History Lesson: Singapore in 1991

1991: Singapore

Early general elections confirmed the ruling People’s Action Party’s (PAP) control of the government but saw some opposition gains in parliamentary seats and the popular vote.

On August 31, Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, who had succeeded Lee Kuan Yew (who stepped aside as prime minister in November 1990), sought a mandate for his leadership by holding early parliamentary elections. The PAP was assured a majority even before the voting, as 41 of its candidates for the 81 seats ran unopposed. It won 36 of the remaining 40 seats and about 60 percent of the popular vote, a margin that would be comfortable nearly anywhere but Singapore. Since full independence in 1965, the opposition had won no more than two seats in a general election. In a further expansion of the group representational constituencies (GRCs) instituted in 1988, four-candidate teams ran in each of 15 electoral districts. Under this system voters elect a team, not individuals, and each team must have at least one non-Chinese member. This guarantees representation in Parliament to Malays and other ethnic minorities, who make up about 24 percent of the population.

Elections, scheduled at the discretion of the ruling party, are required at least every five years. Holding them after only three years made for the shortest interval in Singapore’s history. The biggest surprise in the elections was the defeat of the acting minister for community development, Seet Ai Mee, who only two months earlier had become Singapore’s first woman cabinet member. She also was the first cabinet member ever to be defeated. Immediately after the elections, two senior ministers announced that they would be leaving the government: Minister of Education Tony Tan, at the end of 1991, and Minister for National Development Suppiah Dhanabalan, within one year.

The Goh government eased some of the personal and media restrictions of the Lee Kuan Yew government. The opposition was quick to state that its gains were not a reaction against this liberalization. Lee Kuan Yew, who continued in the cabinet as a senior minister and was also secretary-general of the PAP, attributed the opposition gains to government failures to attract Chinese-speaking voters. Lee was considered the most likely candidate in the nation’s first popular presidential election, set for 1992 in a bill passed by Parliament in January 1991.

Singapore Airlines Skyjacking.
In March four Pakistani dissidents seized a Singapore Airlines flight from Kuala Lumpur to Singapore and ordered the pilot to fly to Australia. The plane landed at Singapore Airport, ostensibly to refuel, and local authorities thereupon began negotiations. After an 8-hour standoff, commandos stormed the plane and killed all four hijackers. None of the 118 passengers aboard the aircraft was injured.

The 1991-1992 budget continued to yield a surplus despite a projected 15 percent increase in spending. The sluggish international economy was blamed for dropping real growth in the gross domestic product to an estimated 7.5 percent compared to 8.3 percent in 1990. – source: Collier Yearbook

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