SINGAPORE AND ITS ROAD TO INDEPENDENCE AFTER WORLD WAR II

SINGAPORE AFTER WORLD WAR II

When the Japanese surrendered in 1945, Singapore was handed over to the British Military Administration, which remained in power until the dissolve of the Straits Settlement comprising Penang, Melaka and Singapore. In March 1946, Singapore became a Crown Colony. "The Japanese occupation nightmare was over and people thought the good times were about to return," Lee Kuan Yew wrote. "By early 1946, however, people realized that there was to be no return to the old peaceful, stable, free-and-easy Singapore. The city was packed with troops in uniform. They filled the newly-opened cafés, bars and cabarets...It was a world in turmoil where hucksters flourished. Much of the day-to-day business was still done on the black—now the free—market."

The abrupt end of the war took the British by surprise. Although the Colonial Office had decided on the formation of a Malayan Union, which would include all the Malay states, Penang, and Malacca, no detailed plans had been worked out for the administration of Singapore, which was to be kept separate and serve as the headquarters of the British governor general for Southeast Asia. Many former colonial officials and businessmen opposed the separation of Singapore from peninsular Malaya, arguing that the two were economically interdependent and to exclude Singapore would "cut the heart out of Malaya." The Colonial Office maintained that the separation did not preclude union at some future date, but that union should not be forced on "communities with such widely different interests." In September 1945, Singapore became the headquarters for the British Military Administration (BMA) under Mountbatten. Although Singaporeans were relieved and happy at the arrival of the Commonwealth troops, their first-hand witnessing of the defeat of the British by an Asian power had changed forever the perspective from which they viewed their colonial overlords.

In the decades after World War II, Singapore was known as a crime-ridden city filled with opium addicts, revolutionaries and gangsters. The stereotype image of Singapore in this era was steamy bars, with a slow moving ceiling fans, where unrepentant colonials, war correspondents, sailors, fugitives and expatriate writers downed shots of whiskey and traded stories about Communist insurgencies and bar girls.

In 1946 Singapore became a separate crown colony with a civil administration. When the Federation of Malaya was established in 1948 as a move toward self-rule, Singapore continued as a separate crown colony. The same year, the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) launched an insurrection in Malaya and Singapore, and the British declared a State of Emergency that was to continue until 1960. The worldwide demand for tin and rubber had brought economic recovery to Singapore by this time, and the Korean War (1950–53) brought even further economic prosperity to the colony. However, strikes and student demonstrations organized by the MCP throughout the 1950s continued to arouse fears of a communist takeover in Malaya.

Economic and Social Recovery in Singapore After World War II

The British returned to find their colonies in sad shape. Food and medical supplies were dangerously low, partly because shipping was in total disarray. Allied bombing had taken its toll on Singapore's harbor facilities, and numerous wrecks blocked the harbor. Electricity, gas, water, and telephone services were in serious disrepair. Severe overcrowding had resulted in thousands of squatters living in shanties, and the death rate was twice the prewar level. Gambling and prostitution, both legalized under the Japanese, flourished, and for many opium or alcohol served as an escape from a bleak existence. The military administration was far from a panacea for all Singapore's ills. The BMA had its share of corrupt officials who helped the collaborators and profiteers of the Japanese occupation to continue to prosper. As a result of the inefficiency and mismanagement of the rice distribution, the BMA was cynically known as the "Black Market Administration." However, by April 1946, when military rule was ended, the BMA had managed to restore gas, water, and electric services to above their prewar capacity. The port was returned to civilian control, and seven private industrial, transportation, and mining companies were given priority in importing badly needed supplies and materials. Japanese prisoners were used to repair docks and airfields. The schools were reopened, and by March 62,000 children were enrolled. By late 1946, Raffles College and the King Edward Medical College both had reopened. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Food shortages were the most persistent problem; the weekly per capita rice ration fell to an all-time low in May 1947, and other foods were in short supply and expensive. Malnutrition and disease spawned outbreaks of crime and violence. Communist-led strikes caused long work stoppages in public transport, public services, at the docks, and at many private firms. The strikers were largely successful in gaining the higher wages needed by the workers to meet rising food prices. *

By late 1947, the economy had began to recover as a result of a growing worldwide demand for tin and rubber. The following year, Singapore's rubber production reached an all-time high, and abundant harvests in neighboring rice-producing countries ended the most serious food shortages. By 1949 trade, productivity, and social services had been restored to their prewar levels. In that year a five-year social welfare plan was adopted, under which benefits were paid to the aged, unfit, blind, crippled, and to widows with dependent children. Also in 1949, a ten-year plan was launched to expand hospital facilities and other health services. By 1951 demand for tin and rubber for the war in Korea had brought economic boom to Singapore. *

By the early postwar years, Singapore's population had become less transitory and better balanced by age and sex. The percentage of Chinese who were Straits-born rose from 36 percent in 1931 to 60 percent by 1947, and, of those born in China, more than half reported in 1947 that they had never revisited and did not send remittances there. Singapore's Indian population increased rapidly in the postwar years as a result of increased migration from India, which was facing the upheavals of independence and partition, and from Malaya, where the violence and hardships of the Emergency caused many to leave. Although large numbers of Indian men continued to come to Singapore to work and then return to India, both Indians and Chinese increasingly saw Singapore as their permanent home. *

In 1947 the colonial government inaugurated a ten-year program to provide all children with six years of primary education in the language of the parents' choice, including English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil. Seeing an English education as offering their children the best opportunity for advancement, parents increasingly opted to send their children to English-language schools, which received increased government funding while support for the vernacular schools declined. In 1949 the University of Malaya was formed through a merger of Raffles College and the King Edward Medical College.

Early Political Activity in Singapore After World War II

The Colonial Office established an advisory council in November 1945 to work with the BMA on the reconstruction of Singapore. Among the seventeen members appointed to the council was Wu Tian Wang, a former guerrilla leader and chairman of the communist Singapore City Committee. The MCP enjoyed great popularity in the early postwar days because of its association with the resistance and the Malayan People's Anti-Japanese Army, which also included many noncommunists. In January 1946, the anti-January army was formally disbanded following a final parade at which Mountbatten presented medals to the guerrilla commander, Chin Peng, and the other resistance leaders. All arms and ammunition, which the guerrillas had received in airdrops from the British during the war or captured from the Japanese, were supposed to be surrendered at that time. The CPM, however, secretly retained large stocks of its weapons. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The British legally recognized the MCP in late 1945, largely because of its resistance efforts and its popularity. The party by that time commanded about 70,000 supporters. The MCP at first concentrated its efforts on organizing labor, establishing the General Labour Union, which covered more than sixty trade unions. It organized numerous strikes in 1945 and early 1946, including a two-day general strike in January in which 173,000 workers struck and transport was brought to a halt. In February, after the formation of a Pan-Malayan Federation of Trade Unions claiming 450,000 members in Singapore and the peninsula, the BMA arrested twenty-seven leading communists, banishing ten of them without trial. Thereafter, the MCP adopted a lower profile of quietly backing radical groups that were working for constitutional changes and increasing its control over the labor movement. *

In April 1946, the BMA ended with the formation of the Malayan Union, at which time Singapore became a separate crown colony with a civil administration. The two entities continued to share a common currency, institutions of higher learning, and the administration of immigration, civil aviation, posts and telegraphs, and income tax. Opposition to the separation of Malaya and Singapore motivated the formation in December 1945 of Singapore's first indigenous political party, the Malayan Democratic Union (MDU). Although most leaders of the new party were not communist, there were several prominent communists among its founders, including Wu Tian Wang, who saw the Malayan Union as a threat to the vision of a communist, united Malayan republic. The MDU proposed eventual inclusion of Singapore in an independent Malaya within the Commonwealth of Nations. Meanwhile, on the peninsula, conservative Malay leaders, who were concerned about provisions in the Malayan Union scheme that conferred equal political status on immigrant communities, formed the United Malays National Organization (UMNO) in March 1946. After various mass rallies, movements and countermovements, proposals and counterproposals, the British acceded to UMNO wishes. February 1948 marked the formation of the Federation of Malaya, which provided for the gradual assimilation of immigrants into a Malay state working toward independence under British guidance. Singapore remained a separate crown colony. *

Road to Independence in Post-World War II Singapore

Elections in Singapore were scheduled for March 1948, at which time a new constitution would go into effect. That document called for an Executive Council of colonial officials and a Legislative Council comprising nine officials and thirteen nonofficials, four nominated by the governor, three chosen by the chambers of commerce, and six elected by adult British subjects who had been resident in Singapore for one year prior to the election. The appointed governor retained power over certain items and veto power over the proceedings of the Legislative Council. The MDU, by then a communist front organization, boycotted the elections and organized mass rallies opposing the new constitution. The moderate Progressive Party was formed in August 1947 by British-educated business and professional men who advocated gradual constitutional reform aimed at eventual self-government. Of the six elected seats on the Legislative Council, three were won by independents and three by Progressives, the only party to contest the elections. In the first municipal election in 1949, the Progressive Party won thirteen of the eighteen seats on the twenty-seven member municipal commission. Voter interest was very low in both elections, however, with only about 10 percent of those eligible registering to vote. [Source: Library of Congress *]

In 1953 the colonial government appointed Sir George Rendel to head a commission to review the Singapore constitution and devise a "complete political and constitutional structure designed to enable Singapore to develop as a self-contained and autonomous unit in any larger organization with which it may ultimately become associated." The commission recommended partial internal selfgovernment for Singapore, with Britain retaining control of internal security, law, finance, defense, and foreign affairs. It also proposed a single-chamber Legislative Assembly of thirty-two members, twenty-five of whom would be elected, and a nine-member council of ministers that would act as a cabinet. The governor retained his power to veto legislation. The British government accepted the commission's recommendations, and the Rendel constitution went into effect in February 1954, with elections scheduled for the Legislative Assembly for April 1955. Voters were to be automatically registered, which was predicted to greatly enlarge the size of the turnout over previous elections. Although the new constitution was a long way from offering Singapore full independence, election fever gripped the country as new political alliances and parties were formed. *

Communists in Post-World War II Singapore

Meanwhile, the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) had abandoned the moderate stance advocated by its secretary general Lai Teck, who was replaced in March 1947 by Chin Peng. Soon after, it was discovered that Lai Teck had not only disappeared with the party's funds but also been a double agent, serving both the Japanese and the British. Following the establishment of the Federation of Malaya in February 1948, Singapore's communist leaders moved to the peninsula where they reactivated the MPAJA and began fomenting acts of violence and terrorism. This led to the declaration of a State of Emergency in Malaya on June 18 and in Singapore a week later. Although the twelve-year struggle was largely confined to the peninsula, restrictions were placed on meetings and strikes, and the detention of individuals without trial was permitted under the Emergency regulations. The MCP was proscribed by the colonial government in Singapore, and the MDU, fearing the same fate, voluntarily dissolved itself. Left-wing political movements were thus stifled, and the only political party that arose to challenge the Progressives was the Singapore Labour Party formed in 1948. Like the Progressive Party, its positions were moderate and its leadership mostly British educated. Nevertheless, as a result of personal squabbles and factions, the Singapore Labour Party had largely disintegrated by 1952. [Source: Library of Congress *]

The number of elected seats in the Legislative Council was increased to nine in 1951, and the Progressive Party won six of the nine seats in the election that year. The membership of the party never numbered more than about 4,000, the majority of whom were upper or middle class and British educated. The interests of the members of the Legislative Council and the leadership of the Progressive Party were so closely aligned with those of the colonial government that they were out of touch with the masses. Participation in politics was restricted to Straits-born or naturalized British subjects who were literate in English. This exclusion of immigrants and those not educated in English meant that, in the late 1940s, about one-half of Singapore's adult population was disenfranchised. *

As the Emergency on the peninsula began to go badly for the communists, the MCP took a renewed interest in Singapore and began organizing protest demonstrations among the disaffected students. Among the brightest and most capable of the older Chinese high school students were Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan, who both became involved in organizing class boycotts that resulted in a police raid on the Chinese High School in 1952. The two left the school, took low-paying jobs at bus companies, and began working to build communist influence among workers and students. In May 1954, mass student protest demonstrations were organized to oppose a new National Service Ordinance requiring males between the ages of eighteen and twenty to register for part-time national service. Also in May, the Singapore Factory and Shop Workers' Union registered with the government, with Lim as its secretary general; Fong, who was by then general secretary of the Singapore Bus Workers' Union, and C.V. Devan Nair, of (at that time) the Singapore Teachers' Union, were members of the executive board. Dedicated and charismatic, Lim led several well-organized small strikes that were successful in gaining better conditions for the union's workers, and in attracting thousands of recruits for the union. By late 1955, the Singapore Factory and Shop Workers' Union included thirty industrial unions and had a membership of about 30,000. *

Chinese Raise Their Ambitions and Education Levels in Post-World War II Singapore

Although the Chinese-educated took little interest in the affairs of the Legislative Council and the colonial government, they were stirred with pride by the success of the CCP in China. Fearful that support by Singapore's Chinese for the CCP would translate to support for the MCP, the colonial government attempted to curtail contacts between the Singapore Chinese and their homeland. When Tan Kah Kee returned from a trip to China in 1950, the colonial government refused to readmit him, and he lived out his days in his native Fujian Province. [Source: Library of Congress *]

For graduates of Singapore's Chinese high schools, there were no opportunities for higher education in the colony. Many went to universities in China, despite the fact that immigration laws prohibited them from returning to Singapore. To alleviate this problem, wealthy rubber merchant and industrialist Tan Lark Sye proposed formation of a Chinese-language university for the Chinese-educated students of Singapore, Malaya, and all Southeast Asia. Singaporean Chinese, rich and poor, donated funds to found Nanyang University, which was opened in Singapore in 1956. *

By the early 1950s, large numbers of young men whose education had been postponed by the Japanese occupation were studying at Chinese-language high schools. These older students were particularly critical of the colonial government's restrictive policies toward Chinese and of its lack of support for Chinese- language schools. The teachers in these schools were poorly paid, the educational standards were low, and graduates of the schools found they could not get jobs in the civil service or gain entrance to Singapore's English-language universities. While critical of the colonial government, the students were becoming increasingly proud of the success of the communist revolution in China, reading with interest the publications and propaganda put out by the new regime. *

Rise of People’s Action Party (PAP) and of Lee Kuan Yew

In 1953 a British commission recommended partial internal self-government for Singapore. In this milieu, other political parties began to form in 1954. One was the Labour Front led by David Marshall, who called for immediate independence and merger with Malaya. The same year, the People’s Action Party (PAP) was established under the leadership of Lee Kuan Yew, a third-generation Straits-born Chinese and Cambridge-educated lawyer. The PAP also campaigned for an end to colonialism and a merger with Malaya. Following Legislative Assembly elections in 1955, a coalition government was formed with Marshall as chief minister. As a result of further talks with London, Singapore was granted internal self-government while the British continued to control defense and foreign affairs. In 1957 Malaya was granted independence, and the next year the British Parliament elevated the status of Singapore from colony to state and provided for new local elections. [Source: Library of Congress *]

In November 1954, the People's Action Party ( PAP) was inaugurated at a gathering of 1,500 people in Victoria Memorial Hall. The party was formed by a group of British-educated, middle- class Chinese who had returned to Singapore in the early 1950s after studying in Britain. Led by twenty-five-year-old Lee Kuan Yew, as secretary general, Toh Chin Chye, Goh Keng Swee, and S. Rajaratnam, the party sought to attract a following among the mostly poor and non-English-speaking masses. Lee had served as a legal adviser to a number of trade unions and, by 1952, had earned a reputation for his successful defense of the rights of workers. He also helped defend Chinese students arrested during the 1954 student demonstrations protesting national service. Lee, a fourth- generation Singaporean, was educated at Raffles Institution and Cambridge University, where he took a double first (first-class honors in two subjects) in law. Through his work with the unions and student groups, Lee had made many contacts with anticolonialists, noncommunists and communists alike. *

Present at the inauguration of the PAP were a number of noted communists and procommunists, including Fong Swee Suan and Devan Nair, who both joined the new party. Also present were Malayan political leaders Tunku Abdul Rahman, president of UMNO, and Sir Tan Cheng Lock, president of the Malayan Chinese Association (MCA). The PAP proposed to campaign for repeal of the Emergency regulations, union with Malaya, a common Malayan citizenship, Malayanization of the civil service, and free compulsory education. Ending colonialism, however, was the first priority of Lee and the PAP leadership, although they concluded this could be accomplished only with support from the Chinese-educated public and the communist-controlled trade unions. The PAP, calculating that a united front with the communists was necessary to end colonialism, declared itself noncommunist, neither pro- nor anticommunist, preferring to put off until after independence any showdown with the communists. *

Singapore Labour Front Party and Elections in Singapore in 1955

Two former members of the Singapore Labour Party, Lim Yew Hock and Francis Thomas, and a prominent lawyer, David Marshall, formed a new political party, the Labour Front, in July 1954. Marshall, who was a member of Singapore's small Jewish community, had studied law in Britain, fought with the Singapore Volunteer Corps during the Japanese invasion, and worked in the coal mines of Hokkaido as a prisoner of war. Under the leadership of Marshall, a staunch anticolonialist, the party campaigned for immediate independence within a merged Singapore and Malaya, abolishing the Emergency regulations, Malayanization of the civil service within four years (by which time local officials would take over from colonial officials), multiligualism, and Singapore citizenship for its 220,000 China-born inhabitants. Marshall, a powerful speaker, promised "dynamic socialism" to counter "the creeping paralysis of communism" as he denounced colonialism for its exploitation of the masses. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Meanwhile, two other political parties prepared to contest the upcoming election. The Progressive Party, whose leaders had earned a reputation as the "Queen's Chinese" for their procolonial positions and conservative economic policies, had little appeal for the masses of working-class Chinese who were newly enfranchised to vote in the 1955 election. Automatic registration of voters had increased the electorate from 76,000 in 1951 to more than 300,000. Shortly before the elections, wealthy and influential members of the Chinese Chamber of Commerce formed the new Democratic Party, which championed the causes of improved Chinese education, establishment of Chinese as an official language, and liberal citizenship terms for the China-born. Although these issues appealed to Singapore's China-born lower classes, this same group was disenchanted with the party's conservative economic platform, which closely resembled that of the Progressive Party. *

Election fever gripped Singapore during the month-long campaign, and the results of the April 2 contest sent shock waves as far as Britain, where it had been expected that the Progressive Party would win handily. Surprising even itself, the Labour Front won ten of the twenty-five seats and formed a coalition government with the UMNO-MCA Alliance, which won three seats. Three ex-officio members and two nominated members joined with the coalition, forming a group of seventeen in the thirty-two-member assembly. The Progressives won only four seats and the Democratic Party just two, in a clear rejection of colonial rule and procolonial politics. The PAP won three of the four seats it had contested, including a seat in one of Singapore's poorest sections won by Lee Kuan Yew and one seat won by Lim Chin Siong. Lim had the backing of organized labor and led the procommunist wing of the party while Lee led the noncommunist wing. *

Singapore’s Labour Front Government in the Late 1950s

The Labour Front government, with David Marshall as Singapore's first chief minister, faced serious problems from the start. The communists launched a campaign of strikes and student unrest in an attempt to destabilize the government. Only about one-third of the 275 strikes called in 1955 were for better wages and working conditions; the remainder were sympathy strikes or strikes to protest imprisonment of labor union officials. Riots broke out on May 12 when police attempted to break up an illegal picket line formed by striking bus workers and Chinese school students. Four people were killed and thirty-one injured in that single incident, which became known as "Black Thursday." Although the government arrested some students, Marshall eventually backed down and agreed to the registration of the Singapore Chinese Middle School Students' Union because he was in sympathy with the students' grievances against the colonial education system. In registering their union, the students agreed to the condition that the union keep out of politics; the communist leaders of the union, however, had no intention of keeping the agreement. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Along with problems with labor and students, Marshall faced constant conflict with the colonial government over his determination not to be a figurehead controlled by the governor. When the governor, Sir Robert Black, refused to allow Marshall to appoint four assistant ministers, Marshall threatened to resign unless Singapore was given immediate self-government under a new constitution. The Colonial Office agreed to hold constitutional talks, which came to be known as Merdeka (freedom in Malay) talks, in London in April 1956. Marshall led to the talks a thirteen-man delegation comprising members of all the legislative parties and including Lee and Lim Chin Siong. The British offered to grant Singapore full internal self-government but wanted to retain control over foreign affairs and internal security. They proposed a Defence and Internal Security Council, with three delegates each from Britain and Singapore, to be chaired by the British high commissioner in Singagore, who would have the casting ballot (the deciding vote in case of a tie). Marshall had promised he would resign if he failed to obtain internal self-government, and the talks broke down over the issue of the casting ballot. The delegation returned to Singapore, and Marshall resigned in June and was succeeded by the deputy chief minister, Lim Yew Hock. *

Political Instability in Singapore in the Late 1950s

By July 1956, the Singapore Chinese Middle Schools Students' Union had begun planning a campaign of agitation against the government. The Lim Yew Hock government moved first, however, dissolving seven communist-front organizations, including the student union, and closing two Chinese middle schools. This touched off a protest sit- in at Chinese high schools organized by Lim Chin Siong that ended in five days of rioting in which thirteen people were killed. Troops were brought in from Johore to end the disturbance, and more than 900 people were arrested, including Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, and Devan Nair. The British approved of the Singapore government's tough action toward the agitators, and when Lim Yew Hock led a delegation to London for a second round of constitutional talks in March 1957, the Colonial Office proposed a compromise on the internal security issue. The Singapore delegation accepted a proposal whereby the Internal Security Council would comprise three Singaporeans, three Britons, and one delegate from what was soon to be the independent Federation of Malaya, who would hold the casting ballot. The Singapore delegation returned to a hero's welcome; the Legislative Assembly accepted the proposals, and a delegation was scheduled to go to London in 1958 for a third and final round of talks on the new constitution. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Although the moderates led by Lee Kuan Yew retained control of the PAP Central Executive Committee, by 1956 the procommunists held sway over the membership and many of the mass organizations and PAP branches. At the annual general meeting in August 1957, the procommunists won six of the twelve seats on the committee. Lee Kuan Yew and the other moderates refused to take office in order to avoid becoming front men for the leftists. On August 21, the Lim Yew Hock government reacted to the situation by arresting thirty- five communists, including five of the new members of the PAP Central Executive Committee, some PAP branch officials, and labor and student leaders. Lee and the moderates were able to regain control of the party and, the following November, amended the party's constitution to consolidate moderate control by limiting voting for the central executive committee to the full cadres (full members), who were literate Singapore citizens over the age of twenty-one who had been approved as cadres by the central executive committee. *

Elections in 1959 Won By the People’s Action Party (PAP) and Lee Kuan Yew

In 1959, the growth of nationalism led to self-government, and the country’s first general election. The People’s Action Party (PAP) won a majority of 43 seats and Lee Kuan Yew became the first prime minister of Singapore. The PAP’s strongest opponents were communists operating in both legal and illegal organizations. The most prominent was the Barisan Sosialis (Socialist Front), a left-wing party that retained favor in the 1960s and early 1970s. There also were fears that communists within the PAP would seize control of the government, but moderates led by Lee held sway. In 1962 Singaporean voters approved the PAP’s merger plan with Malaya, and on September 16, 1963, Singapore joined Malaya and the former British territories on the island of Borneo—Sabah and Sarawak—to form the independent Federation of Malaysia. Only Brunei opted out of the federation. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Voting in the 1959 election was made compulsory for all adult Singapore citizens, but the British refused to allow persons with records of subversive activity to stand for election. Ten parties contested the election, but none was as well organized as the PAP, which under Lee Kuan Yew ran a vigorous campaign with huge weekly rallies. Campaigning on a platform of honest efficient government, social and economic reform, and union with the Federation of Malaya, the PAP scored a stunning victory by winning forty-three of the fifty-one seats. The badly divided and scandal-ridden Labour Front had reorganized as the Singapore People's Alliance, which won four seats, including one for Lim Yew Hock. The remaining seats were won by three UMNO- MCA Alliance candidates and one independent. Marshall's Workers' Party failed to win any seats. *

Both foreign and local businesses feared that the PAP victory signaled Singapore's slide toward communism, and many moved their headquarters to Kuala Lumpur. Lee indeed refused to take office until the eight procommunist PAP detainees arrested in 1956 and 1957 were released, and he appointed several of them, including Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, and Devan Nair, to government posts. Lee's closest advisors, however, were moderates Goh Keng Swee, Toh Chin Chye, and S. Rajaratnam. *

Early Government of the People’s Action Party (PAP) and Lee Kuan Yew

The first task of the new PAP government was to instill a sense of unity and loyalty in Singapore's diverse ethnic populace. A new national flag, crest, and anthem were introduced, and the new Ministry of Culture organized open-air cultural concerts and other events designed to bring the three main ethnic groups together. Malay, Chinese, Tamil, and English were all made official languages, but, with its eye on a future merger with Malaya, the government made Malay the national language. Considered the indigenous people and yet the most disadvantaged, Malays were provided with free primary and secondary education. *

After national unity, the second most important task facing the new government was that of transforming Singapore from an entrepôt economy dependent on the Malayan commodity trade with no tradition of manufacturing to an industrialized society. A four-year development plan, launched under Minister of Finance Goh Keng Swee in 1961, provided foreign and local investors with such incentives as low taxation rates for export-oriented manufactures, tax holidays for pioneer industries, and temporary protective tariffs against imports. The plan set aside a large area of swamp wasteland as an industrial estate in the Jurong area and emphasized labor- intensive industries, such as textiles. The overhaul of Singapore's economy was urgently needed in order to combat unemployment and pay for badly needed social services. One of the most serious problems was the lack of adequate housing. In 1960 the Housing and Development Board (HDB) was set up to deal with the problems of slum clearance and resettlement. Under the direction of the banker and industrialist Lim Kim San, the HDB constructed more than 20,000 housing units in its first three years. By 1963 government expenditures on education had risen to S$10 million from S$600,000 in 1960. *

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Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Singapore Tourism Board, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, and various books, websites and other publications.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

Last updated June 2015

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