Singapore, 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 a hi-tech, wealthy city-state in south-east Asia, also known for the conservatism of its leaders and its strict social controls.
The country comprises the main island - linked by a causeway and a bridge to the southern tip of Malaysia - and around 50 smaller islands.
Once a colonial outpost of Britain, Singapore has become one of the world's most prosperous places - with glittering skyscrapers and a thriving port.
Many Singaporeans say they are seeing signs of change, at least in style, as the government appears to be listening and responding to the voices of a more assertive public. The governing party is certainly determined to stay in power, they say, but to do so it must begin to take into account this new dynamic of open opposition.
“The fear is gone” is a phrase that is often heard now, as is the assertion that “the genie is out of the bottle” for a more open political field.
JUDGING from the number of cranes that dot the city’s skyline, Singapore is booming. In the last few years, casinos and hotels have sprung up; museums and galleries in former colonial landmarks have flung open their doors; and international designers have staked out prime real estate alongside up-and-comers just starting to make their fashion mark.
From the epochal to the mundane, the decisions of Singapore's Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew have steered the history of his island nation for more than half a century. But as the political party Lee founded in 1954 seeks to shore up its sliding fortunes with a younger and more politically outspoken electorate, the 87-year-old man regarded as modern Singapore's founding father has withdrawn from day-to-day governance by quitting his Cabinet post along with Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong, who succeeded Lee as Prime Minister in 1990.
Frustrated by Singapore's rising cost of living, many lower-income voters criticized the ruling party for pushing economic growth at all costs, claiming this had led to higher prices of basic necessities like food and housing. Voters were unhappy too with the island's increasingly congested roads, buses and subway carriages, clogged at least partly, they felt, by a rapid influx of immigrants into Singapore, in particular between 2004 and '08.
Singapore has been ranked the world's most liveable city for Asian expats, trumping rival Hong Kong which now has one of the worst levels of air pollution.
A study by human resources consultancy ECA International reveals that Singapore tops the table due to its consistently good air quality, world-class health care, excellent infrastructure and low crime rate.
Yet Singapore is booming – and the new-found energy of the place is palpable everywhere, as is its conspicuous wealth. Despite being geographically smaller than the Isle of Wight, Singapore has more millionaires per capita of its five million population than anywhere else on the planet. The World Economic Forum’s latest Global Competitiveness Report places Singapore second only to Switzerland, based largely on an entrepôt trade in which raw materials are imported, then refined for re-export. Despite having no oil, for instance, Singapore operates the third-largest oil refinery in the world.
Singapore's central bank tightened its monetary policy Friday by allowing for a stronger currency to combat the island's stubbornly high inflation rate.
A jump in global oil prices since October has quickened inflation to near 5 percent in Singapore, which imports all of its fuel. A stronger Singapore dollar would lower the prices of imports while possibly making the country's exports less competitive.
For those passing through Changi Airport in Singapore, however, a brief window between connecting flights is a great opportunity to explore one of Asia's most happening destinations.
The city-state's condensed landscape -- the entire country is squeezed into a land area smaller than most big cities -- means visitors can quickly tour some of Singapore's most famous attractions and be back at the airport in a matter of hours.
"What's really striking is that Singapore has done a good job of addressing cases of physical and sexual abuse against domestic workers... but they have really fallen behind the norm in terms of not including these workers under the labor law and considering them as workers," says Nisha Varia from Human Rights Watch. "It's something Singapore should feel really embarrassed about."
While maids are recognized under Singapore's Employment of Foreign Manpower Act, the legislation doesn't regulate pay or working hours.