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Singapore's Road to Independence

Post-War Singapore

As the Japanese left Singapore, the British were welcomed back, though they were no longer the assumed rulers (p 452, Turner et al). The Japanese invasion destroyed Singapore's trading system, thus food and money were scarce. Food was sold on the black market for very high prices, and thousands were left without a job or money to survive (p 2, SHM). There were no health services, sanitary laws, or safety standards for housing, which resulted in widespread disease.

In April of 1946 the British did not include Singapore in the Malayan Union. The Union united what is now Peninsular Malaysia with the island states of Borneo. Singapore's predominantly Chinese population was one of the factors that excluded Singapore from the Union. When Singapore was not included in the Federation of Malaya in 1948, political parties began to form to help unite Singapore with present day Malaysia.

. The Malayan Communist Party began to make promises of better living conditions to the Singaporeans, and began campaigning. In 1954, Singapore's People's Action Party (PAP) was created, and Lee Kuan Yew became secretary-general of the non-communist part of the PAP (p 452, Turner et al). Most of the Chinese supported communism, but the PAP still appealed to them.

On May 1954, the British made the announcement that they would begin to draft thousands of Singaporeans into the military. The Singaporeans thought that the locals would be used to help the British control Singapore, and the Singaporeans wanted independence (p 4, SHM). Student protests were held, and on May 13, 48 protesting students were arrested.

The British intended to make Singapore an independent republic gradually. The first step was the general elections held on April 2, 1955. About half of the registered voters took part in the elections, which were dominated by The Labor Front (p 4, SHM). In 1959, Singapore was granted self-government. General elections for Singapore's parliament took place on May 30, and the PAP won 43 out of 51 seats (p 5, SHM). Lee Kuan Yew was elected as Singapore's first Prime Minister.

Both Malaysia and Singapore wanted to unite the two countries. Singapore wanted to have access to Malaysia's abundance of natural resources, while Malaysia wanted to make sure that Singapore remained anti-Communist (p 5, SHM). Malaysia feared that Malaysian communists could go to Singapore and plan to take over Malaysia. On May 27, 1961, Malaysia's Prime Minister, Tunku Abdul Rahman offered to unite Singapore, peninsular Malaysia, and all of Borneo (Sarawak, Sabah, and Brunei). Prime Minister Lee supported this idea, but Singaporean communists were against it for they feared that their activities would be stopped. On July 20, the Legislative Assembly met to vote on whether those with communist beliefs should be expelled from the government. This motion passed with a vote of 27 to 8, with 16 abstentions. 13 of those who abstained were PAP pro-communists, and they were expelled from the PAP.

Between September and October, 1961, Prime Minister Lee gave twelve speeches on the radio to drum up support for the merger with Malaysia (p 7, SHM). When the time came to vote on the merger on September 1, 1962, 71% of voters supported the merger. The Federation of Malaysia was created on September 16, 1962. It was composed of Singapore, peninsular Malaysia (called Malaya at the time), Sarawak, and Sabah. Brunei did not join the union as it had enough oil to survive on its own (p 7, SHM). Tensions mounted as the Philippines claimed that Sabah belonged to them, and Indonesia claimed that the entire island of Borneo was there's (p 452, Turner et al).

In the Singapore Legislative Assembly elections on September 21, 1963, the PAP dominated (p 8, SHM). This led to racial tensions as the PAP wanted equal rights for all, regardless of race, while Malaysia's dominating party (the United Malay's National Organization, or UMNO) wanted special privileges for Malaysians (p 8, SHM). On July 21, 1964, fighting between Muslims and Chinese interrupted a celebration of the Prophet Mohammed's birthday (p 10, SHM). The racial and political tensions between Malaysia and Singapore had mounted. On May 15, 1965, the UMNO held their general assembly and unanimously agreed to separate Singapore from Malaysia (p 11, SHM).

Singapore's abrupt Independence Day on August 9, 1965 was a bittersweet one. Lee Kuan Yew tearfully explained that Singapore would not be able to survive without natural resources (p 453, Turner et al). However Lee's fears were did not come true.

Singapore's government was quite stable and free of corruption, though government opposition was punished harshly. By the 1970's, Singapore had become the second-wealthiest country in Asia, behind Japan (p 453, Turner et al). In 1990 Lee resigned, and his designated successor, Goh Chok Tong took his place as Prime Minister. Throughout the past eight years, Goh has significantly relaxed Singapore's strict rules, regulations, and censorship, though it is far from the free, democratic, structure of the United States.

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