Singapore in the merger years: from the Japanese surrender to its entry into the Federation of Malaya

Japan’s surrender and the return of Singapore under British control

Giappone - Singapore


On August the 15th, 1945 the Emperor of Japan  Hirohito announced the declaration of unconditional surrender1 and therefore the Japanese General Seishiro Hitagachi, lieutenant in charge of Singapore, on September the 2nd of the same year signed the documents of Japanese surrender in front of the British admiral Lord Louis Mountbatten, who at that time was the supreme commander of allied forces in Southeast Asia2.

Since April the 1st, 1946, Singapore returned back under the control of British military administration,  date on which the Straits Settlements were formally abolished. 

Therefore the ex-colonies of Penang and Melaka were embodied into the so called Malay Union (from 1948 Federation of Malaya) while Singapore became a colony of British Crown where was established a provisional civilian Government, whose administration was entrusted to the British governor Sir Franklin Gimson3.

During this transition period many evils affected the population of Singapore; the absolute lack of basic sanitary and hygienic conditions, the growing general corruption, a huge increase of crime activities, the galloping spread of black market,not to talk about the immoderate consumption of opium, gambling and prostitution, which during Japanese occupation had became a legally permitted practice4.

The first elections of Singapore Legislative Council and the Rendel Constitution

On March the 20th, 1948 were held the first general elections of Singapore Legislative Council; an institutional committee having 22 members, 6 of whom were directly elected by people. To this electoral competition took part two parties: Indipendents and Progressive Party, which was mainly supported by Europeans, anglophones, traders and professionals. At the moment of the votes counting there was an almost perfect situation of equality, while the subsequent elections of 1951 saw the triumph of Progressive Party5.

In 1953, in order to encourage an independent political development of Singapore colony, the British Government assigned Sir George Rendel the task of charing a committee, which was responsable for the creation and activation of a constitution. As a consequence, in 1954 was written the Rendel Constitution, a true bastion political and civil rights of Singapore6.

The autonomy path through which British Government was leading the colony of Singapore was just getting started. They established a unicameral legislative assembly composed by 32 members and consequently there was a considerable intensification of political activity, which led to a further increase in the number of political forces involved in this competition. 

The elections of 1955 ended with a clear victory for David Marshall, leader of Singapore Labour Front, who defeated Lee Kuan Yew of People’s action Party (a pro-communist coalition).


The Constitutional Agreement and the entry of Singapore into the Federation of Malaya

The continuous indipendist pressures of the new Government  pushed London to accept and recognize, through the Constitutional Agreement of 1958, the total self-government of Singapore island. In 1959 the Legislative Assembly increased the number of its polling stations, which became 51, 43 of which were conquired by People’s Action Party led by Lee Kuan Yew, who became in turn the new Prime Minister of Singapore7.

Singapore had almost become an independent Nation, except for matters relared to foreign policy, public security and defence, which were still ruled by London’s Colonial Office.

In this period, the official meetings between the leaders of Kuala Lumpur and Singapore increaded considerably. In fact, just the Prime Minister of Malay Federation, Tunku Abduhl Rahman, on May the 27th, 1961 in a famous speech about the desirable political participation of Singapore at the ambitious project of Malay Federation and the cooperation between the two Nations, expressed his agreement with the following words:

“Malaya today as a nation realize that she cannot stand alone in isolation. Outside of international politics the national one must be broad-based. Sooner or later she should have an understanding with Britain and the peoples of Singapore, Borneo, Bruney and Sarawak. It is premature for me to say now how this closer understanding can be brought about, but it is inevitable that we should look ahead to this objective and think of a plan whereby these territories can be brought closer together in a political and economic cooperation.”(8).

A first popular referendum held on Settember the 1st, 1962, concerning the entry of Singapore into Malay Federation project, officially demonstrated the wide poular support of Singaporeans to the proposal made by the Malaysian leader Tunku Abduhl Rahman. The next year, exactly on September the 16th, 1963, Singapore ceased to be a British colony and became part of the Federation of Malaysia9.

Lee Kuan Yew, Tunku Abduhl Rahman

Fig. 12

A historical picture of 1962 captures the enthusiasm of Lee Kuan Yew (on the left) and Tunku Abduhl Rahman (on the right) at their return from the negotiations for the establishment of Federation Malaysia held in Londra10.

Approfondimenti e Letture Consigliate

1Gordin D. Michael, Five days in August: how World War II became a nuclear war, Princeton University Press, Princeton, New Jersey, 2007, United States of America.

2Foong Choon Hon, Eternal Vigilance: the price of freedom, Asiapac Books Pte Ltd, Singapore, 2006, based on the Chinese book Ju An Si Wei, translated by Yuen Chen Ching, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce & Industry, 1999, Republic of Singapore.

3Kuo C. Y. Eddie, Chen S. J. Peter, Communication Policy and Planning in Singapore, Kegan Paul International, London, 1983, United Kingdom.

4Quah S.T. John, Public Administration Singapore-Style, Research in Public Policy Analysis and Menagment, Volume 19, Emerald Group Publishing Limited, Bingley, 2010, UK, op. cit.

5Nohlen Dieter, Grotz Florian, Hartmann Christof, Elections in Asia and the Pacific, vol. II South East Asia, East Asia and the South Pacific, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001, UK.

Vol. 1

Vol 2

7Nohlen Dieter, Grotz Florian, Hartmann Christof, Elections in Asia and the Pacific, vol II South East Asia, East Asia and the South Pacific, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001, UK, op. cit.

8Gullick J. M., Malaysia and its neighbours, The World Studies Series, general editor: Henderson James, Routledge & Kegan Paul Limited, London, 1967, Great Britain, p. 28, trad.: «Oggi la Malesia come nazione comprende di non poter rimanere da sola in isolamento. Al di là delle politiche internazionali quella nazionale deve essere di ampie vedute. Presto o tardi dovrebbe avere un’intesa con la Gran Bretagna e le genti di Singapore, Borneo, Brunei, e Sarawak. É per me prematuro dire adesso come questa più vicina intesa possa essere messa in atto, ma è inevitabile che dovremmo guardare avanti verso questo obiettivo e pensare ad un piano tramite il quale questi territori si possano riunire in una cooperazione politica ed economica».

9Nohlen Dieter, Grotz Florian, Hartmann Christof, Elections in Asia and the Pacific, vol II South East Asia, East Asia and the South Pacific, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 2001, op. cit.

Dr. Biagio Faraci, traduttore tecnico, interprete di trattativa ed international web business consultant

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