Singapore is a parliamentary republic with elections taking place at regular, constitutionally mandated intervals. The voting and vote counting systems are fair and free from tampering; however, the Peoples' Action Party placed formidable obstacles in the path of political opponents. The government has broad powers to limit citizens' rights and to handicap political opposition, and it used these powers frequently by placing restrictions on freedoms of speech, the press, assembly, and association. The government also placed some restrictions on freedom of religion.
The United States supports liberalizing trends in Singapore and takes every opportunity to advance democracy and freedom, promoting democratic principles, practices, and values and human rights.
In support of democratic principles, U.S. officials speak at multiple venues using the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign to explain the electoral process and the important role of the press in covering candidates and election issues in the United States. This approach allows audiences to draw comparisons with the country's more restrictive system. U.S. officials regularly meet with exchange visitors, and recently hosted the first-ever reception for alumni of the U.S.-funded International Visitor Leadership Program (IVLP).
The embassy recently hosted a luncheon with the leaders of the main opposition parties and all of the opposition members of parliament. In addition, the embassy gave opposition leaders the opportunity to meet with executive and legislative branch visitors from the United States.
The United States conducts a range of programs and activities to heighten government sensitivity to human rights. U.S. officials maintained active communications with the government, political parties, human rights organizations, and civil society representatives. U.S. officials urged Singapore, as the chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), to lead ASEAN in setting a high human rights standard during the drafting of the new ASEAN charter.
The embassy makes it a priority to engage extensively with the country's Malay Muslim community and maintains strong relations with representatives of the various religious communities. The United States conducts a comprehensive program of outreach to local audiences through the media and the Internet and employs exchange, speaker, and information programs to help government officials and key local audiences gain an enhanced understanding of the democratic process and the value of human rights. The embassy utilized the IVLP to send several key journalists to the United States, where they acquired an increased awareness of the challenges and benefits of the role and responsibilities of the press and media in a free and open society.
The embassy expanded its speaker program to inform a broader and younger audience about U.S. society and foreign policy. The program has been used to encourage liberalizing trends through discussion of freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want, and freedom from fear. U.S.-supported exchange programs focus on foreign policy, military, regional security, journalism, and global issues. The embassy enlisted the support of the U.S. business community, alumni of U.S.-sponsored exchanges, and U.S. university alumni to expand outreach.
The United States continues to engage the government to raise awareness and press for concrete steps to combat trafficking in persons. U.S. efforts helped convince the government to pass revisions to the penal code to criminalize commercial sex with any minor less than 18 years of age.