The Economist Intelligence Unit classes Singapore as a "hybrid" country, with authoritarian and democratic elements. Freedom House ranks Singapore as "partly free". Reporters Without Borders ranked Singapore 140th out of 167 countries in its 2005 Worldwide Press Freedom Index.
It has also been alleged that the PAP employs censorship, gerrymandering and the filing of civil suits against the opposition for libel or slander to impede their success. Several former and present members of the opposition, including Francis Seow, J.B. Jeyaretnam and Chee Soon Juan perceive the Singaporean courts as favourable towards the government and the PAP due to a lack of separation of powers. There are however three cases in which opposition leader Chiam See Tong sued PAP ministers for defamation and successfully obtained damages before trial.
In a case involving J. B. Jeyaretnam, he lost a series of suits to members of the PAP and was declared bankrupt in 2001, effectively disqualifying him from participating in future elections. Similar civil suits have been filed against Chee Soon Juan, leader of the Singapore Democratic Party. In 2005, filmmaker Martyn See shot a documentary on Chee called "Singapore Rebel" and was threatened with a lawsuit for making a "politically partisan" film, which is illegal in Singapore.
In addition, the PAP government penalizes precincts that vote for opposition parties by withholding public funds from being used to upgrade government-built apartments in those precincts.
Singapore has what its government considers to be a highly successful and transparent market economy. Some people have labelled Singapore a social democracy, although the PAP has consistently rejected the notion of being socialist. However, some of PAP's policies do contain certain aspects of socialism, which includes government-owned public housing constituting the majority of real estate and the dominance of government controlled companies in the local economy. The Housing Development Board oversees a large-scale public housing programme and education in Singapore is a rigorous compulsory public education system, and the dominance of government-controlled companies in the local economy. Although dominant in its activities, the government has a clean, corruption-free image. Singapore has consistently been rated as the least-corrupt country in Asia and amongst the top ten cleanest in the world by Transparency International.
Although Singapore's laws are inherited from British and British Indian laws, including many elements of English common law, the PAP has also consistently rejected liberal democratic values, which it typifies as Western and states that there should not be a 'one-size-fits-all' solution to a democracy. Laws restricting the freedom of speech are justified by claims that they are intended to prohibit speech that may breed ill will or cause disharmony within Singapore's multiracial, multi-religious society. For example, in September 2005, three bloggers were convicted of sedition for posting racist remarks targeting minorities. Some offences can lead to heavy fines or caning and there are laws which allow capital punishment in Singapore for first-degree murder and drug trafficking. Amnesty International has criticised Singapore for having "possibly the highest execution rate in the world" per capita. The Singapore Government responded by asserting it had the right as a sovereign state to impose the death penalty for serious offences. Most recently, the PAP has relaxed some of its socially conservative policies and encouraged entrepreneurship.
The constitution cannot be amended without the support of more than two-thirds of the members of parliament on the second and third readings. The president may seek opinion on constitutional issues from a tribunal consisting of not less than three judges of the Supreme Court. Singaporean courts, like the courts in Australia, cannot offer advisory opinion on the constitutionality of laws.
Part IV of the constitution guarantees the following:
Part XII of the constitution allows the Parliament of Singapore to enact legislation designed to stop or prevent subversion. Such legislation is valid even if it is inconsistent with Part IV of the constitution. The Internal Security Act (ISA) is a legislation under such provision. In 1966, Chia Thye Poh was detained under the ISA and was imprisoned for 23 years without trial.
Prior to 1991, the president was the head of state appointed by parliament and was largely a ceremonial role with some reserve powers. As a result of constitutional changes in 1991, the president is now directly elected to office for a six-year term by popular vote. The first and only directly-elected President since the constitutional change was Ong Teng Cheong, a former cabinet minister. He served as President from 1 September 1993 to 31 August 1999. Since then a presidential election has never taken place. After Ong Teng Cheong, the government-appointed Presidential Elections Committee has disqualified all but one candidate. This candidate is then declared President and is referred to as the elected president. The president now exercises powers over the following:
However, the president must consult the Council of Presidential Advisers before he takes a decision on some of these matters. The council comprises:
A member of the council serves a six-year term and are eligible for re-appointment for further terms of four years each.
Similar to the Speech from the Throne given by the heads of state in other parliamentary systems, the president delivers an address written by the government at the opening of parliament about what kind of policies to expect in the coming year. The current president is Sellapan Ramanathan.
The cabinet forms the executive or the government and it is answerable to parliament. It consists of sitting members of parliament and is headed by a prime minister, the head of government. The current prime minister is Lee Hsien Loong.
Neither the prime minister nor members of the cabinet are elected by parliament. Instead, the prime minister is appointed by the president, who in his/her view is likely to command the confidence of the majority of the parliament. Cabinet members, also known as ministers, are appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister.
Unlike the cabinet in the United States where it functions largely as an advisory council to the head of government, the cabinet in Singapore collectively decides the government's policies and has influence over lawmaking by introducing bills.
The 84 elected members of parliament (MPs) are elected on a plurality voting basis and represent either single-member constituencies (SMCs) or group Representation Constituencies (GRCs). In GRCs, political parties field a team of between three to six candidates. At least one candidate in the team must belong to a minority race.
Formerly, there were no GRCs, and all constituencies of Singapore were represented by one member, but amendments to the Parliamentary Elections Act in 1991 led to the creation of GRCs, thus creating a plurality voting system in the process.
This development has led to complaints from opposition parties that they are often unable to field one, let alone three or more candidates. Out of the 84 members of parliament, 10 are female. In the last general election in 2006, the incumbent People's Action Party (PAP) won 82 of the 84 seats, with the same configuration as the previous election in 2001, but with a loss of 9% of the popular vote. .
The constitution also provides for the appointment of other members of parliament not voted in at an election. Up to six Non-Constituency Members of Parliament from the opposition political parties can be appointed. Currently, there is one Non-Constituency Member of Parliament.
A constitutional provision for the appointment of up to nine Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) was made in 1990. NMPs are appointed by the president for a term of two and a half years on the recommendation of a Select Committee chaired by the Speaker of Parliament and are not connected to any political parties. In 2005, nine NMPs were sworn in, out of which five were female.
Both non-constituency and nominated members of parliament cannot vote on the following issues:
Each bill goes through several stages before it becomes a law. The first stage is a mere formality known as the first reading, where it is introduced without a debate. This is followed by the second reading, where members of parliament debate on the general principles of the bill. If parliament opposes the bill, it may vote to reject the bill.
If the bill goes through the second reading, the bill is sent to a Select Committee where every clause in the bill is examined. Members of parliament who support the bill in principle but do not agree with certain clauses can propose amendments to those clauses at this stage. Following its report back to parliament, the bill will go through its third reading where only minor amendments will be allowed before it is passed.
Most bills passed by parliament are scrutinised by the Presidential Council for Minority Rights which makes a report to the Speaker of Parliament stating whether there are clauses in a bill which affects any racial or religious community. If approved by the council, the bill will be presented for the president's assent.
The last stage involves the granting of assent by the president, before the bill officially becomes to become a law.
Unlike the United States presidential elections of 2004 where electronic voting was used in several states, paper ballots are still used in Singapore. However, there is a concern that voting secrecy might be compromised as ballot papers have serial numbers on them. As stated in the Elections Department website:
"...ballot papers can be examined only under strict conditions, and there are safeguards that make it extremely difficult to find out how any particular voter voted. After the count, all ballot papers and their counterfoils have to be sealed in the Supreme Court vault for six months, after which all the ballot papers and other election documents are destroyed. During those six months, these documents can only be retrieved by court order. The court will issue such an order only if it is satisfied that a vote has been fraudulently cast and the result of the election may be affected as a result. Our courts have issued no such order since elections have been held here since 1948."
PAP has held the overwhelming majority of seats in parliament since 1966, when the opposition Barisan Sosialis Party resigned from parliament and left the PAP as the sole representative party. PAP won all of the seats in an expanding parliament in the general elections of 1968, 1972, 1976 and 1980. PAP's share of the popular vote in contested seats declined from 78% in 1980 to 65% in 1997. However, the elections of 2001 saw the party's share of the popular vote climb to 75%, winning 82 of the 84 seats. Singapore general election, 2006 marked the first time since 1988 the PAP did not return to power on nomination day, with the opposition parties fielding candidates in over half of the constituencies. Overall PAP saw its share of the vote fall to 66.6%.
J.B. Jeyaretnam of the Workers' Party became the first alternative party member of parliament in 15 years when he won a 1981 by-election. Despite acquiring an increasing percentage of the popular vote-- 34% overall in 2006-- alternative parties gained small numbers of seats in the general elections of 1984 (2 seats of 79), 1988 (1 seat of 81), 1991 (4 seats of 81), 1997 (2 seats of 83) and 2001 (2 seats of 84). The opposition parties attribute the disproportionate results to the nature of the GRC electoral system.
Women traditionally played a significantly smaller role than their male counterparts in patriarchal Singapore. Nonetheless, in recent years, there is an increasing level of female participation in the Singapore political arena.
Ministers in Singapore are also the highest paid politicians in the world, receiving a 60% salary raise in 2007 and as a result Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's pay jumped to 3.1 million Singapore dollars, five times the $400,000 earned by President George W. Bush. Although there was a brief public outcry, the government's firm stance was that this raise was required to ensure the continued efficiency and corruption-free status of Singapore's world-class government.
It is a member of Asian Network of Major Cities 21.