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Singapore /ˈsɪŋəpɔər/, officially the Republic of Singapore, is a Southeast Asian city-state off the southern tip of the Malay Peninsula, 137 kilometres (85 mi) north of the equator. An island country made up of 63 islands, it is separated from Malaysia by the Straits of Johor to its north and from Indonesia's Riau Islands by the Singapore Strait to its south. Singapore is highly urbanised but almost half of the country is covered by greenery. More land is being created for development through land reclamation.
Singapore had been a part of various local empires since it was first inhabited in the second century AD. Modern Singapore was founded as a trading post of the East India Company by Sir Stamford Raffles in 1819 with permission from the Sultanate of Johor. The British obtained full sovereignty over the island in 1824 and Singapore became one of the British Straits Settlements in 1826. Singapore was occupied by the Japanese in World War II and reverted to British rule after the war. It became internally self-governing in 1959. Singapore united with other former British territories to form Malaysia in 1963 and became a fully independent state two years later after separation from Malaysia. Since then it has had a massive increase in wealth, and is one of the Four Asian Tigers. The economy heavily depends on the industry and service sectors. Singapore is a world leader in several areas: it is the world's fourth leading financial centre, the world's second biggest casino gambling market, the world's top three oil refining centre. The port of Singapore is one of the five busiest ports in the world, most notably being the busiest transshipment port in the world. The country is home to more US dollar millionaire households per capita than any other country. The World Bank notes Singapore as the easiest place in the world to do business.
Singapore is a parliamentary republic with a Westminster system of unicameral parliamentary government. The People's Action Party (PAP) has won every election since the British grant of internal self-government in 1959. The legal system of Singapore has its foundations in the English common law system, but modifications have been made to it over the years, such as the removal of trial by jury. The PAP's popular image is that of a strong, experienced and highly qualified government, backed by a skilled Civil Service and an education system with an emphasis on achievement and meritocracy; but it is perceived by some voters, opposition critics and international observers as being authoritarian and too restrictive on individual freedom.
Some 5 million people live in Singapore, of whom 2.91 million were born locally. Most are of Chinese, Malay or Indian descent. There are four official languages: English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil. One of the five founding members of the Association of South East Asian Nations, Singapore also hosts the APEC Secretariat, and is a member of the East Asia Summit, the Non-Aligned Movement, and the Commonwealth.
The earliest known settlement on Singapore was in the second century AD. It was an outpost of the Sumatran Srivijaya empire, named Temasek ('sea town'). Between the 16th and early 19th centuries, it was part of the Sultanate of Johor. In 1613, Portuguese raiders burnt down the settlement and the island sank into obscurity for the next two centuries.
In 1819, Thomas Stamford Raffles arrived and signed a treaty with Sultan Hussein Shah on behalf of the British East India Company to develop the southern part of Singapore as a British trading post. In 1824 the entire island became a British possession under a further treaty whereby the sultan and the Temenggong transferred it to the British East India Company. In 1826 it became part of the Straits Settlements, a British colony. Before Raffles arrived, there were around 1,000 people living in Singapore, mostly Malays and a few dozen Chinese. By 1869, due to migration from Malaya and other parts of Asia, Singapore's population had reached 100,000.
During World War II the Imperial Japanese Army invaded Malaya culminating in the Battle of Singapore. The British were defeated, and surrendered on 15 February 1942. British Prime Minister Winston Churchill called this "the worst disaster and largest capitulation in British history". The Sook Ching massacre of ethnic Chinese after the fall of Singapore claimed between 5,000 and 25,000 lives. The Japanese occupied Singapore until the British repossessed it in September 1945 after the Japanese surrender.
Singapore's first general election in 1955 was won by the pro-independence David Marshall, leader of the Labour Front. Demanding complete self-rule he led a delegation to London but was turned down by the British. He resigned when he returned and was replaced by Lim Yew Hock, whose policies convinced Britain to grant Singapore full internal self-government for all matters except defence and foreign affairs.
In elections in May 1959 the People's Action Party won a landslide victory. Singapore had become an internally self-governing state within the Commonwealth, with Lee Kuan Yew as the first Prime Minister. Governor Sir William Allmond Codrington Goode served as the first Yang di-Pertuan Negara, and was succeeded by Yusof bin Ishak who in 1965 became the first President of Singapore.
Singapore declared independence from Britain on 31 August 1963 before joining the new Federation of Malaysia in September along with Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak as the result of the 1962 Merger Referendum. Tunku Abdul Rahman separated Singapore from the Federation two years later after heated ideological conflict between the ruling parties of Malaya and Singapore.
Singapore gained sovereignty as the Republic of Singapore (remaining within the Commonwealth) on 9 August 1965 with Yusof bin Ishak as president and Lee Kuan Yew as prime minister. In 1967 it helped found the Association of Southeast Asian Nations and in 1970 it joined the Non-aligned movement. In 1990 Goh Chok Tong succeeded Lee as prime minister. During his tenure the country faced the 1997 Asian Financial Crisis, the 2003 SARS outbreak and terrorist threats posed by Jemaah Islamiyah. In 2004, Lee Hsien Loong, the eldest son of Lee Kuan Yew, became the country's third prime minister.
Singapore is a very diverse and young country. It has many languages, cultures and religions for a country its size. Due to the many different languages and cultures in the country, there is no single set of culturally acceptable behaviours.
When Singapore became independent from the United Kingdom in 1963, most of the newly minted Singaporean citizens were uneducated labourers from China, Malaysia and India. Many of them were transient labourers who were seeking to make some money in Singapore and they had no intentions of staying for good. A sizeable minority of middle-class, local-born people, known as the Peranakans also existed. With the exception of the Peranakans who pledged their loyalties to Singapore, most of the labourers' loyalties lie with their respective homelands of China, Malaysia and India. For instance, the Chinese wore pigtails to signify their loyalty to the Chinese emperor and remitted money to China. After independence, the process of crafting a Singaporean identity and culture began. Both ex Prime Ministers of Singapore -- Lee Kuan Yew (who was Prime Minister for over 30 years) and Goh Chok Tong -- have stated that Singapore does not fit the traditional description of a nation, calling it a society in transition, pointing out the fact that Singaporeans do not all speak the same language, share the same religion or have the same customs. Even though English is the first language of the nation, according to the government's 2010 census, 20% of Singaporeans, or one in five, are illiterate in English. This is a marked improvement from 1990 where 40% of Singaporeans were illiterate in English.
Unlike many other countries, languages, religions and cultures amongst Singaporeans are not delineated according to skin colour or ancestry. Amongst Singaporean Chinese, one in five are Christians, another one in five are atheists and the rest are mostly Buddhists or Taoists. One-third speak English as their home language, while half speak Mandarin Chinese as their home language. The rest speak other mutually unintelligible Chinese languages at home. Singaporean Indians are a much more religious bunch. Only 1% of them are atheists. Six in ten are Hindus, two in ten are Muslims and the rest are mostly Christians. Four in ten speak English as their home language, three in ten speak Tamil, one in ten speak Malay and the rest speak other Indian languages as their home language. Each Singaporean's behaviours and attitudes would therefore be influenced by, amongst many other things, his or her home language and his religion. Singaporeans who speak English as their native language tend to lean towards Western Culture. While those who speak Chinese languages as their native language tend to lean towards Chinese culture and Confucianism. Malay-speaking Singaporeans tend to lean towards Malay culture which itself is closely linked to Islamic culture. Those who speak Indian languages as their native language would probably lean towards Indian culture.
Singapore, as a country, is generally conservative socially but some liberalisation has occurred. At the national level, meritocracy, where one is judged based on one's ability, is heavily emphasised. Racial and religious harmony is regarded by the government as a crucial part of Singapore's success and played a part in building a Singaporean identity. Singapore has a reputation as a nanny state. The national flower of Singapore is the Vanda Miss Joaquim. Many national symbols such as the National Coat of Arms and the Lion Head symbol make use of the lion, as Singapore is known as the 'Lion City'. Public holidays in Singapore cover major Chinese, Western, Malay and Indian festivals.
Due to scarcity of land, four out of five Singaporeans live in subsidised, high-rise, public housing apartments known as HDB flats. Singaporeans generally take off their shoes before entering their homes. Live-in domestic helpers are quite common in Singapore and there are nearly 200,000 domestic helpers there. As with most Commonwealth countries, vehicles on the road and people walking on the streets keep to the left. Unlike some Western countries and ASEAN countries in the Golden Triangle, Singapore does not have a culture of recreational drug use. The country has strict laws against drug use and has one of the lowest rates of drug use in the world. Singaporean employees work an average of around 45 hours weekly, which is relatively long compared to many other nations. Three in four Singaporean employees surveyed stated that they take pride in doing their work well, and that doing so helps their self-confidence.
Foreigners also make up 42% of the population and have a strong influence on Singaporean culture. A.T. Kearney named Singapore the most globalised country in the world in 2006 in its Globalization Index. The Economist Intelligence Unit in its "Quality-of-Life Index" ranks Singapore as having the best quality of life in Asia and eleventh overall in the world.
Dining, along with shopping, is said to be the country's national pastime. The diversity of food is touted as a reason to visit the country, and the variety of food representing different ethnicities is seen by the government as a symbol of its multiculturalism. The "national fruit" of Singapore is the Durian In popular culture, food items belong to a particular ethnicity, with Chinese, Indian, and Malay food clearly defined. The diversity of cuisine has been increased further by the "hybridization" of different styles, e.g. the Peranakan style, a mix of Chinese and Malay cuisine.
Since the 1990s, the government has been promoting Singapore as a centre for arts and culture, in particular the performing arts, and to transform the country into a cosmopolitan 'gateway between the East and West'. One highlight was the construction of Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay, a performing arts centre opened in October 2002. The national orchestra, Singapore Symphony Orchestra, plays at the Esplanade. The annual Singapore Arts Festival is organised by the National Arts Council. The stand-up comedy scene has been growing, with a weekly open mic. Singapore hosted the 2009 Genee International Ballet Competition, a classical ballet competition promoted by London's Royal Academy of Dance.
Sport and recreation
Popular sports include football, basketball, cricket, swimming, sailing, table tennis and badminton. Most Singaporeans live in public residential areas near amenities such as public swimming pools, outdoor basketball courts and indoor sport complexes. Water sports are popular, including sailing, kayaking and water skiing. Scuba diving is another popular recreational sport. The Southern island of Pulau Hantu, particularly, is known for its rich coral reefs.
Singapore's football (soccer) league, the S-League, formed in 1994, currently comprises 12 clubs including foreign teams. The Singapore Slingers, formerly in the Australian National Basketball League, is one of the inaugural teams in the ASEAN Basketball League, founded in October 2009. Singapore began hosting a round of the Formula One World Championship, the Singapore Grand Prix, in 2008. The race was staged at the Marina Bay Street Circuit and became the first night race on the F1 circuit and the first street circuit in Asia. Singapore won the bid to host the inaugural 2010 Summer Youth Olympics.
Companies linked to the government control much of the domestic media in Singapore. MediaCorp operates most free-to-air television channels and free-to-air radio stations in Singapore. There are a total of seven free-to-air TV channels offered by Mediacorp. The channels are Channel 5 (English channel), Channel News Asia (English channel), Okto (English channel)), Channel 8 (Chinese channel), Channel U (Chinese channel), Suria (Malay channel) and Vasantham (Indian channel). Starhub Cable Vision (SCV) also offers cable television with channels from all around the world and Singtel's MioTV provides an IPTV service. Singapore Press Holdings, a body with close links to the government, controls most of the newspaper industry.
Singapore's media industry has sometimes been criticised for being too regulated and lacking in freedom by human rights groups such as Freedom House. In 2010, Reporters Without Borders, a France-based international non-governmental organisation, ranked Singapore 136 out of 178 in its Press Freedom Index, just below Mexico.
The Media Development Authority regulates Singaporean media, claiming to balance the demand for choice and protection against offensive and harmful material. Private ownership of TV satellite dishes is banned. There are 3.4 million users of the internet in Singapore, one of the highest internet penetration rates in the world. The Singapore government does not engage in widespread censoring of the internet, but it maintains a list of one hundred websites (mostly pornographic) which it blocks as a 'symbolic statement of the Singaporean community's stand on harmful and undesirable content on the Internet' As the block only covers only home Internet access, users can still visit the blocked websites from their office computers.
Singapore consists of 63 islands, including the main island, widely known as Singapore Island but also as Pulau Ujong. There are two man-made connections to Johor, Malaysia: the Johor–Singapore Causeway in the north, and the Tuas Second Link in the west. Jurong Island, Pulau Tekong, Pulau Ubin and Sentosa are the largest of Singapore's smaller islands. The highest natural point is Bukit Timah Hill at 166 m (545 ft).
There are ongoing land reclamation projects, which have increased Singapore's land area from 581.5 km (224.5 sq mi) in the 1960s to 704 km (272 sq mi) today; it may grow by another 100 km (40 sq mi) by 2030. Some projects involve merging smaller islands through land reclamation to form larger, more functional islands, as with Jurong Island. About 23% of Singapore's land area consists of forest and nature reserves. Urbanisation has eliminated most primary rainforest, with Bukit Timah Nature Reserve the only significant remaining forest. Even though there is very little primary rainforest left, there are more than 300 parks and 4 nature reserves in Singapore. There are also many trees planted throughout Singapore and almost fifty per cent of the country is covered by greenery. Because of this, Singapore is also commonly known as the 'Garden City'.
Singapore has a tropical rainforest climate with no distinctive seasons, uniform temperature and pressure, high humidity, and abundant rainfall. Temperatures usually range from 23 to 32 °C (73 to 90 °F). Relative humidity averages around 79% in the morning and 73% in the afternoon. April and May are the hottest months, with the wetter monsoon season from November to January. From July to October, there is often haze caused by bush fires in neighbouring Indonesia. Although Singapore does not observe daylight saving time, it follows time zone GMT+8, one hour ahead of its geographical location.