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Road to independence

Singapore got self-government in 1959. But the British had control of internal security and defence.

Many felt a merger between Malaysia and Singapore would help Singapore achieve early independence, riding on Malaysia’s independence which was attained on Aug 31, 1957.

Tunku Abdul Rahman
Tengku Abdul Rahman
The Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tunku Abdul Rahman, was initially against the idea.

He felt that the predominantly Chinese population in Singapore would upset the delicate racial balance in Malaysia. At that time, Malays formed 49% of Malaysia’s total population while the Chinese formed 37%.

Tunku also viewed the Chinese in Singapore as being sympathetic towards the Communist cause. He was unwilling to allow the Communists to creep into Malaysia again, after it had wiped them out.

Mighty Malaysia
(ST, May 29, 1961)
The merger plan

A mighty Malaysia

It was not until 1961 that Tunku changed his stand on the issue of merger.

The Tunku feared that Singapore might rapidly change into a communist state and would then become a troublesome neighbour. The merger plan would include the Borneo territories; Sabah, Sarawak and Brunei, to maintain racial balance. This would bring the five territories closer together in political and economic cooperation, creating "a mighty Malaysia".

At a luncheon speech to the Foreign Correspondents Association in Singapore in May 1961, the Tunku announced a plan for merger.

Merger 'YES'
(ST, Sep 3, 1962)
Singaporeans want merger

Voting for merger

LKY explaining merger
Lee Kuan Yew explains what merger means to hawkers in his constituency
In September 1962, the people of Singapore voted for merger with Malaysia. Despite calls by the Barisan Sosialis to return blank votes, 71% of the voters voted in favour of Alternative A: merger.
U Thant: Go ahead
(ST, Sep 15, 1963)
UN mission survey

Terror bomb kills 2 girls at bank
(ST, Mar 11, 1965)
The MacDonald House bombing

Protest from the Philippines and Indonesia

The Malaysia negotiations were strongly opposed by the Philippines and Indonesia. The Philippines claimed that North Borneo belonged to them. President Sukarno opposed the idea of Malaysia as it was in conflict with his own dream of Indonesia Raya which would cover the Malay world.

The Philippines and Indonesia insisted that it was important to get the views of the people of the Borneo territories. A United Nations mission carried out a survey on the opinions of the people of Borneo. The findings showed that the people of Sabah and Sarawak wanted to join Malaysia.

MacDonald House bombing
Ambulance attendants carry out victims of the explosion
President Sukarno declared a state of armed confrontation which lasted for two years.

The worst incident in Singapore was the bombing of MacDonald House at Orchard Road. The confrontation ended in August 1966.

Hail Malaysia
(ST, Sept 16, 1963)
Malaysia Day

It's here
(ST, Sept 16, 1963)
The Tunku's Malaysia Day speech

It's here!

It was against this backdrop of tension that the merger was finalised and Malaysia was established on Sept 16, 1963.

Hundreds of thousands of people jammed the gaily-decorated streets in all 14 states to greet the birth of the new nation. Week-long-celebrations were held to mark Malaysia Day. It fulfilled Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew's goal of getting independence through merger. Unfurling of the Malaysia flag
The Royal Malaysian flag unfurled at the Padang after the proclamation was read by PM Lee Kuan Yew

The proclamation of Malaysia was read by Tunku Abdul Rahman at the Merdeka Stadium.




The beginning of an end

However, the merger did not last for long. Conflicts over finances, revenues, a common market and politics caused rifts in the relationship.

1) Unequal distribution of wealth
In December 1963, Lee Kuan Yew argued that the Malaysia budget created an unequal distribution of wealth instead of improving social conditions.

2) Decreased trade
The merger did not result in increased trade. Instead, Indonesia’s boycott cut off trade ties with Singapore.

3) Demands for larger portion of Singapore’s revenues
In December 1964, the Central Government demanded a larger portion of Singapore’s revenues to meet increased defence expenditure which resulted from the Confrontation.

4) Closure of the Bank of China
The Central Government ordered the closure of the Bank of China despite protests by Singapore. The Bank of China had played an important role in Singapore’s trade with China.

We don’t want PAP
(ST, March 15, 1964)
Tunku rejects PAP at rally

5) PAP’s participation in the 1964 Malaysia elections
PAP argued that it would be a more effective partner of UMNO within the Alliance instead of MCA, as it would gain the support of the Chinese community.

UMNO viewed this move as a challenge to its Malay-based political system. MCA, on the other hand, felt that this was a threat to their position in the Alliance.

Although PAP won only one seat in the elections, it added to the number of Singapore representatives in the federal legislature, making PAP the leading opposition party.

Appeal for calm
(ST, July 22, 1964)
Govt appeals for calm after riots

6) Racial riots

Riot police Racial riots between the Malays and Chinese erupted in Singapore on July 21, 1964. 23 people were killed and 454 were injured in the riots.

(Left: A police sergeant, one of the many policemen armed with canes to thrash unruly youths who took part in the anti-Malaysia demonstration)

Impossible to cooperate with Singapore while Lee is Premier
(ST, June 2, 1965)
Scathing attack of Malaysia's Finance Minister on Lee

7) Formation of a Malaysia Solidarity Convention
The PAP formed a Malaysia Solidarity Convention in May 1965 which combined various opposition parties in Malaysia. It called for a democratic Malaysian Malaysia that would be for all Malaysians and not one community.

Members of UMNO’s right wing viewed the Convention as a plot against Kuala Lumpur. Lee Kuan Yew’s open attacks against the Central government sparked accusations that he was trying to seize power for himself.

8) Support for Barisan Sosialis candidate
The rifts between the Alliance and PAP worsened when UMNO openly supported the Barisan Sosialis candidate in the Hong Lim by-election in Singapore.

Singapore is out!
(ST, Aug 10, 1965)

A dream parting of ways
(ST, Aug 10, 1965)

A pledge by Lee: We want to cooperate with Central Govt
(ST, Aug 10, 1965)
Lee promises to work with Malaysian Goverment

to the past


The Struggle

Independence Day

Singapore Dream

Shattered dreams

On Aug 7, 1965, the two prime ministers met. Singapore was told to leave Malaysia immediately. Lee Kuan Yew, Dr Toh Chin Chye and S Rajaratnam tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Tunku to change his decision.

The Tunku, saw the situation as hopeless -- as soon as one issue was resolved, another cropped up. After much thought, the Tunku was convinced that separation was the only way to settle their differences without bloodshed.

On Aug 9, 1965, Tunku Abdul Rahman issued a proclamation that Singapore would cease to be a part of Malaysia and would become independent and separate.

Lee Kuan Yew
Lee Kuan Yew, at press conference to announce the separation


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