The 1958 State of Singapore Constitution or the Singapore (Constitution) Order in Council 1958 laid out the basic government structure for a self-governing Singapore. It replaced the Singapore Colony Order in Council 1955, more popularly known as the Rendel Constitution, which came into force on 8 February 1955. The new constitution vested the Singapore government with full internal governing powers, with the exception of matters pertaining to internal security and defence. Internal self-government for Singapore was achieved as a result of three all-party constitutional talks held in London from 1956 to 1958 between the British Colonial Office and 13 members from the Singapore Legislative Assembly.
Under the terms of the 1958 constitution, Singapore would gain a fully elected and self-governing 51-seat Legislative Assembly. The post of Governor would be abolished to be replaced by the office of the Yang di-Pertuan Negara as the constitutional head of state. The Yang di-Pertuan Negara would be filled by a Malayan-born person who would act as the Queen’s representative for a four-year term. The head of state would have the power to appoint the prime minister based on the person’s ability to command and gain majority support from the legislature. The prime minister would appoint a cabinet of ministers to form the government, which in turn would be directly responsible to the Legislative Assembly. The 1958 constitution also contained a provision stating that the government had a special responsibility to protect the rights of minority communities. This provision was in addition to other provisions covering the framework for the different areas of government such as the judicial system and public administration.
To mark the fact that Singapore had yet to gain full independence from the British, the 1958 constitution also included the provision for the office of a British High Commissioner who would act on royal instruction and serve as chairman of the new Internal Security Council. Under the constitution, the British would retain responsibility for Singapore’s defence and foreign affairs, while internal security would be managed by an Internal Security Council comprising three representatives each from Singapore, Britain and the Federation of Malaya.
The 1958 constitution was brought into force by outgoing Governor William Goode on 3 June 1959 by proclamation. Goode was then sworn in as the first Yang di-Pertuan Negara following the proclamation. Lee Kuan Yew, who was then the secretary-general of the People’s Action Party, was subsequently installed as Singapore’s first prime minister on 5 June after leading his party to an overwhelming victory in the Legislative Assembly general election held a few days earlier on 30 May.
1. Tan, K. Y. L. (Ed.). (1999). The Singapore legal system (pp. 44–45). Singapore: Singapore University Press. Call no.: RSING 349.5957 SIN.
2. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005 (pp. 262–264). Singapore: NUS Press. Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR.
3. Colony of Singapore. (1958). The Singapore (Constitution) Order in Council, 1958 (p.19). Singapore: Govt. Print. Off. Call no.: RCLOS 342.5957 SIN.
4. Colony of Singapore, 1958, pp. 10–13.
5. Colony of Singapore, 1958, pp. 15–19.
6. Colony of Singapore, pp. 2-5.
7. Colony of Singapore, pp. 15–19.
8. Colony of Singapore, pp. 72–74 and pp. 64–66.
9. Li, X., & Au Yong, J. (2009, May 30). 24 hours that changed Singapore. The Straits Times, p. 95; Goode becomes head of state. (1959, June 3). The Singapore Free Press, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG .
10. Lee is premier. (1959, June 2). The Straits Times, p. 1; The cabinet to be sworn in today. (1959, June 5). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
The information in this article is valid as at 2014 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.