How Singapore managed to emerge as strong economy and healthy society

Right from communal riots to corruption, Singapore has witnessed many internal problems. But with strong policy framework, Singapore managed to strengthen its economy and society as well. Here is how

How Singapore managed to emerge as strong economy and healthy society
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Ashish Kumar Singh

At the time of its independence, Singapore had several internal problems including social order, economic inequality. However, with a strong policy framework, Singapore managed to achieve 7% GDP growth rate with a high rank in the human development index during 1965-1990.

In 1964, Singapore witnessed race riots between Chinese and Malays. Singapore is a nation of multiple ethnicities. Upon its creation as an independent nation-state, its founding father Lee Kuan Yew worked towards building the nation a fairly harmonious society.

How Singapore managed to emerge as strong economy and healthy society

Electoral System

With the implementation of regular competitive elections, Lee established a system of political self-enforcement and accountability. The elections into the Legislative Assembly are adapted from the Westminster model, following the plurality system. The constitution of the Republic of Singapore clearly lays out the role of the legislature, defines the qualification and disqualification for parliamentarians, the exercise of legislative power and the complete legislative process. The Parliamentary Elections Act provides for the lead-up to and conduct of elections for members of parliament (MPs). It also discusses the production of the registers of electors and the conduct of elections.

To enable effective participation of all ethnic groups in the electoral process and the government decision-making process, the Singapore government brought ‘elected presidency’, Non-constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs) in 1984; the Group Representation Constituencies (GRCs) in 1988; Nominated Members of Parliament (NMPs) in 1991; and Overseas voting in 2001.

The elected presidency ensures that in the case where no person belonging to a certain community (Chinese, Malay, Indian, and other minority groups) has held the office of the President for any of the past 5 terms of office, an election for the office of the President will be reserved for such community. In such a possibility, the Prime Minister will issue a fresh writ for holding an open election or a reserved election for the next eligible community. The prospective candidate must be above 45 years of age, with a minimum experience of three years in any of these positions: cabinet minister, chief justice, speaker of the parliament, top civil servant or chairman/chief executive officer of a company with paid-up capital of minimum $100 million and the candidate must non-partisan.


The Non-constituency Members of Parliaments (NCMPs) are selected from candidates of a political party or parties not forming the government. In the cases, where no opposition candidates are elected to office, NCMPs are invited to the parliament. NCMPs are the top three losing candidates measured in terms of percentage of total popular votes. The maximum number of NCMPs allowed in the Parliament is calculated by this formula:

Number of NCMPs= 12- (total number of elected opposition MPs in the parliament)

Group Representation Constituency (GRC) was introduced to ensure there is always a representation of members from the Malay, Indian, and other minority communities in parliament. GRC must include 3 to 6 members (MPs) with at least one member belonging to the minority group. The Parliamentary Elections Act requires that at least one-quarter of the total number of MPs must be representatives of GRCs.

The Nominated Members of Parliament (NMP) scheme was introduced to cater to the desire of some Singaporeans for a wider representation of views in parliament and to steer dissatisfaction away from the opposition. Up to nine NMPs are appointed by the president for a term of two years on the recommendation of a Special Select Committee of parliament chaired by the speaker.

Any voter who does not vote in an election without a valid reason (such as incapacity, being abroad) has his/her name taken off the electoral register and has to pay a small fine to have it restored to the voter list.

Any Singaporean citizen, who is aged 21 or above, a registered voter, with a minimum of ten years of residence in the country and without a conviction by a court of law is eligible to stand for elections. The maximum limit of campaign expenditure is S$4 per voter. All expenses of more than S$10 must be supported by a bill or receipt. Within 31 days of election results, returns on all election expenses must be submitted to the Election Department. These measures highlight Singapore’s strategy to not tolerate money politics.

Social and Public Policies

Emphasis on a corruption-free system is another feature of the Singapore model. Under the Prevention of Corruption Act of 1960, the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) has been given the authority to work without any political interference. The CPIB director reports to the cabinet secretary, and not any minister of the government. If the prime minister does not allow any investigation, then CPIB can approach the president to conduct its investigation. The judiciary also plays an important role in tightening the grip of corrupt practices and ensuring transparency. The Transparency International Corruption Perceptions Index ranked Singapore fourth in 2021.

The Singapore government has increased the education expenditure from S$63.39 million (1959) to 582 million Singapore dollars in the year 2020. In 2020, the literacy rate for people aged 15 years and older in Singapore was 97.1 percent.

Singapore is a multi-religious and multi-ethnic country. It has 43.2 % Buddhists, 18.7% Christians, 14% Muslims, 5% Hindus and 18.5% people who do not belong to any religion. Singapore brought a law Maintenance of Religious Harmony Act ( MRHA) in 1990. This bill prohibits the politicization of religion and social conflict. The Presidential Council for Religious Harmony, formed under this bill, can have 6 to 15 members. At least two-thirds of the members of the Council must be representatives of the major religions in Singapore and the other members must be individuals who, in the opinion of the Presidential Council for Minority Rights, have distinguished themselves in public service or community relations in Singapore. Among its various clauses, MRHA has provisions allowing the authorities to issue a restraining order against any leader, official, or member of any religious group or institution who causes ill feelings between different religious groups.

Singapore also introduced Racial Harmony Day on July 21. Every year school students wear traditional costumes of other ethnic and religious groups and read the declaration of religious harmony on this day.

How Singapore managed to emerge as strong economy and healthy society

Singapore has taken steps to stop the religious domination in the residential areas by establishing the Housing and Development Board (HDB) in February 1960. This board ensures the allocation and ownership of residential property in equal quota to all religious and ethnic groups. Additionally, the Ethnic Integration Policy (EIP) was introduced in 1989. The EIP aims to maintain balanced proportions of ethnic groups in HDB estates and to stop racial enclaves from forming. The HDB updates the ethnic quota and Singapore Permanent Residence (SPR) quota on the first of every month based on all completed resale applications received in the previous month.

Furthermore, each government department has a quota for all ethnic groups.

Evidence suggests that the Singapore model is quite a success in terms of accommodating the country’s multiple ethnicities. As the Ambassador of the Republic of Singapore to the Russian Federation, H.E. Premjith Sadasivan says, “no such system can be static, it is the continuance of the dynamic policy framework that ensures a nation’s success in serving its diverse population.”

(With inputs from Akash Singh)

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