When is a democracy not a democracy? Perhaps when the same party has been in power throughout a country’s entire existence. The People’s Action Party (PAP), the party of Lee Kuan Yew, has ruled Singapore largely unopposed since independence in 1965.
In the most recent election in Singapore, held in September 2015, all seats were contested for the first time since independence, with the number in the parliament rising from 87 to 89. The PAP increased their representation, winning 83 seats, with the remaining 6 going to the opposition Workers’ Party, the same number as they held after the 2011 election. This remains the highest number of seats held by a party other than the PAP. The third party in Singapore politics, the Singapore People’s Party (SPP), has no representation in the parliament (having previously had 1 NCMP after the 2011 election).
In addition to elected members, members of opposition parties can be appointed as Non-Constituency Members of Parliament (NCMPs). There are 3 NCMPs in the current parliament, although they are not eligible to vote on all issues, all from the Workers’ Party (WP).
The head of state is the President (Tony Tan Keng Yam). Until 1991, the President was appointed by parliament, but is now elected by the people for a six-year term. The President is responsible for appointing a Prime Minister (Lee Hsien Loong) and then cabinet ministers on the Prime Minister’s ‘advice’. The President has some powers of veto over legislation, although to date these have never been used.
Singapore has two tiers of courts: the Supreme Court (encompassing the Court of Appeal and High Court) and the Subordinate Courts. The High Court is where criminal cases involving capital punishment are heard. The Chief Justice (presently Chan Sek Keong) is the country’s leading legal figure. The judiciary is independent of government (in theory, at least) and this independence is constitutionally safeguarded.