Singapore Progressive Party

The Singapore Progressive Party (SPP) was a nationalistic party formed on 25 August 1947 to contest in the forthcoming Legislative Council elections. The conservative SPP stood for gradual change and was willing to work with the British to introduce steady constitutional reform by gradually increasing the pool of elected councillors and eventually creating a cabinet of ministers.  It dominated the general elections in 1948 and 1951, but was later displaced by the more radical political parties that were able to appeal to a wider spectrum of people..    

The SPP was founded by lawyers John Laycock, C. C. Tan and N.A. Mallal.  Laycock and Mallal were municipal councillors in the 1930s while Tan, the Party's chairman, was a non-official member of the advisory council in 1946.  Not unlike the other parties such as the Malayan Democratic Union, the SPP attracted the English-educated professionals who leveraged on the Party's multiracial composition to garner support from a wide spectrum of the society.  As the SPP had the support of the Straits Chinese British Association and the Singapore Association, many of its members were from the two associations.  Prominent SPP members included advisory council member Thio Chan Bee, and trade unionist Lim Yew Hock. 

The SPP advocated gradual transition to self-government by increasing locally elected representation in the Legislative Council leading to eventually a system of government by a cabinet of ministers responsible to the elected Council. 1963 was the year set by the Party for Singapore to achieve full internal self-government. Independence would then be achieved through a Singapore-Malaya merger.  However, no target date was set.

Nevertheless, the SPP played a role in the passing of the Central Provident Fund Bill in 1954 and the setting up of the Singapore Improvement Trust, the predecessor of the Housing and Development Board. Some of the reforms it had advocated were represented in the Rendel Constitution that paved the way for the formation of the Legislative Assembly, and a greater degree of self-government

The SPP was the only party to contest in Singapore's first Legislative Council general election held on 20 March 1948, and its lawyer candidates won three of the total of six seats.  The remaining seats went to independent candidates who were also lawyers. However, the election did not generate much public interest and less than 13 per cent of the eligible electorate voted. A year later, the SPP won a landslide victory at the municipal election, securing 13 of the 18 seats available

In 1951, Lee Kuan Yew, a practising lawyer in Laycock's law firm, was roped in to help Laycock canvass in the forthcoming general election.  The experience provided Lee with insights into Singapore politics.  That year, SPP won six of the total of nine seats contested.

During the general election in 1955, the SPP contested 22 of the  25 seats at stake. At that time, David Marshall, Lim Yew Hock and Francis Thomas were contesting as candidates of the newly established Labour Front.  The contest at Cairnhill generated great interest as Marshall took on Tan, who was the obvious choice for Singapore's first Chief Minister.  During the campaign, the People's Action Party (PAP) launched systematic attack on the SPP and helped canvass for Marshall.  Tan lost to Marshall, and the SPP failed to retain power, winning only four seats.  The Labour Front emerged as the victor with 10 seats while the PAP won three seats out of the four it contested

The SPP was seen by some as being contented to leave the governing of Singapore in British hands.  To make up for its lack of political base, the SPP declared in October 1952, its objective of Singapore achieving independence through a Singapore-Malaya merger.  However, no target date was set. It fared badly in the 1955 election since the Party was not able to appeal to the enlarged electorate with its conservative pro-colonial policies.  The new voters, which consisted mainly working-class Chinese, supported the more radical Labour Front and PAP. The election marked the end of conservative politics, and the beginning of the decline of the SPP. 

In 1956, the SPP merged with the Democratic Party to form the Liberal Socialist Party (LSP).  During the City Council election held in December 1957, the LSP won only seven seats. The PAP became the party with the largest number of seats in the new council, winning 13 out of the 14 seats it contested. In the 1959 general election, the LSP fielded 32 candidates for the 51 seats at stake. However, it failed to win a single seat, and faded away

Joshua Chia Yeong Jia


Chew, E. C. T., & Lee, E. (Eds.). (1991). A history of Singapore (pp. 122-128, 132, 138). Singapore: Oxford University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 HIS)

Drysdale, J. (1984). Singapore: Struggle for success (pp. 26-27, 36-40, 83, 88, 92-101, 127). Singapore: Times Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 DRY) 

Hussin Mutalib. (2004).  Parties and politics:  A study of opposition parties and the PAP in Singapore (pp. 41-42, 48).  Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Academic.
(Call no.: RSING 324.25957 HUS)

Josey, A. (1980).  Singapore: Its past, present and future (p. 23).  London: Andre Deutsch.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 JOS) 

Lee, K. Y. (1998).  The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew (pp. 137, 140-141, 189-191, 194, 196, 208, 212, 229).  Singapore: Times Editions.
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE)

Turnbull, C. M. (1985).  A history of Singapore 1819-1975 (pp. 235-259, 268-269).  Singapore:  Oxford University Press.  
(Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR)

Yeo, Kim Wah. (1973). Political development in Singapore, 1945-55 (pp. 98-105). Singapore: Singapore University Press.
(Call no.: RSING 320.95957 YEO)

The information in this article is valid as at 2008 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.

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