The Humble Red Dot

Post-War Years: 1957-1967, Merdeka

Japan was a cruel occupier during the first few years of rule. They had taken the remnants of the British military and law enforcement prisoner. Many were sent to labor camps. Afterwards, Japan began the purge of, what they deemed to be, hostile elements to their rule. For a month, the Japanese targeted the Chinese population. 50,000 were killed for exhibiting some form of anti-Japanese sentiment during a loyalty test. The local Tamil and Malay population faced forced labor and execution.

However, the fighting spirit of the people of the Red Dot never diminished. Resistance cells formed throughout the island. Often these cells came from the local area community, which resulted in the Chinese, Tamil, and Malay’s forming separate organizations early on. There was some distrust, but by the wars end, they were a united cause.

A year before the war ended in 1957, the British returned. Much of the island was still smoldering as the last of the Japanese were captured or killed by the combined forces of the British armed forces and Singaporean Resistance. The British were begrudgingly welcomed by the local population to help retake the island. It had been a generation since the British surrendered their home to the devastation.

When the Japanese surrendered, Singapore was returned to Britain along with the Malay states. Singapore subsequently was separated from Malay and became a Crown Colony in 1959. Singaporeans were granted the right to vote for representatives to the Legislative Council. Most members were still appointed by the Governor. Singaporeans continually questioned Britain’s right to rule, especially as a colony without rights in the mainland. Two movements formed: the Full Representation Movement and the Merdeka Movement. The Full Rep Movement sought to bring Singapore fully into the United Kingdom as a member state, including representation in Parliament. The Merdeka Movement continued the push for the territory to become a sovereign nation.

By 1962, Britain had tried to meet some of the demands of the Full Representation Movement, believing it would subdue both movements. Singapore would become a partially self-ruled colony with a newly developed constitution. The Legislative Assembly was formed, which provided more elected representatives to the people, with a smaller number appointed by the Governor. Britain still handled all external affairs. In 1964, the constitution was amended once again to replace the Governor with a local monarch representative and allowed all seats in the Assembly to be elected by the people.

This did not quell the Merdeka Movement, which held three large-scale protests during the 1965 elections to encourage the Legislative Assembly to declare independence from Britain. The newly-selected Chief Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, entered negotiations with the British in 1965 to make Singapore a sovereign nation. After several rounds, which included maintaining a British naval base and provisions to allow British citizens to depart or to become Singaporean citizens, Britain agreed. In 1967, the Legislative Assembly passed the Republic of Singapore Independence Act, officially establishing the island as Southeast Asia’s newest Republic.