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Singapore

Capital Singapore
Continent Asia
Code +65
Currency Singapore dollar (S$)
Languages English , Malay , Mandarin Chinese , Tamil , English , Malay , Mandarin Chinese , Tamil

Description

Singapore is a sovereign island city-state in maritime Southeast Asia. It lies about one degree of latitude (137 kilometers or 85 miles) north of the equator, off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, bordering the Straits of Malacca to the west, the Riau Islands (Indonesia) to the south, and the South China Sea to the east. The country's territory is composed of one main island, 63 satellite islands, and islets, and one outlying islet, the combined area, which has increased by 25% since the country's independence as a result of extensive land reclamation projects. It has the second greatest population density in the world. With a multicultural population and recognizing the need to respect cultural identities, Singapore has four official languages; English, Malay, Mandarin, and Tamil. English is the lingua franca. Multiracialism is enshrined in the constitution and continues to shape national policies in education, housing, and politics.

Modern Singapore was founded in 1819 by Sir Stamford Raffles as a trading post of the British Empire. In 1867, the colonies in Southeast Asia were reorganized and Singapore came under the direct control of Britain as part of the Straits Settlements. During the Second World War, Singapore was occupied by Japan in 1942 and returned to British control as a separate crown colony following Japan's surrender in 1945. Singapore gained self-governance in 1959 and 1963 became part of the new federation of Malaysia, alongside Malaya, North Borneo, and Sarawak. Ideological differences led to Singapore being expelled from the federation two years later and it became an independent country.

After early years of turbulence and despite lacking natural resources and a hinterland, the nation rapidly developed to become one of the Four Asian Tigers based on external trade, becoming a highly developed country; it is ranked ninth on the UN Human Development Index and has the second-highest GDP per capita (PPP) in the world. Singapore is the only country in Asia with a AAA sovereign rating from all major rating agencies. It is a major financial and shipping hub, consistently ranked the most expensive city to live in since 2013, and has been identified as a tax haven. Singapore is placed higher in key social indicators: education, healthcare, quality of life, personal safety, and housing, with a home-ownership rate of 91%. Singaporeans enjoy one of the world's longest life expectancies, the fastest Internet connection speeds, and one of the lowest infant mortality rates in the world.

Singapore is a unitary parliamentary republic with a Westminster system of unicameral parliamentary government. While elections are considered generally free, the government exercises significant control over politics and society, and the People's Action Party has ruled continuously since independence. One of the five founding members of ASEAN, Singapore is also the headquarters of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Secretariat and Pacific Economic Cooperation Council (PECC) Secretariat, as well as many international conferences and events. Singapore is also a member of the United Nations, World Trade Organization, East Asia Summit, Non-Aligned Movement, and the Commonwealth of Nations.

History

The history of the modern state of Singapore dates back to its founding in the early nineteenth century; however, evidence suggests that a significant trading settlement existed on the island of Singapore in the 14th century. At the time, the Kingdom of Singapura was under the rule of Parameswara, who killed the previous ruler before he was expelled by the Majapahit or the Siamese. It then came under the Malacca Sultanate and then the Johor Sultanate. In 1819, British statesman Stamford Raffles negotiated a treaty whereby Johor allowed the British to locate a trading port on the island, ultimately leading to the establishment of the crown colony of Singapore in 1867.

During World War II, Singapore was conquered and occupied by the Japanese Empire from 1942 to 1945. When the Japanese surrendered, Singapore reverted to British control, with increasing levels of self-government being granted, resulting in Singapore's merger with the Federation of Malaya to form Malaysia in 1963. However, social unrest and disputes between Singapore's ruling People's Action Party and Malaysia's Alliance Party resulted in Singapore's expulsion from Malaysia. Singapore became an independent republic on 9 August 1965.

Facing severe unemployment and a housing crisis partially caused by the Bukit Ho Swee fire, Singapore embarked on a modernization program beginning in the late 1960s through the 1970s that focused on establishing a manufacturing industry, developing large public housing estates, and investing heavily in public education and infrastructure.

By the 1990s, the country had become one of the world's most prosperous nations, with a highly developed free-market economy and strong international trading links. It now has the highest per capita gross domestic product in Asia, which is 7th in the world, and it is ranked 9th on the UN Human Development Index.

Geography

Singapore consists of 63 islands, including the main island, Pulau Ujong. There are two man-made connections to Johor, Malaysia: the Johor–Singapore Causeway in the north and the Tuas Second Link in the west. Jurong Island, Pulau Tekong, Pulau Ubin, and Sentosa are the largest of Singapore's smaller islands. The highest natural point is Bukit Timah Hill at 163.63 m (537 ft). Under British rule, Christmas Island and Cocos Islands were part of Singapore, and both were transferred to Australia in 1957. Pedra Branca is the nation's easternmost point.

Land reclamation projects have increased Singapore's land area of 580 km2 (220 sq mi) in the 1960s to 710 km2 (270 sq mi) by 2015, an increase of some 22% (130 km2). The country is projected to reclaim another 56 km2 (20 sq mi). Some projects involve merging smaller islands through land reclamation to form larger, more functional, and habitable islands, as has been done with Jurong Island. The type of sand used in reclamation is found in rivers and beaches, rather than deserts, and is in great demand worldwide. In 2010 Singapore imported almost 15 million tons of sand for its projects, the demand being such that Indonesia, Malaysia, and Vietnam have all restricted or barred the export of sand to Singapore in recent years. As a result, in 2016 Singapore switched to using Folders for reclamation, in which an area is enclosed and then pumped dry.

Government and politics

Singapore is a parliamentary republic based on the Westminster system. The Constitution of Singapore is the supreme law of the country, establishing the structure and responsibility of government. The president is head of state and exercises executive power on the advice of her ministers. The prime minister is the head of government and is appointed by the president as the person most likely to command the confidence of a majority of Parliament. The cabinet is chosen by the prime minister and formally appointed by the president.

The government is separated into three branches:

  • Executive: The president is the commander-in-chief of the military, can veto laws before they become effective (subject to parliamentary override), and holds limited discretionary powers of oversight over the government. The prime minister and Cabinet are responsible for administering and enforcing laws and policies.
  • Legislative: The unicameral Parliament enacts national law, approves budgets, and provides a check on government policy.

  • Judiciary: The Supreme Court and State Courts—whose judges are appointed by the president—adjudicate disputes between people, interpret laws, and overturn those they find unconstitutional.

The president is directly elected by popular vote for a renewable six-year term. Requirements for this position are extremely stringent, such that no more than several thousand people qualify for candidacy. To be qualified, a candidate needs to be a person at least 45 years of age who is no longer a member of a political party, to have held office for at least 3 years in several specific public service roles, to also have 3 years of experience as chief executive of a private sector company with rules limiting which roles and companies qualify, and more. The Constitution requires that presidential elections are being "reserved" for a racial community if no one from that ethnic group has been elected to the presidency in the five most recent terms. Only members of that community may qualify as candidates in a reserved presidential election. In the 2017 presidential election, this combination of stringent requirements and a reserved election that required the candidate to be of the 13% Malay ethnic group led to a single person being qualified for the office; Halimah Yacob won in an uncontested election.

Members of Parliament (MPs) are elected at least every five years (or sooner in the case of a snap election). The current Parliament has 100 members; 88 were directly elected from the 29 constituencies, nine are nonpartisan nominated members appointed by the president, and three are non-constituency members from opposition parties who were not elected in the last general election but appointed to the legislature to increase opposition party representation. In group representation constituencies (GRCs), political parties assemble teams of candidates (rather than nominate individuals) to contest elections. At least one MP in a GRC must be of an ethnic minority background. All elections are held using first-past-the-post voting. The People's Action Party (PAP) occupies a dominant position in Singaporean politics, having won a large parliamentary majority in every election since self-governance was granted in 1959. Even its candidates who lose elections are often turned to by constituency residents for assistance. The most effective opposition party is the Workers' Party.

The judicial system is based on English common law, continuing the legal tradition established during British rule and with substantial local differences. Criminal law is based on the Indian Penal Code originally intended for British India and was at the time as a crown colony also adopted by the British colonial authorities in Singapore and remains the basis of the criminal code in the country with a few exceptions, amendments, and repeals since it came into force. Trial by jury was abolished in 1970. Both corporal punishment (caning) and capital punishment (by hanging) continue to be applied as legal penalties.

Economy

Singapore has a highly developed market economy, based historically on extended entrepôt trade. Along with Hong Kong, South Korea, and Taiwan, Singapore is one of the Four Asian Tigers and has surpassed its peers in terms of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita. Between 1965 and 1995, growth rates averaged around 6 percent per annum, transforming the living standards of the population.

The Singaporean economy is regarded as free, innovative, dynamic, and business-friendly. For several years, Singapore has been one of the few countries with an AAA credit rating from the big three, and the only Asian country to achieve this rating. Singapore attracts a large amount of foreign investment as a result of its location, skilled workforce, low tax rates, advanced infrastructure, and zero-tolerance against corruption. It is the world's most competitive economy, according to the World Economic Forum's ranking of 141 countries, with the 2nd highest GDP per capita. There are more than 7,000 multinational corporations from the United States, Japan, and Europe in Singapore. Roughly 44 percent of the Singaporean workforce is made up of non-Singaporeans. Despite market freedom, Singapore's government operations have a significant stake in the economy, contributing 22% of the GDP. The city is a popular location for conferences and events.

The currency of Singapore is the Singapore dollar (SGD or S$), issued by the Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS). It is interchangeable with the Brunei dollar at par value since 1967. MAS manages its monetary policy by allowing the Singapore dollar exchange rate to rise or fall within an undisclosed trading band. This is different from most central banks, which use interest rates to manage policy. Singapore has the world's eleventh largest foreign reserves, and one of the highest net international investment positions per capita.

In recent years, the country has been identified as an increasingly popular tax haven for the wealthy due to the lower tax rate on personal income and tax exemptions on foreign-based income and capital gains. Australian millionaire retailer Brett Blundy and multi-billionaire Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin are two examples of wealthy individuals who have settled in Singapore (Blundy in 2013 and Saverin in 2012). In 2009, Singapore was removed from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) "listed grease" of tax havens, and ranked fourth on the Tax Justice Network's 2015 Financial Secrecy Index of the world's offshore financial service providers, banking one-eighth of the world's offshore capital, while "providing numerous tax avoidance and evasion opportunities". In August 2016, The Straits Times reported that Indonesia had decided to create tax havens on two islands near Singapore to bring Indonesian capital back into the tax base. In October 2016, the Monetary Authority of Singapore admonished and fined UBS and DBS and withdrew Falcon Private Bank's banking license for their alleged role in the Malaysian Sovereign Fund scandal.

Singapore has the world's highest percentage of millionaires, with one out of every six households having at least one million US dollars in disposable wealth. This excludes property, businesses, and luxury goods, which, if included would increase the number of millionaires, especially as property in Singapore is among the world's most expensive. In 2016, Singapore was rated the world's most expensive city for the third consecutive year by the Economist Intelligence Unit, and this remained true in 2018. The government provides numerous assistance programs for the homeless and needy through the Ministry of Social and Family Development, so acute poverty is rare. Some of the programs include providing between S$400 and S$1000 of financial assistance per month to needy households, providing free medical care at government hospitals, and paying for children's tuition. Other benefits include compensation for gym fees to encourage citizens to exercise, up to S$166, 000 as a baby bonus for each citizen, heavily subsidized health care, financial aid for the disabled, the provision of reduced-cost laptops for poor students, rebates for costs such as public transport and utility bills, and more. As of 2018, Singapore's ranking in the Human Development Index is 9th in the world, with an HDI value of 0.935.

Culture

Despite its small size, Singapore has a diversity of languages, religions, and cultures. Former prime ministers of Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew, and Goh Chok Tong have stated that Singapore does not fit the traditional description of a nation, calling it a society-in-transition, pointing out the fact that Singaporeans do not all speak the same language, share the same religion, or have the same customs. Each Singaporean's behaviors and attitudes are influenced by, among other things, his or her home language and his religion. Singaporeans who speak English as their native language tend to lean toward Western culture and Christian culture, while those who speak Chinese as their native language tend to lean toward Chinese culture and Confucianism. Malay-speaking Singaporeans tend to lean toward Malay culture, which itself is closely linked to Islamic culture. Racial and religious harmony is regarded by Singaporeans as a crucial part of Singapore's success and played a part in building a Singaporean identity.

When Singapore became independent from the United Kingdom in 1963, most Singaporean citizens were transient laborers who had no intention of staying permanently. There was also a sizeable minority of middle-class, locally born people—known as Peranakans or Baba-Nyonya—descendants of 15th- and 16th-century Chinese immigrants. With the exception of the Peranakans who pledged their loyalties to Singapore, most of the laborers' loyalties lay with their respective homelands of Malaysia, China, and India. After independence, the government began a deliberate process of crafting a Singaporean identity and culture. Singapore has a reputation as a nanny state. The government also places heavy emphasis on meritocracy, where one is judged based on one's ability.

The national flower of Singapore is the hybrid orchid, Vanda 'Miss Joaquim', named in memory of a Singapore-born Armenian woman, who crossbred the flower in her garden at Tanjong Pagar in 1893. Many national symbols such as the Coat of arms of Singapore and the Lion head symbol of Singapore make use of the lion, as Singapore is known as the Lion City. Major religious festivals are public holidays.

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