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Last updated : Nov 2009
Singapore History
Singapore History -
For hundreds of years before Sir Stamford Raffles obtained it from the Sultan of Johor in 1819, Singapore had been all but abandoned. However, within decades of the ownership change, in a historical echo of its role today, Singapore had been the commercial hub and strategic centre for the area. In 1867, it became a British Crown Colony and was home to one of the UK’s most significant naval bases. This status continued until 1942 when the Japanese army swept down via Malaya and took over the colony. 3.5 years later, the Japanese gave up and the colony regained its former status.

With the fall of the British Empire, Singapore achieved its self-rule in 1959. In 1963, Singapore became a member of the Federation of Malaysia, however in 1965 broke away from the disintegrating federation and became completely self-governing. 2 years later, Singapore was expelled when Lee Kuan Yew, elected Prime Minister in 1959 and re-elected 8 times after that, rejected to implement a federal edict giving Malays a privileged economic position (to the disadvantage of the ethnic Chinese population).

The initial outlook was not very promising: Singapore is very small and has no natural resources aside from a good harbour. However, Lee managed to galvanise the people into building a strong, export-driven manufacturing and service economy. Lee Kuan Yew and his political vehicle, the People’s Action Party (PAP), benefited from a virtual monopoly of political power from 1972 until 1988 when Lee declared that he would not complete his 8th term nor seek prospective office.

In October 1990, he officially gave the premiership to a long-standing colleague, Goh Chok Tong, staying as Senior Minister in the Prime Minister’s office and Secretary-General of the PAP. Some Singaporeans thought that Goh was only a transitional figure between Lee Kuan Yew and his son Lee Hsien Loong, who took the post of deputy prime minister after a glittering academic and military career.

In November 1992, Goh was nominated and endorsed to take control of the PAP Secretary-General’s post. In both the most recent general elections, held in January 1997 and September 2001, opposition parties contested only a small proportion (about 1-3rd) of the 83 seats. Unsurprisingly, the PAP easily won both polls. Goh, who is now serving his fourth term as Singapore’s premier, is widely believed to leave his position in favour of Lee Junior in 2005.

Over the past few years, there has been some pressure, to which the Government has acted in part, for a relaxation of Singapore’s many laws which have given it a reputation as an affluent but rather hygienic and pettily oppressive city-state. Singapore has the highest rate per capita of judicial execution in the world, and those in power are still highly intolerant of internal dissent.

Overseas, Singapore has assumed a more active role in regional affairs, particularly through the Association of South East Nations (ASEAN), the former anti-Communist bloc which is now adopting a wider-ranging role in diplomatic, economic and – due to the the Bali bomb attacks – security affairs. Some improvement has been achieved in relations between Singapore and Malaysia, between whom there are a plethora of disputes about situations such as access to air space, water resources and territorial boundaries.