1955 Legislative Assembly general election



The 2 April 1955 Legislative Assembly General Election (GE) was held to elect 25 out of 32 seats in the Legislative Assembly. It was the first time that a majority of legislators would be elected by popular ballot rather than appointed by colonial authorities. The 1955 GE was held under the Rendel Constitution which was drafted based on the recommendations of the Rendel Commission. This commission had been set up in 1953 to look into preparing Singapore for self-government.1

The Rendel Commission
The nine-man Rendel Commission was headed by Sir George Rendel, a former British ambassador to Belgium.
2 Other members included five nominated unofficial members of the Legislative Council: Tan Chin Tuan, Lim Yew Hock, N. A. Mallal, Ahmad bin Mohamed Ibrahim, and C. C. Tan. The remaining three were British subjects. The advisor to the commission on constitutional affairs was Professor Owen Hood Phillips.3 The commission was tasked with making recommendations on the enlargement of the electoral roll, increasing the number of elected members, and the appointment of a speaker.4


When the Rendel Report was released in 1954, the Rendel Commission recommended that voters be registered automatically.5 It proposed that the Legislative Council be replaced by a 32-member Legislative Assembly consisting of 25 elected members, four nominated members and three ex-officio members.6 A council of nine ministers with three to be appointed by the governor and the remaining six to be recommended by the leader of the majority party in the Legislative Assembly was proposed. Acting like a cabinet, the ministers would have authority over all matters except external affairs, internal security and defence. The three appointed ministers would also assume the posts of Financial Secretary, Attorney-General, and Chief Secretary.7 On the appointment of the speaker, the Rendel Report recommended that the speaker be elected by the Legislative Assembly from a list of candidates selected by the governor from outside the assembly.8 It also recommended the removal of direct representatives for the chambers of commerce in the government, and that there should be 25 electoral divisions.9

The new constitution that resulted from the Rendel Report is known as the Rendel Constitution. It came into effect on 8 February 1955.10 On the same day, then Governor Sir John Fearns Nicoll also signed election writs for the 25 divisions to be contested in the elections for the Legislative Assembly. Nomination day was set for 28 February and polling day for 2 April in 1955.11

Lively contest between old and new
The 1955 Legislative Assembly election was one of the liveliest election contests in Singapore.
12 Out of a total of 79 candidates, 69 were fielded by six political parties, and 10 were independents.13 The six political parties were the Progressive Party (PP), Democratic Party (DP), Labour Front (LF), People’s Action Party (PAP), Labour Party (LP) and the Singapore Alliance (SA).14


Both the Progressives and the Democrats entered the election as front runners. They also fielded the largest number of candidates. The Progressives had 22 candidates and the Democrats fielded 20 candidates. Favoured by the British, the Progressives were regarded as a party of the English-educated professional elite.15 Some of the prominent Progressive candidates running for election had been Legislative Council members. They included C. C. Tan and N. A. Mallal.16

In its party manifesto, the Progressives called for the localisation or Malayanisation of the civil service, six years of free bilingual education for every child from the age of six, more free medical services and no rise in income tax. It also called for the establishment of a government housing authority for the building of more low-cost housing.17

The Democrats, on the other hand, was formed by the Chinese business community. Dubbed the “Millionaires Party”, it was sponsored and supported by wealthy Chinese business leaders, most notably the Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce. Heading the party was rubber tycoon Tan Eng Joo.18 The manifesto of the Democrats called for the establishment of a multilingual legislature, promotion of free trade, encouragement of local and foreign investment and provision of equal grants for schools of all races. The Democrats also wanted to build more low-cost housing for the people through the setting up of housing development schemes.19

The Labour Front and the PAP were new political parties. They were not aiming to become the ruling party but to be strong opposition parties in the Legislative Assembly.20 The Labour Front was headed by David Marshall, a well-known lawyer.21 A prominent member of the party was Lim Yew Hock who had been a member of the Progressive Party and a Legislative Councillor. Labour Front fielded 17 candidates.22

The Labour Front wanted immediate self-government through unity with the Federation of Malaya, the creation of a Singapore citizenship, and the setting up of a welfare state which would provide the locals affordable housing loans and medical services as well as unemployment insurance and a minimum wage. The party also called for the repeal of the Emergency Regulations and amendment to the Trade Union Ordinance to allow unions to associate freely and to set up political funds.23

The PAP was formed by a group of English-educated middle-class professionals and intellectuals and a group of working-class, Chinese-educated trade unionists. From its inception there were two factions, one the English-educated professionals led by a young lawyer named Lee Kuan Yew, and the other faction of Chinese-educated radicals led by trade unionist Lim Chin Siong.24

The PAP had been inaugurated at the Victoria Memorial Hall on 21 November 1954 in front of a gathering of 15,000 people that included Tunku Abdul Rahman, then president of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO).25 The PAP manifesto called for immediate independence for Singapore through merger with the Federation of Malaya and the removal of voting rights for those who enjoyed expatriate privileges. It also aimed for the complete localisation of the public service in four years and the introduction of free compulsory education for all children up to the age of 16.26

Similar to the Labour Front, the PAP wanted the Emergency Regulations abolished and the amendment of the Trade Union Ordinance to allow unions to set up political funds. In addition, the PAP proposed a Workers’ Charter that would include benefits such as a minimum wage, equal pay for women, two weeks’ paid annual holidays, availability of sick leave, unemployment benefits, child endowment and maternity allowances, and workers’ compensation.27

The PAP also laid out an economic policy that encouraged the growth of local industries through tariffs and subsidies.28 The party fielded four candidates, one of whom was Lee Kuan Yew who contested in Tanjong Pagar.29

The Singapore Alliance (SA) was a coalition of the Singapore chapter of UMNO, Malayan Chinese Association (MCA) and the Singapore Malay Union (SMU).30 Its manifesto was a call for a fully elected legislature and revision of the Trade Union Ordinance to allow unions to set up political funds. The party also proposed the setting up of a government housing trust, provision of free compulsory education, building of more hospitals and introducing an authority to encourage and protect local industries.31 SA fielded five candidates.32

Campaigning for votes
Campaigning in the 1955 election was very different from the 1951 Legislative Council election which Lee described as “a genteel affair with tea and dinner parties”.
33 With the automatic registration of voters, the number of voters was estimated by the Rendel Commission to be about 282,100.34 Of this number, 198,600 were not literate in English.35 For the 1951 Legislative Council election, there were only 48,155 qualified voters.36


As the voters were predominately Chinese and Malay-speaking from the working class, the principal languages used during the campaigns were the main Chinese dialects and bazaar Malay.37 The election rallies were dominated by Lee and Marshall. Both the PAP and the Labour Front appealed to the new working class voters.38

Surprising election results
On polling day, 53 percent of the electorate or 160,395 people voted.
39 This was a five-fold increase from the 1951 election.40 When the results were announced on 2 April 1955, it surprised the winning parties, the losers and the British alike.41 Both the Progressives and the Democrats were routed. The Progressives took only four out of the 22 seats they contested and none of their former Legislative Councillors were returned. The Democrats won only two out of the 20 seats they contested.42


The PAP, on the other hand, won three out of the four seats it contested.43 Lee was returned in Tanjong Pagar with a 5,121 majority, the largest majority registered in the election.44 By winning 10 out of the 17 seats it contested, the Labour Front emerged as the biggest winning party.45 At least 5,000 people gathered at Empress Place to hear Marshall announce his victory.46

Marshall did not form a government until 7 April 1955. Although the Labour Front was the largest winning party, it did not have the 13 seats to command a majority in the Legislative Assembly. As a result, Marshall had to seek a coalition with the Singapore Alliance which had collected three seats.47

On 7 April 1955, members of the Council of Ministers in the Singapore Legislative Assembly were sworn in by Governor Nicoll.48 Marshall was appointed Chief Minister.49 He also assumed the portfolio of Minister for Commerce.50 Other appointments included Abdul Hamid bin Haji Jumat as Minister for Communications and Works, Chew Swee Kee as Minister for Education, A.J. Braga as Minister for Health, Lim Yew Hock as Minister for Labour and Welfare, Francis Thomas as Minister for Local Government, Lands and Housing, and J. M Jumabhoy as Assistant Minister to Marshall in the Ministry of Commerce.51 Other members nominated to the Assembly were Francis Thomas, George Alexander Phimister Sutherland, Ong Piah Teng and Richard Chuan Hoe Lim.52

Marshall’s challenges
The first session of the first Legislative Assembly convened on 22 April 1955.
53 In his opening address, Governor Nicoll noted that the first meeting of the Legislative Assembly inaugurated an epoch in the constitutional history of Singapore.54 He said that the 1955 election showed that the people of Singapore understood the importance of the vote and to cast their votes in accordance with their convictions. It was important that the Council of Ministers and the Legislative Assembly be able to carry out the tasks they were entrusted to do by the people.55


Some of the tasks that the governor listed included staffing the public service with locally domiciled officers, fostering the expansion of the economy, raising the standard of living, providing adequate housing for the lower income group, broadening the field of social services, improving healthcare services and providing more opportunities in education. Nicoll also added that ensuring the early attainment of complete internal self-government and union with the Federation of Malaya and repealing the Emergency Regulations were also some of the immediate tasks the new government had to address.56

It was difficult for the Labour Front government to address these issues. Marshall as Chief Minister faced numerous challenges that included unrest incited by pro-communist supporters and fallout with the British government over the demand for immediate self-government.57 Marshall’s strong push towards independence also fragmented his own party.58 When the Merdeka (means “freedom” in Malay) talks in London failed to get Singapore complete self-governance, Marshall tendered his resignation on 7 June 1956.59

Although Marshall’s tenure as the first Chief Minister of Singapore was short, he implemented a number of important policies. For instance, he inspired the meet-the-people sessions,60 advocated the use of different languages in the Legislative Council to get all citizens to participate in the affairs of the country,61 and drafted the Labour Bill leading to the passing of the Labour Ordinance towards the end of 1955 that sought to improve worker’s welfare.62



Authors
Mohamed Effendy Abdul Hamid and Lim Tin Seng



References
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The information in this article is valid as at 7 July 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.

Subject
Events>>Historical Periods>>Aftermath of War (1945-1955)
1945-1955 Aftermath of war
Politics and Government
Events

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