Singaporean general election, 1963

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Singaporean general election, 1963
1959 ←
21 September 1963 → 1968

All 51 seats to the Legislative Assembly
26 seats needed for a majority
Turnout 587,433 (95.1%)
  First party Second party Third party
  Lee Kuan Yew cropped.jpg Dr Lee Siew Choh.jpg
Leader Lee Kuan Yew Lee Siew Choh Ong Eng Guan
Leader's seat Tanjong Pagar Rochore
(Contested but lost seat)
Hong Lim
Last election 43 seats, 54.1% None None
Seats before 25[1] 14[2] 2[3]
Seats won 37 13 1
Seat change Increase12 Decrease1 Decrease1
Popular vote 272,924 193,301 48,785
Percentage 46.9% 33.2% 8.4%
Swing Decrease7.2% Increase33.2% Increase8.4%

Prime Minister before election

Lee Kuan Yew

Elected Prime Minister

Lee Kuan Yew

Coat of arms of Singapore (blazon).svg
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The Singaporean legislative assembly general election of 1963 was an election that took place in Singapore on 21 September 1963 following five days after the merger with Malaysia and therefore as an autonomous state of Malaysia. Based on results from a poll of Singapore citizens from their respective constituencies, the elections decided the composition of 51 seats for the Legislative Assembly of Singapore, the predecessor to the Parliament of Singapore, to nominated candidates.

The ruling People's Action Party was re-elected to a second term as it won 37 out of the 51 seats, the Barisan Sosialis 13 and the United People's Party 1. The 1963 elections are also known for being the elections where the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), the ruling party of the Central Government in Malaysia tried to oust the People's Action Party by sending in the UMNO-backed Singapore Alliance Party to contest the elections, violating previous agreement not to do so and a highlight in the relations between UMNO and the PAP.

It was the only election ever to be held in Singapore while Singapore was still a state of Malaysia. Following the independence of Singapore in 1965, the Legislative Assembly became the first Parliament of the Republic of Singapore, and its members became Members of Parliament.

Election background[edit]

The elections were called out of necessity to reform the government and allocate the mandate to the winner in accordance with the constitution especially after the change in Singapore's sovereignty after the merger with the Malayisan Federation. Earlier, on 31 August 1963 Singapore had been declared independent with the ruling People's Action Party (PAP) declared as trustees until the merger would be complete. On 3 September 1963 Lee Kuan Yew, the Prime Minister, dissolved the Legislative Assembly in accordance to procedure on 3 September, and called for elections to be held on 21 September.

This election, held in the midst of Singapore's merger with Malaysia, is remembered as PAP's most hard-fought election ever in history. With 39 seats after two by-election defeats and two defections to UPP, PAP expelled 13 of its Assembly Members from the party a week after they voted against the PAP government in a no-confidence motion on 20 July 1961, leaving PAP hanging onto a slim one-seat majority- with 26 PAP MPs to the opposition's 25. The dissidents formed a new party, the Barisan Sosialis (BS), which PAP alleged was a communist front.

On 3 July 1962, while the National Referendum debate was in procession, PAP legislator Ho Puay Choo resigned, leaving it one seat short against the opposition. She joined the BS on 11 August 1962 but five days later, the United People's Party's legislator S. V. Lingam returned to PAP's fold and it regained a one-seat majority. Another five days later, minister Ahmad Ibrahim died from liver cancer, leaving a 25 to 25 stand-off in the legislature. Barisan planned to field its iconic leader, Lim Chin Siong, in the vacated seat but Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew decided against holding a by-election, choosing instead to call an election to court a fresh mandate. If the government failed to be re-elected, the Malaysia Federal government could deal with a new pro-communist ruling party in Singapore.

Before that, the PAP government launched Operation Coldstore on 2 February 1963 and detained several BS leaders, including Lim. Sole Workers' Party legislator David Saul Marshall resigned from the party he founded and became the only independent. Once again, PAP fielded a full slate but faced intensive challenges from three components that did nearly the same. Barisan and its partner, Pakatan Rakyat fielded candidates in all except two seats, and the UPP had an unusual large number of candidates. Another participant was the Singapore Alliance Party, an extension of the ruling federal Alliance Party in Malaysia. It was a formalised umbrella consisting of the Singapore People's Alliance along with the local branches of UMNO, the Malayan Chinese Association and Malayan Indian Congress. However, its leader former Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock opted not to run in the elections, citing a defamation campaign by the PAP.[4]

According to the book Men in White (2009) which provided insight into the PAP's history and years in power, PAP officials warned on the final night of campaigning that if BS won, Malaysia would send troops into Singapore and invoke emergency powers in place of the incoming government. This was said to have accounted for the eventual victory of the PAP the following day.


The voter turnout on polling day was large – 587,330 voters out of a possible of 617,650 voters, meaning a turnout of 95.1%. The PAP contested all 51 seats available for election, with the Barisan Sosialis contesting 46. In the end, PAP managed to eke out an election victory with a two-thirds majority, an outcome which had been in doubt or unexpected in the lead up to the vote. However, the Barisan Sosialis was again not falling far behind. They failed to win most of the seats however, and this was also hampered by the split in the anti-PAP vote in individual constituencies – this was reflected by the fact that they had won 33.2% of the votes by popular vote in comparison to winning roughly a quarter of the seats.

Party Votes % Seats +/-
People's Action Party 272,924 46.9 37 −6
Barisan Sosialis 193,301 33.2 13 +13
Singapore Alliance 48,967 8.4 0
United People's Party 48,785 8.4 1 +1
Partai Rakyat 8,259 1.4 0
Pan-Malayan Malaysian Party 1,545 0.3 0
United Democratic Party 760 0.1 0
Workers' Party 286 0.1 0
Independents 6,788 1.2 0 −1
Invalid/blank votes 5,818 - - -
Turnout 587,433 95.1 51 -
Electorate 617,450
Source: Singapore Elections

The PAP won just under 47% of the popular vote in 1963, compared to 54% in 1959, suffering a large dent in their share of the vote although they had won roughly 71% of the seats.

The 47% result represented the lowest ever share of the vote PAP has won since first winning government in 1959.

All except in three constituencies saw a total of 92 candidates forfeit their deposits, in the biggest election "slaughter" ever. It was because of this heated elections that the PAP did not appreciate UMNO's actions of backing the Singapore Alliance Party's attempts to oust them, especially when they had agreed not to compete with each other's elections, of state and federal governments respectively. This contributed to the decline in PAP-UMNO relations. Nevertheless, the PAP obtained a fresh mandate, and the new Legislative Assembly, again backing the PAP, was formed soon after.

Thereafter, to discourage rampant defections, the PAP government passed a law stipulating that legislators who resign or are expelled from the parties they were elected under would lose their seats.


During the term of the Assembly there were five by-elections:


  1. ^ "LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY GENERAL ELECTION 1963 – SEATS". Singapore Elections. Retrieved 22 January 2013. 
  2. ^ "LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY GENERAL ELECTION 1963 – SEATS". Singapore Elections. Retrieved 22 January 2013. 
  3. ^ "LEGISLATIVE ASSEMBLY GENERAL ELECTION 1963 – SEATS". Singapore Elections. Retrieved 22 January 2013. 
  4. ^ Lau, Albert (1998). A Moment of Anguish: Singapore in Malaysia and the Politics of Disengagement. Singapore: Times Academic Press. ISBN 981-210-1349.