SINGAPORE : The state of Singapore came into being exactly 50 years ago on June 3.
Singapore achieved self-government in 1959, and had full control over domestic policies, with Lee Kuan Yew as prime minister.
On 15 February 1942, British forces surrendered to the Japanese.
As events unfolded over the following decade, it became clear that with a losing war on their hands, a deteriorating economy back home, and no support from the US, it was a matter of time before the British would relinquish their colonial rule over what was then Malaya.
“It was a matter of pushing steadily, making quite clear that the imperialist forces were no longer welcome in the region. But people should make it very clear they would prefer to be independent sooner rather than later. So that was something that most of the political leaders of that generation stood fairly firm on,” said Wang Gungwu, chairman of East Asian Institute.
In 1955, the late David Marshall (1908-1995) of the Labour Front party was sworn in as Chief Minister, under a limited form of self-government. His Labour Front party had won a narrow victory in the Legislative Assembly elections, garnering 10 out of 25 contested seats.
A year later, he led a delegation to London to demand complete self-rule, but the British would not allow this. Mr Marshall later resigned.
“I think my difficulty was, I was impatient. I had no concept of compromise,” said Mr Marshall, who was the first chief minister of Singapore.
Wang said: “Given those circumstances, he (Marshall) probably was unwise to have pushed it the way he did. And his colleagues, including Lee Kuan Yew who was present then, could see that.
“I think that helped the People’s Action Party (PAP) understand the overall background much better. So when it came to their turn and opportunity to take the next step, they were much better prepared.”
The PAP courted the support of the masses whatever their political views. Their primary concern then was to get the British out. Other issues could be resolved later.
At the same time, the policies of the new Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock convinced the British that it was time to grant Singapore full internal government.
Under this arrangement, the island would become a state, with a prime minister and Cabinet overseeing all matters of government, except defence and foreign affairs.
Elections were held on 30 May 1959, and the PAP won a landslide victory, winning 43 out of 51 seats.
Former broadcaster Mr K Ramaiyah described a call he received from its leader, Lee Kuan Yew, that evening.
“After his party won, he called and he wanted to go over the air to speak to the people of Singapore, (but) the controller in the station said that there was no permission from the higher authorities for him to speak,” recalled K Ramaiyah.
Lee Kuan Yew was eventually sworn in as prime minister on 5 June 1959.
But of course, the story doesn’t end here. In fact, it was just the beginning of even more tumultuous years ahead.
And no one then could have foreseen that by the middle of the next decade, Singapore would have full independence thrust upon it, and forced to fend for itself.
A two-part documentary airs on Channel NewsAsia on Wednesday and Friday at 9:30pm to commemorate Singapore’s 50 years of self-government.
Documentary “A State of Mine” will take viewers through Singapore’s journey from self-government to independence.
To jazz things up, local duo Jack and Rai have also written the theme song for the documentary. Their lyrics attempt to touch on the feelings of a young nation at that time.
“Fast forward to today, I think some parts of the song we wrote also reflect a lot on what it means being a Singaporean, where’s your identity, and where do we go from here,” said Jack Ho of Jack and Rai.
Rai Kannu of Jack and Rai said: “For us personally, when we were writing the song, the lyrics kind of relate to the fact that we were not there in person – 50 years ago – to witness the self government…
“We were like independence kids, so we are trying to understand, or get the concept of what was it like for them at that point in time, and what it was like for the nation at that point in time. And those kind of feelings were reflected in the song as well.”State of Singapore came into being 50 years ago on June 3