Country Singapore
Capital city Singapore
Population 5,399,200 (2013)
Total area 683 km2
Formation 9. 8. 1965
Highest point Bukit Timah (166 m)
GDP $ 60,799 (IMF, 2012)
Currency singapore dollar (SGD)
Code SG (SGP)
Calling code +65
Internet TLD .sg


Singapore is an island city-state located in Southeast Asia off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula. It consists of the island of Singapore and some 60 smaller adjacent islets, with a total land area of 693 sq km (268 sq mi), of which Singapore Island comprises 542.6 sq km (209.5 sq mi). Singapore has a total coastline of 193 km (120 mi) and is connected to the southern tip of Malaysia by a road and rail causeway 1.2 km (.75 mi) in length across the narrow Johore Strait. The island is separated from Indonesia by the Strait of Malacca and the Singapore Strait, among the busiest sea passages in the world. The land area of Singapore is being constantly expanded by an ambitious program of land reclamation. The capital, the city of Singapore, officially covers an area of 60 sq km (23.2 sq mi), but the entire republic is one large metropolis. The islands are generally flat and low. The highest point, Bukit Timah, has an elevation of only 166 m (544 ft).


Climate and Weather

Located less than two degrees latitude north of the equator, Singapore has a hot, humid, tropical climate. The range of temperature variations is slight; the average daily maximum is 30.6°C (87°F), the average minimum 24°C (75°F). Sea breezes and constant humidity keep temperatures relatively moderate. Rainfall, averaging about 2,410 mm (95 in) annually, is distributed fairly evenly throughout the year, with rain falling on at least 180 days in a given year. Serious floods are common during the northeast monsoon, while the southwest monsoon is usually accompanied by violent squalls. Nonetheless, Singapore is dependent on neighboring Malaysia for some twothirds of its water supply.

Plants and Animals

Singapore was once covered with jungles and swamps but is now almost entirely urban, such that most of its native plants and animals are gone. The city has planted decorative trees in strategic locations. The remaining animals are mostly birds, reptiles such as lizards and snakes, and insects.

Ethnic Composition

Singaporeans belong to one of three major ethnic groups: Chinese, Malay, and Indian. The racial proportion of roughly 77 percent Chinese, 14 percent Malay, and 8 percent Indian has remained fairly stable over the years, although none of the three main communities is homogeneous. Although ethnic differences persist, relations between the major groups are fairly harmonious, and the government has successfully managed to quell any divisiveness. Multiracialism has been stressed as a national value, and a Singaporean national identity has evolved that has no ethnic frame of reference. Other ethnic groups (1.4 percent) include sizable British and U.S. communities, mainly businesspeople and their families.


Malay is the official and national language. Other official languages are Mandarin Chinese, Tamil, and English. English is the main medium for government, business, and industry and is the primary language of instruction in schools. The government has stressed the importance of developing bilingualism.


Singapore is a completely secular state, and religious affiliations are not recorded in the census. Nevertheless, most of the Chinese are Buddhists, though some are Confucianists or Taoists. The Indians are Hindus and Sikhs, and the Malays, Pakistanis, and Bangladeshis are Muslims. There are sprinklings of Christians in the Chinese and Indian communities, whereas the Eurasians and Europeans are overwhelmingly Christian. The rapidly growing total of Christians is now almost 15 percent of the population. Singapore is the seat of an Anglican diocese and a Roman Catholic archdiocese.


Singapore was an almost uninhabited island when Sir Stamford Raffles established a trading station for the British East India Company there in 1819. Five years later the island was ceded outright to the company by the sultan of Johore and was incorporated with Malacca and Penang to form the Straits Settlements, which became a Crown colony in 1867.

With the opening of the Suez Canal in 1869 and the coming of steamships, prosperity grew rapidly in Singapore, as symbolized in part by the construction of miles of wharves. Exports of tin and rubber made Singapore one of the world’s greatest ports. With its excellent harbor and strategic location, the city became a flourishing commercial center.

After World War I, the British developed a large naval base on the island that became a symbol of British power in Southeast Asia. Singapore was captured by the Japanese in 1942 and recaptured by the British in 1945. In 1946 Singapore was detached from the Straits Settlements to become a separate Crown colony. The British were concerned that Singapore’s largely Chinese population would be a source of possible conflict with the Malays across the strait. In 1959 Singapore became a fully internally self-governing state, in 1963 joining the new Federation of Malaysia. The federation was an uneasy one, and Singapore and Malaysia terminated the union in 1965. In December the Republic of Singapore was officially proclaimed, with a president as constitutional head of state.

By 1971 the British had ended their military presence in Southeast Asia; the Anglo-Malayan Treaty, which had committed Britain to the defense of the region, was terminated and replaced by a five-power defense arrangement, among the United Kingdom, Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand, and Singapore. Singapore began to take a more active role in regional diplomacy and became a leader in the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

Politics in Singapore have been dominated by the People’s Action Party (PAP), initially led by Lee Kuan Yew, who served as prime minister from the time Singapore achieved internal self-government in 1959 to November 1990. Through its control of parliament, where it still held all but a handful of seats through the 2001 elections, the PAP has been able to mold the nation around its beliefs. Becoming increasingly intolerant of dissent, in the 1980s the Lee government passed amendments to the Parliament Act that enabled parliament to imprison, fine, or expel members who abused their privileges and also adopted the Newspaper and Printing Presses Act, which permitted the government to restrict the sale of foreign publications that it considered to be interfering in domestic affairs. In 1989 parliament adopted legislation abolishing an individual’s right to appeal to the privy council in cases brought under the Internal Security Act. Under both Lee and his 1991 successor, Goh Chok Tong, the government directed a program of economic growth designed to promote sophisticated, capital-intensive industries. The program gave Singapore one of the highest per capita gross domestic product (GDP) figures in Asia.

Singapore held its first presidential elections in 1993, and Ong Teng Cheong of the PAP became Singapore’s first directly elected president. In 1999 Ong, who chose not to seek a second term as president, was succeeded by Sellapan Rama Nathan, who became president without an election after being declared the only candidate eligible to run. Lee Hsien Loong became prime minister in 2004. He pledged to open up Singaporean society, possibly by removing some of the restrictive rules that constrain behavior.


The Republic of Singapore is a republic within the Commonwealth. In form, the structure of government established by the constitution is a parliamentary democracy based on the British tradition, but in substance and practice Singapore is an authoritarian and paternalistic state in which opposition is barely tolerated and in which the People’s Action Party (PAP) has assumed a preemptive role.

The legal basis of government is the charter called the Singapore (Constitution) Order in Council, 1959, under which Singapore became a self-governing colony. The transition to a republic was accomplished through two amendments.

The head of state is the president, elected since 1991 by popular vote for a six-year term. The presidency is a primarily ceremonial office, although the president is vested with the power to appoint the prime minister and dissolve parliament, as well as with limited responsibility over civil service appointments and government and statutory board budgets. By convention the prime minister is the leader of the majority party in parliament, and he, along with all cabinet ministers, is responsible to the parliament. The second most powerful office is that of the deputy prime minister, who is also appointed by the president.

The cabinet is composed of members of parliament appointed by the president, on the advice of the prime minister. Led by the prime minister, the cabinet is responsible for all government policies and day-to-day administration.

The 21-member presidential council, chaired by the chief justice, examines material of racial or religious significance, including legislation, to see whether it differentiates between racial or religious minorities or contains provisions inconsistent with the fundamental liberties guaranteed by the constitution. Elections are held every five years. Suffrage is universal and compulsory for citizens age 21 and older.


The parliament is an 84-member unicameral body elected by direct compulsory universal suffrage for five-year terms. Parliament convenes at least once a year, and discussions are conducted in any of the four languages: English, Mandarin Chinese, Tamil, and Malay. All bills passed by parliament require the immediate assent of the president.

Most of the members of parliament are elected to represent single-member constituencies or in some cases group-representation constituencies. In the latter, parties provide teams of three to six candidates, one of whom must belong to a minority race. This ensures that candidates must contest the election as a multiracial party and that minority races will always be represented in parliament. Singapore’s constitution also provides for the appointment of up to three nonconstituency members of parliament from among the opposition political parties; the objective is to ensure that there will be a minimum number of opposition representatives in parliament.

In 1991 a constitutional provision was made for the appointment of up to nine nominated members of parliament, to ensure a wider representation of views. These officials are appointed by the president for terms of two years on the recommendation of a special select committee of parliament chaired by the speaker.

Political Parties

The People’s Action Party (PAP) has been the ruling party since 1959 and has held the majority of seats in parliament since 1966. The only other parties with any parliamentary representation are the Workers’ Party (WP) and the Singapore People’s Party (SPP), each of which has one representative. Other parties include the Democratic Progressive Party, the National Solidarity Party, the Singapore Democratic Alliance, the Singapore Democratic Party, the Singapore Justice Party, and the Singapore National Malay Organization.

Local Government

Singapore has no local government. There are two intermediary institutions at the local level that serve as pipelines between the people and the government: the citizens’ consultative committees in each district and the 172 management committees of the community centers run by the People’s Association, a statutory body headed by the prime minister. Each citizens’ consultative committee is headed by a civil servant who reports to the prime minister’s office.

Legal System

The Singaporean legal system is based on English common law. At the apex of the judiciary is the Supreme Court, with three chambers: the High Court, the Court of Appeal, and the Court of Criminal Appeal. The High Court exercises original civil and criminal jurisdiction in appeals from the subordinate courts (10 magistrate’s and six district courts). An appeal from the High Court goes to the Court of Criminal Appeal or the Court of Appeal, or, in certain cases, to the Privy Council in the United Kingdom.

Judges of the High Court are appointed by the president on the advice of the prime minister and may not be removed from office except on the recommendation of an independent tribunal of judges. Subordinate judges are appointed by the president on the recommendation of the chief justice.

The Criminal Procedures Code provides that a charge against a defendant must be read and explained to him or her as soon as it is framed by the magistrate. The accused has the right to be defended by an attorney. Individuals are tried by a magistrate or judge and do not have the right to trial by jury. In most cases defendants may appeal the verdicts to higher courts.

The right to a fair public trial is one of the strongest features of Singapore’s human rights picture. The judicial system operates in accordance with the basic tenets, practices, and precedents of British jurisprudence. The rights of the defendant are ensured at every stage. The courts are independent of the executive and the military. Appeals, except in cases brought under the Internal Security Act, are made to the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

Human Rights

Singapore has been described as a bureaucratic state under one-party rule. On the positive side, it has succeeded in providing an efficient and incorruptible government, stability, and economic prosperity, along with minor elements of participatory democracy. It has also created a national image and a set of national values that emphasize austerity, discipline, and unity. The strategy has been to speed up the orderly march of progress through the elimination of divisive and unproductive partisan politics and other forms of dissent.

In terms of civil and political rights, Singapore is classified as a partly free country. Political power is concentrated in one party. The government exhibits characteristics of democracy and authoritarianism. The government has many powers to limit citizens’ rights and block political opposition, using internal security laws to have political dissidents held indefinitely without trial. The use of preventive detention is common; although there have been no terrorist incidents in recent years, the government cites the threat of insurgency and the possibility of renewed communal conflict to justify preventive detention. The government also occasionally uses punishments such as caning. Freedom of speech and of the press are limited, and the government does not hesitate to use defamation lawsuits to suppress dissenting viewpoints. The government also limits the freedoms of assembly and association. Foreign workers are occasionally victims of abuse. Violence against women and children and human trafficking are problems.

Foreign Policy

A member of the Commonwealth, Singapore is also an influential member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Asia Pacific Economic Conference (APEC). As a nation dependent almost entirely on a healthy economy, Singapore has reached out to a variety of possible trading partners; it has become a prime mover in Asia-Europe meetings. At the same time, strong and moralistic federal policies, as well as a lack of toleration for political opposition, have earned Singapore’s government sharp international criticism, including some from the United States.

As a tiny island nation, Singapore is susceptible to crises that develop in larger neighbors, especially Indonesia, another Muslim country. Friction in all sorts of areas (like trade and communications) with the closest neighbor, Malaysia, has cropped up frequently.

Singapore has participated in international peacekeeping exercises in Kuwait, Angola, Namibia, Cambodia, and East Timor. The nation sent a naval ship and an air transport plane to the Persian Gulf in 2003. The United States and Singapore have a bilateral free-trade agreement that went into effect in 2004.

Defense and Military

The defense structure is headed by the president. The line of command runs through the minister of defense, who is a civilian, to the senior officer of the armed forces, who holds the rank of brigadier and heads the General Staff division. The army is the largest of the services; the navy patrols the nation’s waters and shipping lanes. The Armed Forces Council, a civilian body, determines military policy.

Military manpower is obtained through compulsory national service, in effect since 1967. All male citizens are called up for 24 months’ full-time military duty at age 18. Citizens may volunteer for the armed forces at the age of 16.


Singapore has one of the highest GDPs in Asia, and its residents enjoy among the highest standards of living in the world. The nation’s economy is based largely on international trade and finance. It has an honest government free of corruption, a highly skilled and industrious workforce, a solid infrastructure, and an ideal location for international trade.

Singaporean industries manufacture drilling equipment and rigs for offshore oil operations, and the nation is one of the world’s leading refiners of petroleum. Manufacturing employs 18 percent of the workforce and, along with other industry, constitutes 33 percent of GDP. Leading industries are transport equipment and electronic products. Most manufactured goods are exported. More than 100 commercial banks operate in Singapore; most are foreign owned. Alongside its rapid growth in manufacturing and world status in banking, Singapore remains one of the world’s largest ports in annual tonnage.

Singapore’s government has played a major role in the nation’s economic development. The government holds about 75 percent of all land and is the chief supplier of surplus capital. Increasingly, however, extensive government intervention in the economy has eased. Reliance on market forces, the privatization of formerly federal enterprises, and greater support for private business have become official policies. The government’s $1 billion Technopreneurship Investment Fund is designed to attract to Singapore venture companies and people who can assess and valuate start-up ventures and share the risk of backing promising ideas.

The government promotes high levels of savings and investment through a mandatory savings scheme and spends heavily in education and technology. It also owns government-linked companies, particularly in manufacturing, that operate as commercial entities. As Singapore looks to a future increasingly marked by globalization, the country is positioning itself as the region’s financial and high-tech hub.

The economy suffered from the global recession and technology slump of 2001–03. The government has been working to cut costs for foreign businesses in the face of rising wages, lowering taxes and reducing rents. Singapore signed free-trade agreements with Japan in 2002 and with the United States the following year.


Singapore is a small nation and lacks both land and freshwater. The lack of land makes it difficult for the nation to dispose of wastes. Other environmental problems are industrial pollution and seasonal smoke that drifts to Singapore from forest fires in Indonesia. Deforestation is a serious problem. Most of the original rain forest is now scrubland, if not covered by apartment blocks; the remainder, about 3 percent of the national area, is managed by the Nature Reserves Board. The greatest density of rain forest is found in the Bukit Timah Nature Reserve.


The people of Singapore are quite healthy. Life expectancy is over 81 years. The government provides health care for citizens, deducting money from paychecks and placing it in funds that cover medical care and act as savings schemes for education, housing, and retirement. There are both public and private hospitals and clinics, and the quality of care is very good. Many people still consult Chinese medical practitioners as well as Westernstyle doctors; the government regulates these practitioners through its Traditional Chinese Medicine Unit.

Food and Cuisine

Singaporeans have access to a plethora of Asian cooking styles, including Chinese, Malay, Indian, and Peranakan food. The city is full of hawker centers, with food stalls selling different styles of food. Common dishes include Chinese dim sum, Malaysian satay, Indian curries, and otak-otak, which is fish mixed with coconut milk, wrapped in coconut leaves, and grilled over charcoal. The British also influenced Singaporean cuisine. The drink called the Singapore Sling was invented in Singapore in 1915 at the Raffles Hotel.

Living Conditions

Singapore is a clean modern city. Most people live in high-rise apartments, many of them owned by the Housing Development Board. Individuals must apply to the government to get apartments, and strict rules regulate who is eligible. Public transportation is excellent and inexpensive; there are buses, subways, and taxis. The Singapore airport is considered one of the best and most modern airports in the world. Traffic can be bad.


Women generally enjoy equal rights, primarily under the 1969 Women’s Charter and the constitution. Women have voting rights and the right of equality of economic opportunity under the law. Women occupy 103 of 495 senior-level positions in the civil service but none of the top 29 positions. Following the 1997 election, there were only two female members of parliament, both belonging to the People’s Action Party; by 2004 there were 15 women in 94 parliamentary seats. Female incomes in 1995 remained only 59 percent of male incomes, though both groups were earning higher incomes than in previous years. Shortages of workers have led the government to encourage women to work.

Singaporean women do not have equal rights with men in the transmission of citizenship to their children. A Singaporean woman married to a foreigner cannot pass citizenship to children born outside the country, although a Singaporean male can in fact do so. Additionally, the wife of a Singaporean male can receive permanent resident status and citizenship based on the marriage, whereas the husband of a Singaporean woman cannot.


The Singaporean work ethic is strong, and most people work long hours out of a genuine desire to excel. Unemployment is low, at 3.4 percent in 2004. Most residents are well educated and capable of performing highly technical tasks. About half the workforce is employed in services, especially banking, financial services, and business. The manufacturing sector employs about 18 percent of the workforce; factories produce such goods as electronics, chemicals, and rubber products. Clothing is also a major export. Oil refining is an important industry, and Singaporeans process the oil drilled by several nearby countries, including Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and nations in the Middle East. The main port employs many people to manage the huge volume of cargo that passes through Singapore every day. Tourism is also an important employer.


Primary education is free and compulsory. Schooling lasts for 12 years, as divided into six years of primary school, four years of lower secondary school, and two years of upper secondary school. Over 92 percent of the population can read and write.

Primary and secondary education is available in the four official languages of Malay, Mandarin, Tamil, and English. In 1978, as part of a policy of bilingualism, examinations in English and Mandarin became compulsory for pupils seeking to enter secondary education. In 1987 English became the medium of instruction in all schools.

The new education system allows less-able pupils to complete their education over a longer period of time, if they so choose. After three years’ primary education, pupils are tracked into a bilingual course (six years), an extended bilingual course (eight years), or a monolingual course (eight years). Secondary-school streamlining depends on the results of the Primary School Leaving Examinations.

Singapore has begun to invest heavily in computers for education, with the goal of providing one computer for every two students, allowing pupils access to the Internet through a multimedia network. The National University of Singapore was founded in 1980. There are also Nanyang Technological University, Singapore Management University, four polytechnics, and 14 junior colleges.

Science and Technology

Singapore has invested a great deal of money in developing itself as a high-tech electronics center. It produces computer equipment, general electronics, and technology for the petroleum industry. The Singapore Science Park, founded in 1981, houses many research institutes and technology corporations. In 2003 Singapore opened Biopolis, a center for biomedical research near the Singapore Science Park; the nation’s hope is that Biopolis will become a world-class research hub.

organizing cultural exchanges and group exhibitions to showcase their work overseas. A notable overseas exhibition to seven cities was organized in China in 1995. The growth of the film industry in Singapore has been highlighted by the Singapore International Film Festival, which grew from a 50-film event in 1968 to a 200-film festival with an audience of 47,000 in 1997. Significant in the realm of literature was the introduction of three new awards by the Malay Language Council of Singapore in 1993.


Singapore’s media is highly regulated and often censored. Singapore’s leaders generally acknowledge the absence of a free press, but they claim that this intolerance of full freedom of speech is only part of a broad philosophy that places self-discipline and civil order above such freedom. Singapore Press Holdings, a private corporation with close ties to the government, publishes nearly all newspapers and periodicals. Most radio and television stations are run by MediaCorp, which is owned by a state investment agency. Citizens are not allowed to own satellite dishes and so are unable to view programming from other countries.


The Singapore Symphony Orchestra performs about 110 concerts each year; the Singapore Lyric Theatre presents both popular musicals and opera. Some 40,000 students each year take examinations for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music. The Singapore Dance Theatre is known for its wide repertoire of classical and contemporary dance fusing Eastern and Western elements. Several Singaporean artists have achieved international repute. The visual arts community is active in

Folklore and Mythology

Singapore has numerous myths and legends similar to those from Malaysia and influenced by the many Chinese immigrants; some people worry that the nation is losing its native culture to Westernization, so schools teach some legends to young children. One story involves the naming of Singapore: A king who traveled to the island saw a magical creature with golden eyes, a white neck, a red body, and a large mane. He learned that the animal was called a “singa” and named the island after it.

Entertainment and Recreation

Singapore is a modern city with vibrant recreational offerings, from shopping to fine dining. The markets and shops in Chinatown and Arab Street attract many visitors. Sentosa Island has museums, beaches, sporting facilities, aquariums, walks, rides, restaurants, and campgrounds. When people go out at night, they may go to restaurants, bars, or lounges where they sing karaoke. Popular activities include kite flying, top spinning, dragon-boat races, and bird-singing competitions, in which bird owners enter their musical pets. Festivals occur nearly every month, with each ethnic group celebrating its own holidays.


Singaporean social behavior is complicated by the many restrictive social laws that have been passed by the government. Among illegal behaviors are littering, chewing gum or smoking in public, using a toilet without flushing it, and bringing durians (foul-smelling fruit) on the subway. Most people use only their right hands for social interaction and eating because of the presence of Muslims and Indians. People always remove their shoes when entering homes or places of worship. It is considered rude to point the bottoms of one’s feet at someone else. Chinese rules of etiquette are immensely complicated, and a non-Chinese visitor should always obtain advice from a Chinese person when encountering a potentially difficult situation.

Family Life

Women are marrying later and delaying childbearing, although one incentive toward marrying is a law prohibiting single women from qualifying for their own apartments before the age of 35. Arranged marriages are still common, and interracial marriages occur frequently. Singaporean families tend to be very small. Most households consist of parents with one or two children. In 2005 the fertility rate was a very low 1.05 children per woman. Alarmed by the low birthrate, the government has recently changed its family planning messages; it formerly encouraged people to stop at two children but now suggests that they have three or more if they can afford to do so. Parents still value male children more highly and will often throw a party to mark the birth of a son.

Personal Appearance

Singaporeans dress in typical Western clothing, for the most part attiring themselves well and neatly. They tend to disapprove of people who wear untidy or revealing clothing or who have disreputable or disheveled appearances. People of Chinese descent avoid dressing in all white or all black, which are colors used for mourning.


Singapore has numerous sporting facilities and many national sports associations. The government encourages all citizens to participate in sports so as to keep fit. Soccer is the most popular sport, and the Singaporean national team vies with Malaysian states for the Malaysia Cup. People also play cricket, rugby, lawn bowling, tennis, and field hockey, which were introduced by the British. Traditional games include sepak raga, which involves kicking a rattan ball, and carom, an Indian game that resembles billiards. Many people practice martial arts such as tai chi, qi gong, and si lat.


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