Singaporean general election, 1959
All 51 seats to the Legislative Assembly
26 seats needed for a majority
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General elections were held in Singapore on 30 May 1959. They were held under the new constitution and the first in which all seats in the Legislative Assembly were elected. The result was a landslide victory for the People's Action Party (PAP), which won 43 of the 51 seats. The PAP has remained in power since the elections.
The ruling Labour Front had won the 1955 general elections under David Marshall. However, Marshall was vocally anti-British and anti-colonialist, and the British found it difficult to come to an agreement or a compromise. Eventually after failing to reach any agreement about a definite plan for self-government he resigned in 1956, following a pledge that he would achieve self-government or resign. Lim Yew Hock, another Labour Front member, took his place. He pursued an aggressive anti-communist campaign and manage to convince the British to make a definite plan for self-government. The Constitution of Singapore was revised accordingly in 1958, replacing the Rendel Constitution with one that granted Singapore self-government and the ability for its own population to fully elect its Legislative Assembly. Previously under the Rendel Constitution, drawn up in 1955 by a commission led by George William Rendel, the Legislative Assembly and its leaders could not fully be determined by the population; the British government appointed seven of the 32 members, with the remaining 25 seats elected by the public, albeit with limited suffrage. This itself was an improvement from the pre-1955 Legislative Council, in which only nine of the 25 members were elected.
As a result, the 1959 general elections were the first after full internal self-government was granted by the British authorities. Singapore was not yet fully independent, as the British still controlled external affairs such as the military and foreign relations. However, Singapore was now a recognised state.
Candidates were nominated on 25 April 1959. Compulsory voting was implemented for the first time.
Many of the campaign issues surrounded the topic of independence, as well as political issues such as the communist insurgency led by the Malayan Communist Party (MCP), which had been causing the Malayan Emergency. The desire for independence and self-government epitomised by the Malay term Merdeka, had started to become immediate. This was reflected when the cry of "We want Merdeka now!" was taken up by those demanding immediate independence. The Progressive Party, which had won the 1948 and 1951 elections, and finished second to the Labour Front in 1955 elections, fell out of favour as it was perceived by much of the electorate by working for reform too slowly. This allowed the PAP, which had protested against the existence of appointed members proscribed by the Rendel Constitution, to become the main opposition party.
By the time of the 1959 elections the Labour Front was in turmoil; Lim's tactics against the communists alienated a large part of the Chinese Singaporean electorate, the demographic targeted most during the anti-communist campaign. There were also allegations of civil rights violations as many activists were detained without trial with the justification of internal security and tear gas were used against demonstrating students from several Chinese schools, both anti-colonialist and anti-communist alike.
Lim's government was also ridden with corruption. By the time Labour Front's term was up, its credibility was in tatters. All 10 of its MPs had left the party, with Lim leading several of them to form the Singapore People's Alliance, whilst Seah Peng Chuan had left to sit as an independent, before forming the Citizens' Party shortly before the elections. In addition, Marshall had formed the Workers' Party after leaving the Assembly.
The PAP, led by Lee Kuan Yew, ran a campaign against corruption; All party members and candidates wore a distinctive outfit of white shirts and pants to represent "cleanliness" in government (which is still the uniform of PAP candidates today).
Days before polling day on 30 May, the press had predicted that the presence of multi-cornered fights would only split the anti-PAP vote, raising chances of a PAP victory.
The result was a landslide win for the PAP. The SPA lost in 35 of the constituencies it contested, and were just left with four members in the new Assembly. The Labour Front, saw their vote share decrease by 27 percentage points from 1955 and were left with no seats. The election was a disaster for the right-wing Liberal Socialist Party (LSP) formed by a merger of the Democratic Party and Progressive Party, with 20 of its 32 candidates losing their deposits and failing to win a seat.
Voter turnout was 92.9%, with 527,919 of the 586,098 registered voters casting votes. This was a huge turnout, especially when compared to the 1955 elections in which turnout was only 52.7%. The increase was largely down to the implementation of compulsory voting and the removal of suffrage restrictions.
|People's Action Party||281,891||54.1||43||+40|
|Singapore People's Alliance||107,755||20.7||4||New|
|Liberal Socialist Party||42,805||8.2||0||New|
|United Malays National Organisation||27,448||5.3||3||+2|
|Malayan Chinese Association||5,593||1.1||0||–1|
|Malayan Indian Congress||2,092||0.4||0||New|
|Katong United Residents' Association||1,759||0.3||0||New|
|Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party||1,011||0.2||0||New|
|Source: Singapore Elections|
The PAP was able to form a new government which could now adopt domestic policy without oversight from the colonial administration. The United Kingdom still however controlled the military forces, foreign affairs and had a joint responsibility in internal security under agreement. However, the year of the conclusion of the elections and the formation of the new government – 1959 – is generally the date specified by historians for the achievement of self-government for Singapore, even though the Constitution had been amended in 1958.
Before taking over, Lee Kuan Yew secured the release of several PAP members who had been arrested under the Emergency Regulation in 1956 and 1957, including left-wing leader Lim Chin Siong. During the election campaign, Lee had called for their release as part of his election platform, and thus was able to mobilise the support of many trade union members.
After their release, Lim and his affiliates would later challenge Lee's leadership in the PAP, leading to the expulsion of most of the left-wing members from the PAP in 1961. The expelled members formed the Barisan Sosialis, and would contest the 1963 general elections against the PAP. Although having been crippled by Operation Coldstore, they came closer to removing the PAP from power than any other party to date.
During the course of the parliament, two by-elections were held, both in 1961. Former PAP minister Ong Eng Guan was re-elected in Hong Lim running as an independent after leaving the PAP, whilst David Marshall was elected in Anson after the death of PAP MP Baharuddin Mohammed Ariff.
- General Elections 1959 Singapore Elections