Singapore has a varied linguistic, cultural, and religious heritage. Malay is the national language, but Chinese, English, and Tamil also are official languages. English is widely used in professions, businesses, and schools.
The government has mandated that English be the primary language used at all levels of the school systems, and it aims to provide at least 10 years of education for every child. In 1998, primary and secondary school students totaled almost 470,000, or 12% of the entire population. In 1998, enrollment at the National University of Singapore was approximately 22,300 (both undergraduate and graduate) and approximately 53,553 at Singapore Polytechnic and Singapore's three other polytechnics. The practical engineering-oriented Nanyang Technological University, established in 1981, has 15,661 students. The country's literacy rate is 91%.
Singapore generally allows religious freedom, although religious groups are subject to government scrutiny and some religious sects are restricted or banned. Almost all Malays are Muslim; other Singaporeans are Hindus, Sikhs, Taoists, Buddhists, Confucianists, or Christians.
The opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the advent of steamships launched an era of prosperity for Singapore as transit trade expanded throughout Southeast Asia. In the 20th century, the automobile industry's demand for rubber from Southeast Asia and the packaging industry's need for tin helped make Singapore one of the world's major ports.
In 1921, the British constructed a naval base, which was soon supplemented by an air base. But the Japanese captured the island in February 1942, and it remained under their control until September 1945, when it was recaptured by the British.
In 1946, the Straits Settlements was dissolved; Penang and Malacca became part of the Malayan Union and Singapore became a separate British Crown Colony. In 1959, Singapore became self-governing, and, in 1963, it joined the newly independent Federation of Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak (the latter two former British Borneo territories) to form Malaysia.
Indonesia adopted a policy of "confrontation" against the new federation, charging that it was a "British colonial creation," and severed trade with Malaysia. The move particularly affected Singapore, since Indonesia had been the island's second-largest trading partner. The political dispute was resolved in 1966, and Indonesia resumed trade with Singapore.
After a period of friction between Singapore and the central government in Kuala Lumpur, Singapore separated from Malaysia on August 9, 1965, and became an independent republic.
The unicameral parliament consists of 83 members elected on the basis of universal adult suffrage. In the last general election, in January 1997, the governing People's Action Party (PAP) won 81 of the 83 seats. The President may appoint up to six nominated members of parliament (NMP) from among nominations by a special select committee. NMPs enjoy the same privileges as MPs but cannot vote on constitutional matters or expenditures of funds. The maximum term of any one parliament is 5 years. Voting has been compulsory since 1959.
Judicial power is vested in the High Court and the Court of Appeal. The High Court exercises original criminal and civil jurisdiction in serious cases as well as appellate jurisdiction from subordinate courts. Its chief justice, senior judge, and six judges are appointed by the president. Appeals from the High Court are heard by the Court of Appeal. The right of appeal to the Privy Council in London was abolished effective April 1994.
Communications--Yeo Cheow Tong
Community Development--Abdullah Tarmugi
Defense--Dr. Tony Tan
Education--Teo Chee Hean
Environment--Lee Yock Suan
Finance--Richard Hu Tsu Tau
Foreign Affairs--S. Jayakumar
Health--Lim Hng Kiang
Home Affairs--Wong Kan Seng
Information and the Arts--Lee Yock Suan
Manpower--Lee Boon Yang
National Development--Mah Bow Tan
Trade and Industry-George Yong-Boon Yeo
Ambassador to the United Nations--Kishore Mahbubani
Ambassador to the United States--Chan Heng Chee
Singapore maintains an embassy in the United States at 3501 International Place NW, Washington, DC 20008 (tel. 202/537-3100, fax 202/537-0876).
The PAP has held the overwhelming majority of seats in Parliament since 1966, when the opposition Barisan Sosialis Party (Socialist Front), a left-wing group that split off from the PAP in 1961, resigned from parliament, leaving the PAP as the sole representative party. In the general elections of 1968, 1972, 1976, and 1980, the PAP won all of the seats in an expanding parliament.
Workers' Party Secretary General J.B. Jeyaretnam became the first opposition party MP in 15 years when he won a 1981 by-election. Opposition parties gained small numbers of seats in the general elections of 1984 (2 seats out of a total of 79), 1988 (1 seat of 81), 1991 (4 seats of 81) and 1997 (2 seats of 81). Meanwhile, the PAP share of the popular vote declined from 78% in 1980 to 65% in 1997.
Singapore's strategic location on major sea lanes and industrious population have given the country an economic importance in Southeast Asia disproportionate to its small size. Upon independence in 1965 Singapore was faced with a lack of physical resources and a small domestic market. In response, the Singapore Government developed an international business outlook and an export-oriented economic policy framework that encouraged two-way flows of trade and investment. Singapore's economic strategy proved a success, producing real growth that averaged 8.3% from 1960 to 1993. The economy appeared to have achieved a soft landing in 1991 and 1992 with growth rates of 6.7% and 5.8% respectively, the lowest since the 1986 recession. In 1993, the economy rebounded with a growth rate of 9.9%, largely because of the recovery in the U.S. and the fast-growing market for disk drives and other computer peripherals. In 1995, the growth rate was 8.8%; in 1996, it was 7.0%; and in 1997, the growth rate was 7.2%. Due to the global economic slowdown and regional financial crisis, Singapore's growth was only 0.3% in 1998. The economy began to pick up in 1999, and growth is forecast to be around 1.3%.
Singapore's honest government, willing workforce, and modern and efficient infrastructure have attracted investments from more than 3,000 multinational corporations (MNCs) from the United States, Japan, and Europe. Foreign firms are found in almost all sectors of the economy. MNCs account for more than two-thirds of manufacturing output and direct export sales.
Manufacturing and financial and business services are the twin engines of the Singapore economy, and accounted for 22% and 29% respectively of Singapore's gross domestic product in 1998. Tourism is also a major income generator for the economy. The electronics industry leads Singapore's manufacturing sector, accounting for 45.5% of Singapore's total industrial output.
To maintain its competitive position despite rising wages, the government has been promoting higher value-added activities in the manufacturing and services sectors. In 1998, the government announced a number of cost-cutting measures, which included wage and rent reductions, to lower the cost of doing business in Singapore. As part of its regionalization strategy, the government is now actively encouraging firms to invest abroad. Singapore's total direct investments abroad reached $26 billion by the end of 1995. The two largest of Singapore's investments in 1995 were in Malaysia (20%) and Hong Kong (14%). There was also significant increased investment in Indonesia (19%) and a move toward heavy investment in China. Singapore has also been strengthening its regional economic ties as a member of the newly launched ASEAN Free Trade Area (AFTA) and as host to the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) secretariat.
The U.S. Government sponsors visitors from Singapore each year under the International Visitor Program. The U.S. Government provides Fulbright awards to enable selected American professors to teach or conduct research at the National University of Singapore and the Institute of Southeast Asian Studies. It awards scholarships to outstanding Singaporean students for graduate studies at American universities and to American students to study in Singapore. The U.S. Government also sponsors occasional cultural presentations in Singapore.
The East-West Center and private American organizations, such as the Asia and Ford Foundations, also sponsor exchanges involving Singaporeans.
The U.S. embassy in Singapore is located at 27 Napier Road, Singapore 258508 (tel. 65-476-9100, fax 65-476-9340). The Embassy's website is at http://home1.pacific.net.sg/&amemb/.