The Malayan Democratic Union (MDU) was conceived by a group of English-educated middle-class intellectuals to fight for and further the cause of an independent Malaya that would also include Singapore. The party’s chairman and chief financier was well-known lawyer Philip Hoalim. However, its leadership lay in the hands of left-wing radicals, such as Cambridge-educated lawyers Lim Kean Chye and John Eber as well as journalist Eu Chooi Yip. Wu Tian Wang of the Malayan Communist Party was also a member of its central committee. By 1948, the MDU had become a Malayan Communist Party front organisation.
Inaugurated on 21 December 1945, the MDU was the first local political party to emerge after the war in Singapore. The MDU was initiated in response to post-war constitutional developments, specifically the announcement in October 1945 of the Malayan Union scheme that proposed to merge the Malay states and the Straits Settlements of Penang and Malacca into a single administrative unit. The MDU agreed to accept the scheme on condition that Singapore was included as part of a future self-governing united Malaya within the British Commonwealth. Believing that the combined efforts of all anti-colonial forces were necessary to achieve independence, the MDU sought to build a broad political front from the outset.
The Malayan Union was officially inaugurated on 1 April 1946. However, intense Malay opposition prompted separate Anglo-Malay negotiations to replace the union with a federation. Meanwhile, the MDU increasingly departed from its initial moderate stance after its proposals for constitutional reforms were ignored or rejected by the government. From December 1946, MDU became deeply involved in the Pan-Malayan Council of Joint Action (PMCJA), which was a coalition of civic and political groups opposing the federation scheme. The MDU proposed an alternative scheme, The People’s Constitutional Proposals for Malaya, and organised a protest through hartal, or economic boycott, in October 1947 against the revised constitutional proposals by the government. The MDU also boycotted the March 1948 Legislative Council election.
Failure to block the implementation of the Federation Agreement in February 1948 led the MDU to re-evaluate its strategy. However, the outbreak of communist insurrection, the declaration of Emergency as well as a tightening of the political environment in Singapore resulted in the voluntary dissolution of the MDU on 24 June 1948.
1. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (p. 234). Singapore: NUS Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS]; Yeo, K. W. (1973). Political Development in Singapore, 1945–55 (p. 93). Singapore: Singapore University Press. Call no.: RSING 320.95957 YEO
2. Yeo, 1973, pp. 88–89.
3. Turnbull, 2009, p. 234; Purcell, V. (1946, March). A Malayan Union: The proposed new constitution. Pacific Affairs, 19(1), 27–28. Retrieved from JSTOR.
4. Yeo, 1973, pp. 89–90.
5. Yeo, 1973, p. 89; M.D.U. to be pan-Malayan. (1946, January 21). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Malayan Union inaugurated. (1946, April 2). The Straits Times, p. 3. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Mohamed Noordin Sopiee. (2005). From Malayan Union to Singapore separation: Political unification in the Malaysia region, 1945–65 (pp. 33–38). Kuala Lumpur: University Malaya Press. Call no.: RSING 959.5 MOH
8. Yeo, 1973, p. 90.
9. Yeo, 1973, p. 90; Mohamed Noordin Sopiee, 2005, p. 39.
10. Turnbull, 2009, p. 235; Plan for all-Malaya hartal. (1947, October 6). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
11. Singapore election boycott. (1947, August 13). The Straits Times, p. 1; M.D.U. calls for boycott. (1948, February 26). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Yeo, 1973, pp. 90, 97.
13. Yeo, 1973, p. 98; M.D.U puts up shutters. (1948, June 24). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at Dec 2015 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.