by Hans Christoph Rieger*
In 1963, Singapore merged with Malaya to form Malaysia. When two years later, in 1965, Singapore separated from the federation, the country achieved its final independence. Ever since, domestic politics have been under the dominion of the People's Action Party (PAP), which has gained overwhelming victories in all parliamentary elections. Since the mid-1980s the electoral system has undergone significant changes, considered by many critics as maneuvers of the PAP to cling to power.
Singapore's favorable location at the southernmost tip of continental Asia led the British East India Company to establish a trading station on the island in 1819. In 1851 the control of Singapore was transferred to the Governor-General of India, and in 1867 to the Colonial Office in London. From 1942 to 1945 the island was occupied by the Japanese. After World War II, Britain wanted to retain Singapore as a commercial and military base, so it became a separate crown colony. The constitutional powers remained in the hands of a governor and an Advisory Council until separate executive and legislative councils were created, in July 1947. According to the relevant legal provisions, six out of the 22 members of the Legislative Council had to be elected by popular vote. Singapore's first election was held on 20 March 1948. At the polls, the Progressive Party (SPP)—comprised mainly of European and English-educated men of the commercial and professional branches—won three seats, and the other three seats went to independent candidates. For the next election on 10 April 1951 the number of elected seats was raised to nine (out of 25): the SPP gained six, the rest went to independents. Both elections were characterized by limited franchise, little voter interest and poor turnouts. At this time the Communist Party of Malaya was trying to