is greatly dominated by the People’s Action Party (PAP). There are many seats that are not contested by any party other than the PAP, who therefore win these seats by walkover. Furthermore, the PAP party has held power since 1959, often, according to its critics, by means of suppressing dissent.

Media activities are restricted by the government, which owns or has control over all media companies. Freedom of speech is similarly curtailed. Nevertheless, the country has one of the lowest levels for corruption in the world. It can be argued that this curtailment of freedoms is part of the price residents pay for living in an efficient and well-run country.

 

Legal Systems

Like nearly all former British colonies, the legal system in Singapore is based on English common law. There are however substantial differences from the UK Law. For example, there is no trial by jury; following the Indian Penal Code, all trials are conducted via judicial examination.

Sources of law are the constitution, parliamentary legislation and binding decisions made by judges. The power to prosecute cases is held by the attorney-general. The highest court in the land is the Supreme Court, which is headed by the Chief Justice, who is appointed by the president. The Supreme Court is divided into the High Court, Court of Appeal and Court of Criminal Appeal. Below these courts are the District Courts and Magistrates’ Courts.

The Singaporean penal code makes provision for harsh punishments. These include highly painful beatings with a rattan cane for crimes such as rioting, vandalism and overstaying your visa. Furthermore, the death penalty is in use, not only for murder, but also for crimes such as kidnapping and drug trafficking.

 

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