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Atlas Singapore

Country (long form)
Republic of Singapore
Total Area
250.00 sq mi
647.50 sq km
4,151,264 (July 2000 est.)
Estimated Population in 2050
Chinese (official), Malay (official and national), Tamil (official), English (official)
91.1% total, 95.9% male, 86.3% female (1995 est.)
Buddhist (Chinese), Muslim (Malays), Christian, Hindu, Sikh, Taoist, Confucianist
Life Expectancy
77.1 male, 83.23 female (2000 est.)
Government Type
parliamentary republic
1 Singapore dollar (S$) = 100 cents
GDP (per capita)
$27,800 (1999 est.)
Labor Force (by occupation)
financial, business, and other services 38%, manufacturing 21.6%, commerce 21.4%, construction 7%, other 12%
electronics, financial services, oil drilling equipment, petroleum refining, rubber processing and rubber products, processed food and beverages, ship repair, entrepot trade, biotechnology
rubber, copra, fruit, vegetables; poultry, eggs, fish, vegetables, orchids, ornamental fish
Arable Land
machinery and equipment (including electronics) 63%, chemicals, mineral fuels (1998)
machinery and equipment 57%, mineral fuels, chemicals, foodstuffs (1998)
Natural Resources
fish, deepwater ports
Current Environmental Issues
industrial pollution; limited natural fresh water resources; limited land availability presents waste disposal problems; seasonal smoke/haze resulting from forest fires in Indonesia
Telephones (main lines in use)
54.6 million (1998)
Telephones (mobile cellular)
1.02 million (1998)
Internet Service Providers (ISPs)
8 (1999)

According to Malay legend, a Sumatran prince encountered a lion - considered a good omen - on Temasek, prompting him to found Singapura, or Lion City. It mattered little that lions had never inhabited Singapore (more likely the prince had seen a tiger); what did matter was the establishment of the region as a minor trading post for the powerful Sumatran Srivijaya empire and as a subsequent vassal state of the Javanese Majapahit empire in the mid-13th century.

Singapore might have remained a quiet backwater if not for Sir Stamford Raffles' intervention in 1819. The British had first established a presence in the Straits of Melaka (now called Malacca) in the 18th century when the East India Company set out to secure and protect its line of trade from China to the colonies in India. Fearing another resurgence of expansionism in the Dutch - which had been the dominant European trading power in the region for nearly 200 years - Raffles argued for an increased British presence, which he was promptly given. Under his tutelage, Singapore's forlorn reputation as a fetid, disease-ridden colony was soon forgotten. Migrants attracted by a tariff-free port poured in by the thousands, and a flourishing colony with a military and naval base was established.

Singapore's inexorable growth continued into the 20th century. However, the outbreak of WWII brutally exposed the fallacy of British might: they suffered the ignominy of defeat when Japan invaded the colony in 1941. The British were welcomed back after Japan's surrender in 1945, but their right to rule was no longer assured.

By the 1950s, burgeoning nationalism had led to the formation of a number of political parties as Singapore moved slowly towards self-government. The People's Action Party, with the Cambridge-educated Lee Kuan Yew as leader, was elected in 1959. Lee became prime minister, a position he was to hold for the next 31 years. In 1963, Singapore formed a union with Malaya (now Malaysia) but by 1965, the nascent federation was in tatters. Singapore became independent soon after and was once again the economic success story of the region. Shrewd and pathologically pragmatic, Lee fashioned a government heavy on strict social order and the suppression of political opposition.

Lee Kuan Yew resigned as prime minister in 1990 and was replaced by Goh Chok Tong, a leader more inclined towards consultation and liberalism. The country's first presidential election was held in August 1993 - prior to that, presidents were elected by members of parliament. The most recent election was in September 1999 when the presidency, a largely ceremonial role, was won by SR Nathan.

Economically, the southeast Asian region's late-1990s downturn (a euphemism if ever there was one) hit Singapore as hard as anywhere else - in one three-month period in late 1998, unemployment in the country doubled. The city-state is slowly bouncing back, however, and on the street things are lively as ever, though the exodus of well-trained professionals seeking glittering international opportunities is a growing concern.