A state of emergency was declared in Singapore on 24 June 1948, a week after emergency was launched in the Federation of Malaya following a spate of violence by the Malayan Communist Party (MCP). Though initially outlawed by colonial authorities, the MCP emerged after World War II as a legal entity owing to its role as an anti-Japanese resistance movement during the Japanese Occupation (1942–45). After the war, the MCP started to subvert law and order through its control of trade union activism and instigated labour unrest and strikes. With the resumption of civil government on 1 April 1946, the MCP continued its agitation against the constitutional changes introduced by the controversial Malayan Union. Soon after failing to prevent the establishment of the Federation of Malaya in February 1948, the MCP launched an armed insurgency under the leadership of Chin Peng with the aim of establishing a People’s Democratic Republic of Malaya, a communist state inclusive of Singapore.
During the Emergency, the MCP in Singapore carried out numerous acts of violence and sabotage including murders, assassinations and arson attacks in the early 1950s. It sabotaged British-owned interests and companies in order to tie down British resources in Singapore. Communist hit squads carried out numerous assassinations in Singapore, including an attempted assassination on then Governor of Singapore Franklin Gimson.
Thereafter, the party’s campaign began to stall as their terror tactics alienated many people from their cause and they were unable to establish “liberated” areas. Under the leadership of Gerald Templer, who was then the high commissioner and director of operations, government forces gained the upper hand against the communist forces. Significant setbacks in the armed struggle and declining mass support forced the MCP to place greater emphasis on communist united front (CUF) activities. The CUF strategy involved the infiltration and subversion of open and legal organisations to create unrest and destabilise the country. With a more liberal political environment following the adoption of the Rendel Constitution in 1954, the CUF movement in Singapore expanded and flourished. The MCP soon infiltrated political parties, trade unions, student bodies and cultural and rural organisations, and was able to capitalise on industrial disputes and unpopular government policies to foment unrest.
In 1955, the Emergency Regulations were reviewed by the Singapore government led by David Marshall. The overall review was completed by August 1955 and it was decided that the Emergency Regulations were to be replaced by a new set of security laws, the most important of which was the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance. The Preservation of Public Security Ordinance replaced the Emergency Regulations in Singapore on 18 October 1955 after due parliamentary process.
Meanwhile, the communists appeared to be losing the jungle war, and Chin Peng made an unsuccessful attempt to negotiate with Tunku Abdul Rahman and David Marshall – then the chief ministers of the Federation of Malaya and Singapore respectively – during talks held in Baling, Kedah, on 28 and 29 December 1955. Both chief ministers rejected the three demands of the communists: the recognition of the MCP, immediate freedom for all terrorists should they surrender, and the right to form a new political party to propagate their ideology.
On 31 July 1960, the Malayan government officially lifted the state of emergency. By then, the conflict had killed and wounded 8,000 civilians and security personnel. Despite the end of the Emergency, the threat of the CPM persisted. In 1968, the CPM declared its return to armed revolt. It re-established assault units in the Malaysian jungles while underground groups emerged in Singapore and Malaysia to direct acts of violence and subversion. The CPM threat continued and only came to a formal end with the signing of the Haadyai Peace Agreements in December 1989.
1. S’pore now in state of emergency. (1948, June 24). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1; New powers will cover federation. (1948, June 18). The Straits Times, p. 1; Behind the murders. (1948, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 6; Henson, B. (1988, May 4). CPM is like a plant which can grow again. The Straits Times, p. 20; Demand for Action. (1948, June 9). The Straits Times, p. 6; Drastic Powers Now in Force. (1948, 17 June). The Straits Times, p. 1; Lawlessness in Malaya, Special powers for emergency. (1948, June 14). The Straits Times, p. 8; STOP PRESS 3 planters shot dead near Ipoh. (1948, June 16). The Straits Times, p. 1; Five Estate Murders in One Day. (1948, June 17). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Alleged communistic activities. (1931, June 20). The Singapore Free Press and Mercantile Advertiser (1884–1942), p. 12. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Hack, K. (2009). The Malayan Emergency as counter-insurgency paradigm. Journal of Strategic Studies, 32(3), 2. Retrieved November 29, 2013, from Open Research Online website: http://oro.open.ac.uk/18840/2/Hack_Malaya_27_02_09_JSS_v1_6.pdf
4. Cheah, B. K. (2003). Red star over Malaya: Resistance and social conflict during and after the Japanese Occupation of Malaya, 1941–1946 (pp. 241–243). Call no.: RSING 959.5103 CHE.
5. Interpreting terrorism. (1948, June 23). The Straits Times, p. 4; Red plot for power revealed. (1948, June 28). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1; The labour unrest. (1948, June 9). The Straits Times, p. 4; Unknown. (1948, June 17). The Singapore Free Press, p. 8; The Straits Times, 4 May 1988, p. 20; Chin Peng – the man Britain ‘trusted’ is now a dangerous foe. (1951, September 7). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chin, P. (2003). My side of history (pp. 201–206). Singapore: Media Masters. Call no.: RSING 959.5104092 CHI.
6. Van der Kroef, J. M. (1964, September). Singapore’s communist fronts. Problems of Communism, 54. Retrieved Novermber 29, 2013 from UNZ.org website: http://www.unz.org/Pub/ProblemsCommunism-1964sep-00053; Red murder & arson plot bared. (1950, May 2). The Straits Times, p. 1; Extortion cases on the increase. (1950, May 28). The Straits Times, p. 9; A record of hard work, vigilance and good progress. (1952, August 30). The Straits Times, p. 11; Red menace is still with us – Taylor. (1954, May 19). The Straits Times, p. 8; Abisheganaden, F. (1956, January 27). Colony is prize red target. The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7.Clague, P. (1980). Iron Spearhead: The true story of a communist killer squad in Singapore. Singapore: Heinemann Educational Books Asia. Call no.: RSING 335.43095957 CLA.
8. Midnight bomb attack on Gimson. (1950, April 29). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. Morale in the jungle. (1953, June 8). The Straits Times, p. 6; When Templer leaves. (1954, January 1). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Ramakrishna, K. (2001, February). ‘Transmogrifying’ Malaya: The impact of Sir Gerald Templer (1952–54). Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, 32(1), 79. Retrieved from JSTOR; The Straits Times, 1 Jan 1954, p. 6.
11. Singh, B. (2015). Quest for political power: Communist subversion and militancy in Singapore (pp. 34–56). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions. Call no.: RSING 335.4095957 SIN.
12. Singh, 2015, pp. 57–140.
13. Lee, T. H. (1996). The open united front: The communist struggle in Singapore 1954–1966 (p. 97). Singapore: South Seas Society. Call no.: RSING 959.5703 LEE-[HIS].
14. No to red’s end war offer. (1955, June 24). The Straits Times, p. 1; Document of defeat. (1955, June 24). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. The talks start today. (1955, December 28). The Straits Times, p. 1; Miller, H. (1955, December 29). Chin Peng gets his answer. The Straits Times, p. 1; Malaya’s firm dealing with the communist bosses. (1955, December 31). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Hack, 2009, p. 1. The end of the war. (1960, April 20). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Comber, L. (2008). Malaya’s Secret Police, 1945–60: The role of the Special Branch in the Malayan Emergency (p. 6) Singapore, ISEAS Publishing. Call no.: RSING 363.283095951 COM
18. Nair, C. V. D. (Ed.). (1976). Socialism that works… The Singapore way (pp. 12–25). Singapore: Federal Publications. RSING 335.0095957 SOC.
19. Chin, 2003, ch. 29.
The information in this article is valid as at 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.