STATE OF SINGAPORE
In 1953, a British Commission, headed by Sir George Rendel, proposed a limited form of self-government for Singapore. A new Legislative Assembly with twenty-five out of thirty-two seats chosen by popular election would replace the Legislative Council, from which a Chief Minister as head of government and Council of Ministers as a cabinet would be picked under a parliamentary system. The British would retain control over areas such as internal security and foreign affairs, as well as veto power over legislation.
The 1955 election for the Legislative Assembly held on 2 April 1955 was a lively and closely fought affair, with several newly formed political parties joining the fray. Unlike previous elections, voters were automatically registered, expanding the electorate to around 300,000. The SPP was soundly defeated in the election, winning only four seats. The newly formed, left-leaning Labour Front was the biggest winner with ten seats and it formed a coalition government with the UMNO-MCA Alliance, which won three seats. Another new party, the leftist People's Action Party (PAP), won three seats.
Partial Internal Self-Government (1955–1959)
The leader of the Labour Front, David Marshall, became the first Chief Minister of Singapore. He presided over a shaky government, receiving little co-operation from either the colonial government or the other local parties. In May 1955, the Hock Lee Bus Riots broke out, killing four people, and seriously discredited Marshall's government. The Chinese Middle School riots broke out in 1956 among students in schools such as The Chinese High School, further increasing the tension between the local government and the Chinese students and unionists who were perceived as having communist sympathies.
In April 1956, Marshall led a delegation to London to negotiate for complete self-rule in the Merdeka Talks, but the talks fell through due to British concerns about communist influence and unrest and labour strikes from workers and from trade unions which were undermining Singapore's economic stability. Marshall continued to pressure the British, before declaring that if the British did not give Singapore self-rule, he would resign. However, the British were unrelenting and wanted to retain important control over Singapore's internal security. Marshall resigned following the failure of the talk. His successor as Chief Minister, Lim Yew Hock, launched a crackdown on communist and leftist groups, imprisoning many trade union leaders and several pro-communist members of the PAP under the Internal Security Act.
The British government approved of Lim's tough stance against communist agitators, and when a new round of talks was held beginning 11 March 1957, they were amenable to granting almost complete self-government, only retaining control over external security, and allowing internal security to be an area of shared responsibility between the local government and them.
When the talks concluded on 11 April, it was agreed that a State of Singapore would be created, with its own citizenship, consisting of persons born in Singapore or the Federation of Malaya, British citizens of two years' residence, and others of ten years' residence. The Legislative Assembly would be expanded to fifty-one members, entirely chosen by popular election, and the Prime Minister and Cabinet would control all aspects of government except defence and foreign affairs.
The British-appointed Governor was to be replaced by a Yang di-Pertuan Negara, to represent Queen Elizabeth II, who remained titular head of state. The British government would be represented by a Commissioner, who had responsibility for defence and foreign policy, apart from trade and cultural relations, and would preside over an Internal Security Council, consisting of three members from the United Kingdom, three from Singapore (including the Prime Minister) and one from the Federation of Malaya.
Full Internal Self-Government (1959 – 1963)
Elections for the new Legislative Assembly were held in May 1959. This time round, the PAP swept the election, winning forty-three of the fifty-one seats. They had accomplished this by courting the Chinese-speaking majority, particularly those in the labour unions and radical student organisations. The leader of the PAP, Lee Kuan Yew, became the first Prime Minister of Singapore.
The PAP's victory was viewed with dismay by foreign and local business leaders. Although Lee and the other leaders of the PAP hailed from the "moderate" wing of the party, many of the other members were staunchly pro-communist. Many businesses promptly shifted their headquarters from Singapore to Kuala Lumpur.
Despite these ill omens, the PAP government embarked on a vigorous program to address Singapore's various economic and social problems. The plan for the economy was overseen by the capable Goh Keng Swee, the new Minister of Finance, whose strategy was to encourage foreign and local investment using a wide variety of measures, ranging from low tax rates and tax holidays to the establishment of a new industrial estate in the Jurong area.
At the same time, the education system was revamped with the goal of suiting the workforce to the needs of employers; more technical and vocational schools were established, and English was promoted over Chinese as a language of instruction. The long-standing problem of labour unrest was suppressed by consolidating existing labour unions, sometimes forcibly, into a single umbrella organisation, the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC), which was closely affiliated with the government.
On the social front, an attack was launched on the long-standing housing problem by an aggressive and well-funded public housing program, overseen by the Housing and Development Board (HDB). Headed by the banker and industrialist Lim Kim San, the HDB constructed more than 5,000 high-rise, low-cost apartments during its first two years of operation.