May 1959 was a time when Singapore was still a British Crown Colony, but agreement had been reached in 1957 for Singapore to enjoy internal self-government, with the British responsible for external affairs, internal security and defence. A new constitution would come into effect with internal self-governance, under which the Legislative Assembly would comprise 51 elected members, and only elected members. In this respect, it would differ from previous Legislative Assemblies that had always included members appointed by the Governor.
"We launched our election campaign on Sunday, 15 February, with a pre-election rally at Hong Lim Green..." wrote Lee Kuan Yew in his memoirs The Singapore Story.
Nomination Day for all 51 seats was 25 April 1959, providing more than a month for campaigning. The SPA [Singapore People's Alliance] put up candidates for 39 constituencies, the Liberal Socialists for 32. There were hordes of independent (non-party) candidates. The People's Action Party contested all 51 seats.
Every constituency was contested; there were no walk-overs. Two constituencies had seven candidates each, two had six and nine wards had five candidates each slugging it out.
Inevitably, the English-language press was virulently anti-PAP, unlike the Chinese and Malay newspaper, which were friendly. That animosity had provoked a battle when I fired my first salvo on 15 April:"It is an open secret (that if the PAP won) the Straits Times editorial staff would scoot to Kuala Lumpur. Those who have followed the paper's views should also scoot with them. (For) If you read what you see in the paper, you will think we are extremists and wild men."This was at a lunchtime rally at Fullerton Square in the heart of the city, next to the General Post Office, near the big British banks around Raffles Place.[snip]At our next rally, Raja [S Rajaratnam] followed up with an attack on the Singapore Standard. They talked of freedom the press, but stifled the views of those they did not agree with, he said. He was well-qualified to speak. An associate editor of the paper from 1950 to 1954, he had been told to change his policy or quit. He quit -- and the paper turned anti-PAP.-- The Singapore Story, memoirs of Lee
Kuan Yew, pp 297-298.
Polling day on Saturday, 30 May 1959, went by without incident. Voting was compulsory. The polling booths closed at 8 pm and counting began at 9 pm. By 2:45 am, it was over.
We won 43 out of 51 seats, with 53.4 per cent of the votes cast by 90 per cent of the electorate. The SPA won four, UMNO three and independents one (A.P.Rajah).-- ibid, p 305.
The figures I complied from a webpage of the Singapore Elections Department were slightly different:
Lee then went to the last British governor (later to be Singapore's first Yang di-Pertuan Negara) William Goode to demand the release of his compatriots, Lim Chin Siong et al, from detention without trial. He wanted them freed before his new government took office, "or we would lose all credibility."
Wednesday, 3 June 1959 was the day Internal Self-government was declared. For a few years until we joined the new Malaysia in 1963, it would be celebrated as a kind of National Day.
The same evening, the PAP held its victory rally in front of City Hall, with its 43 new MPs on stage. All were dressed in white to symbolise clean government. The crowd on the Padang numbered some 50,000, huge by the standards of Singapore's population, then only about one million.
In his speech, Lee Kuan Yew reminded the crowd that his freedom of assembly had been abridged by the British colonial government:
For the British community, I had this caution:"Do you know, we wanted to use this Padang for our election rallies at night, but a small group of Europeans who were given this field by the former colonial government refused it, although they only use it in the day for a few people to play games? Well, times have changed and will stay changed."-- ibid, p 309.
The detainees were freed on Thursday 4 June 1959. A few years later, however, some of them would be re-detained by the PAP government when they began to oppose it.
The new PAP government was sworn in to office on Friday, 5 June 1959. Naturally Lee Kuan Yew was Prime Minister, at the age of 35. His Deputy was Toh Chin Chye, who would later have a falling out with him.
William Goode would remain the Yang di-Pertuan Negara until December 1959 when he retired, to be succeeded by Yusuf Ishak, whose visage is only all our currency notes.
On the day that Yusuf Ishak was installed in office (3 December 1959), there was a small parade at City Hall. The new red-and-white flag was unfurled for the first time and the national anthem, composed by Zubir Said, sung by a choir.
Those were heady days. The PAP would win the following general election in September 1963, bitterly fought, and the rest is, for better or worse, history
Tag : PRU-13