Colonized by the British in 1861, Singapore achieved self rule in 1959. It joined the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, but seceded and declared itself an independent republic on 9 August 1965. Under the Constitution of 1959, Singapore has a parliamentary system of government. The unicameral Parliament is composed of 84 members. Voting is compulsory and suffrage is universal for all citizens who are at least 21 years old. The ruling party in Parliament must call a national election after no more than five years in power. The prime minister heads the cabinet and plays a leading role in the government. Previously ceremonial, the office of the president was recently expanded to include veto power over official appointments and some government spending. The president may also appoint a small number of "non-constituency members of Parliament" (NCMPs), who are not allowed to vote on some major matters, such as constitutional amendments and government expenditures.
The People's Action Party (PAP), founded in 1954, has always dominated the Parliament. Since a major opposition party withdrew in 1966, the highest number of seats held at one time by opposition parties has been four. In the January 1997 elections, the PAP won 81 of the 84 seats. In the 2001 elections, they won 75% of the vote to take 82 seats. One seat is held by the Worker's Party (WP) and one seat is held by the Singapore Democratic Party (SDP). It is generally expected that the president will select candidates from the losing opposition parties to appoint as NCMPs.