(Bloomberg News) Economic miracles sometimes need course corrections, even in Singapore, which last year was home to more U.S. dollar-millionaire households per capita than any other country, according to Boston Consulting Group Inc.
From 1959 onward, under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew and his successors, Singapore transformed itself into a rich hub for a range of industries, from financial services to transportation, to pharmaceuticals, Bloomberg Markets magazine reports in the September issue. From 1960 to 2010, the city-state's GDP increased 41-fold, to 285 billion Singapore dollars, as it became the world's second-busiest container port and fourth-largest financial center. Three of the world's six strongest banks are based in Singapore, according to a June Bloomberg Markets ranking.
As non-Singaporean workers and companies have poured into what the World Bank says is the easiest place on earth to do business, some Singaporeans have been left behind. The income gap between richest and poorest has widened in recent years, according to the government statistics department.
Non-Singaporeans now make up more than one-third of the island's population of 5 million. The influx of wealthy expatriates has inflated demand for housing, pushing up prices, while the opposition Workers' Party argues that large numbers of immigrant laborers have depressed local wages.
'Learn and Lead'
Against this backdrop, the voters in May's general election handed the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) its smallest margin of victory since 1965. While the PAP still collected 60 percent of the votes cast, the decline from previous showings was bracing enough for Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Lee Kuan Yew's eldest son, to promise a period of soul-searching.
The government pledged to pay attention to the electorate. "My mantra is to listen, learn and lead," says Lui Tuck Yew, the new transport minister.
The Workers' Party, which won six seats in Parliament (up from one in the 2006 election), called it a watershed election. Some Singaporeans went further. Catherine Lim, a best-selling novelist and political commentator, said the electoral landscape had turned toxic for the PAP by the time voters went to the polls. "This election shocked them like no other," Lim, 69, says. "I call it a renaissance -- a Singapore revolution of sorts, like the Arab Spring."
In reality, Singapore bears little resemblance to the fragile autocracies of countries in North Africa and the Middle East, politically or economically.
Lee Kuan Yew co-founded the PAP and was the world's longest-serving prime minister when he stepped down in 1990 after 31 years in office. He presided over a hybrid democracy: Though political opposition was minimal, there were regular elections. Remaining in the cabinet first as senior minister and then as minister mentor, Lee was succeeded by Goh Chok Tong and, in 2004, by Lee Hsien Loong.