Therefore, let us be clear in our minds that the Government is under no compulsion to have this referendum and there is no necessity to resort to trickery…The final position which we want to achieve is not just merger, but a merger under which the various races in Malaya will live in peace and harmony. …It is the duty of the Government to try and bring merger and Malaysia about peacefully by consent with the maximum of goodwill and of give and take. [Lee Kuan Yew, 1962. Singapore Legislative Assembly. Debates: Official Reports. (1962, March 16). Singapore National Referendum Bill (Vol. 17(3), cols. 281, 286). Retrieved from Singapore Parliament website: parliament.gov.sg]
Malayan Prime Minster Tunku Abdul Rahman’s historic announcement on 27 May 1961 proposing the possibility of Singapore’s merger with the Federation of Malaya was welcomed by the Singapore government and moderates in the People’s Action Party (PAP). However, it caused consternation among the PAP pro-communist and non-communist factions and precipitated an open confrontation between the moderates and pro-communists in the PAP over merger. The pro-communists dreaded the prospect of Singapore coming under the control of the anti-communist government in Kuala Lumpur who would then crack down on the leftists in Singapore. The open confrontation caused the pro-communist faction to break from the PAP in July 1961 and form the Barisan Sosialis. Thus began the battle for merger between the PAP and Barisan Sosialis – a battle to win the hearts and minds of the people for the future of Singapore.
The terms of merger as agreed between the Singapore and Malayan governments were made official with the release of the White Paper in November 1961. The Barisan opposed the government’s approach to merger, criticising in particular the restrictive citizenship stipulations. Then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew responded with a series of radio broadcasts to convince the people of merger and why the pro-communists were out to sabotage the union. The government also decided to submit the question of merger to a popular referendum, presenting three alternative forms of merger. Known as the National Referendum of 1962, it was a constitutional process to decide on the “mode and manner” of Singapore’s unification with Malaya.
The Singapore National Referendum Bill was tabled at the Legislative Assembly and debated from 27 June to 11 July 1962 with eight midnight sessions. The debates were lengthy, heated and repetitious. The Bill was finally passed by a vote of 26 to 18 on 6 July 1962. The Singapore National Referendum Ordinance came into operation on 13July 1962. The referendum was held on 1 September 1962 after two weeks of active campaigning. The results of the referendum were announced in the wee hours of 2 September 1962. An overwhelming majority of the population, 70 percent, had chosen merger that was in accordance with the terms set out in the 1961 White Paper. After the polls, Barisan leader Lee Siew Choh declared that the referendum was a “sham” and that the results “[did] not reflect the will of the people”.
The Barisan continued to rally the people to support their struggle against Malaysia even though they had lost the battle for merger.
1. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A History of Modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (p. 278). Singapore: NUS Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS]
2. Turnbull, 2009, p. 278.
3. Lee, T. H. (1996). The open united front: The communist struggle in Singapore, 1954–1966 (pp. 231–247). Singapore: South Seas Society. Call no.: RSING 959.5703 LEE-[HIS]
4. Lee, K. Y. (2015). The battle for merger. Singapore: National Archives of Singapore and Straits Times Press. Call no.: RSING 959.5704; Turnbull, 2009, p. 280.
5. Singapore. Legislative Assembly. Debates: Official Report. (1962, March 16).Singapore National Referendum Bill. (Vol. 17(3), cols. 281, 286). Singapore: Legislative Asseamby. Call no.: RCLOS 328.5957 SIN-[HWE]
6. Singapore. (1962, August 17). Government gazette Extraordinary. (G.N. 55, p. 1093). Singapore: [s.n.]. Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SGG
7. Referendum Bill is passed in Assembly. (1962, July 7). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Lee, K. Y. (1998). The Singapore story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew (p. 430). Singapore: Times Editions, Singapore Press Holdings. Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE-[HIS]; Hussin Mutalib. (2004). Parties and politics: A study of opposition parties and the PAP in Singapore (p. 92). Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic. Call no.: RSING 324.25957 HUS
8. The Straits Times, 7 Jul 1962, p. 6; Singapore. 1962 Supplement to the Laws of the State of Singapore. (1962, July 13). Singapore National Referendum Ordinance (Ord. 19 of 1962, p. 105). Singapore: [s.n.]. Call no.: RCLOS 348.5957 SIN-[HWE]
9. Lee, 1998, p. 446; Lee's trump card. (1962, August 15). The Straits Times, p. 1; Sam, J. (1962, September 1). Merger D-Day in S’pore. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Lee, 1998, p. 451.
11. Barisan leader: Result and we We reject the fight On…. (1962, September 3). The Straits Times, p. 18. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
12. Drysdale, J. G. S. (1984). Singapore, struggle for success. (pp. 313–314). Singapore: Times Book International. Call no.: RSING 959.57 DRY-[HIS]
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.