Singapore - Government
The constitution of the Republic of Singapore, as amended in 1965, provides for a unicameral parliamentary form of government, with a president who, prior to 1991, served as titular head of state. Singapore practices universal suffrage, and voting has been compulsory for all citizens over 21 since 1959.
In 1993 the unicameral legislature consisted of an 81 elected-member parliament and six nominated members (NMPs) appointed by the president. The maximum term for parliamentary sessions is five years, although elections may be called at any time within that period. A general election is held within three months of dissolution. The number of parliamentary seats has increased with each general election, since the general election seating Singapore's first parliament, 58 seats (1968), 60 seats (1972), 69 seats (1976), 75 seats (1980), 79 seats (1984), 81 seats (1988), and 84 seats (2002).
Until the 1988 election, all constituencies were single-member constituencies. In 1988, sixty of the original 81 constituencies (out of the increased number for 1988, i.e., from 79 in 1984 to 81 in 1988) were reorganized into 13 group representation constituencies (GRCs). In each GRC teams of three candidates must be fielded, one of who must be from a minority community, i.e., of an ethnic minority group, Malay, Indian, or an Other (all persons other than Chinese, Malay, or Indian). A 1984 constitutional amendment allowed for the presence of at least three opposition representatives as non-constituency (nominated) members of parliament (NMPs), and in 1990 a law increasing their number was passed. Accordingly, up to six NMPs could be appointed from among opposition candidates who were unsuccessful in an election; these NMPs are given limited voting rights.
In the 1991 general election, 60 members were elected from the 15 four-member GRCs, 21 from single-member constituencies, and the president appointed 6 nominated members of parliament. Changes to the electoral procedures included the increase to a minimum of four candidates to contest a GRC and the maintenance of minority qualification for the one person representing the minority community.
The prime minister, who commands the confidence of a majority of parliament, acts as effective head of government. The prime minister appoints a cabinet that, in 1993, consisted of a senior minister, two deputy prime ministers, and 11 other ministers. Prior to 29 November 1991 the president of the republic was elected by parliament to a four-year term. Since 1991, under an amendment to the constitution passed by parliament, the president is no longer elected by parliament but by the electorate, and has custodial powers over the country's reserves, as well as a major role in deciding key appointments to the judiciary, civil service and statutory boards. The president is elected for a term of six years. The first direct presidential elections were held on 28 August 1993, electing Ong Teng Cheong. In July 1999, as his wife was dying of cancer, Ong announced he was not seeking a second term. Ong himself had been diagnosed with lymphoma in 1992 when he was deputy prime minister. He underwent treatment but the illness recurred in July 1998. Sellapan Rama (S. R.) Nathan was elected president unopposed on 28 August 1999. Ong died 7 February 2002.
Several constitutional reforms were enacted in 1996 and 1997. In 1996, parliament enacted governmental reforms limiting the power of the president, curtailing his veto power—only granted in 1991. Under the new rules, parliament can call a referendum if the president vetoes constitutional changes or other measures. In 1997, the number of nominated members of parliament increased from six to nine. However, the government also moved to tighten control over the political process in 1999 with the PAP filing a petition to close the Workers Party for failure to pay damages and costs associated with a defamation case. Earlier in 1998, the government banned all political parties from producing videos and appearing on television to discuss politics.