Merdeka talks



In 1955, Singapore was granted partial internal self-government under the Rendel Constitution. The Legislative Assembly election held in April that year saw the formation of the Labour Front-Alliance government with David Marshall as the first chief minister of Singapore. A year later, Marshall led a 13-man all-party delegation in what became the first of three constitutional talks, later known as the Merdeka talks, held in London to determine the terms of full internal self-government for Singapore.1

Negotiations

At the discussions, which commenced on 23 April 1956, the Singapore delegation put forth the requirements for the independence of Singapore by April the following year.2 The delegation proposed that the British retain control over foreign policy (excluding trade, commerce and cultural relations) and external defence. In the proposed State of Singapore Act, the British would also retain the power to suspend the constitution should there be a threat or failure of the Singapore Government to give assistance for the utilisation of its external defence installations.3

Desiring to retain control over internal security, the British insisted on a defence council made up of an equal number of representatives from the United Kingdom government (the high commissioner and two other representatives) and Singapore (the chief minister and two other representatives), with a casting vote in the hands of the British high commissioner who would also be the chairman of the council.4 Marshall’s proposal for a Malayan, born and living in Singapore or the Federation of Malaya, to be appointed as chairman of the defence council by the independent government of the Federation of Malaya, and the abolishment of the casting vote, were rejected.5 The negotiations hit a deadlock on 15 May as both sides refused to compromise on internal security arrangements.6

Failing to deliver on his pledge to secure independence for Singapore, Marshall resigned as chief minister in June 1956.7 Lim Yew Hock succeeded him as chief minister and led the second all-party mission to London in March 1957 to renew discussions with the British government.8 This time, the knotty matter of internal security was resolved with the proposed formation of a security council comprising three British and three Singapore representatives, together with a seventh member from the Federation of Malaya.9

Under the agreement, Singapore would gain the status of a self-governing state with powers to control trade, commerce as well as cultural relations in external affairs.10 The terms provided for a fully-elected legislature of 51 members and a Malayan-born head of state, or Yang di-Pertuan Negara, who would replace the British governor as representative of the Queen.11 The British retained the responsibility for defence and foreign policy, while overlapping aspects of internal security and external defence would be managed by the aforementioned security council.12

Following the success of the second all-party mission in 1957, a third delegation returned to London in May the following year to finalise the new constitution that would establish the basis for Singapore’s achievement of full internal self-government. The main point of interest in this concluding round of discussions pertained to Clause 30 of the agreement, which prohibited persons known to have been engaged in subversive activities from contesting in the first general election to be held under the new constitution.13 This was a non-negotiable term introduced by then Colonial Secretary Alan Lennox Boyd on 10 April 1957 – the day before the signing ceremony that sealed the terms of agreement reached during the second round of Merdeka talks.14 The Singapore delegation “took note with regret” over this “last minute surprise”,15 and later sought a compromise during the third and final round of constitutional talks but to no avail.16 Although the clause was eventually omitted from the constitution, the ban remained through a separate order-in-council that laid down the conditions for the first general election in the new city state.17


The concluding round of discussions, which lasted from 13 to 28 May 1958, kept to the agreement established at the 1957 talks.18 Singapore was to be recognised as a self-governing state with powers to regulate its internal affairs through a 51-member legislature under a Malayan-born head of state, the Yang di-Pertuan Negara.19 The British retained responsibility for defence and foreign policy, while internal security would be managed by a security council comprising three representatives each from Britain and Singapore, as well as one from the Federation of Malaya who would hold the decisive vote.20

Following the final terms of agreement made at the third and concluding Merdeka talks, the State of Singapore Act to convert Singapore from a colony to a self-governing state was passed by the British Parliament on 1 August 1958.21



Author
Lee Meiyu



References
1. Chan, H. C. (2008). A sensation of independence: A political biography of David Marshall. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 183. (Call no.: RSING 324.2092 CHA); Singapore. Legislative Assembly. (1956). Report on Singapore All-Party Mission to London, April/May, 1956 (Sessional Paper, Cmd. 31 of 1956). Singapore: Printed at the Govt. Print. Off., pp. 1–3. (Call no.:  RCLOS 342.5957 SIN)
2. Chan, H. C. (2008). A sensation of independence: A political biography of David Marshall. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 185. (Call no.: RSING 324.2092 CHA); Singapore. Legislative Assembly. (1956). Report on Singapore All-Party Mission to London, April/May, 1956 (Sessional Paper, Cmd. 31 of 1956). Singapore: Printed at the Govt. Print. Off., p. 4. (Call no.:  RCLOS 342.5957 SIN)
3. Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 265. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR); Singapore. Legislative Assembly. (1956). Report on Singapore All-Party Mission to London, April/May, 1956 (Sessional Paper, Cmd. 31 of 1956). Singapore: Printed at the Govt. Print. Off., pp. 71–72. (Call no.:  RCLOS 342.5957 SIN)
4. Chan, H. C. (2008). A sensation of independence: A political biography of David Marshall. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 185, 188. (Call no.: RSING 324.2092 CHA); Singapore. Legislative Assembly. (1956). Report on Singapore All-Party Mission to London, April/May, 1956 (Sessional Paper, Cmd. 31 of 1956). Singapore: Printed at the Govt. Print. Off., p. 67. (Call no.:  RCLOS 342.5957 SIN)
5. Chan, H. C. (2008). A sensation of independence: A political biography of David Marshall. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, pp. 190–191. (Call no.: RSING 324.2092 CHA); Turnbull, C. M. (2009). A history of modern Singapore, 1819–2005. Singapore: NUS Press, p. 265. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 TUR); Singapore. Legislative Assembly. (1956). Report on Singapore All-Party Mission to London, April/May, 1956 (Sessional Paper, Cmd. 31 of 1956). Singapore: Printed at the Govt. Print. Off., pp. 15, 72. (Call no.:  RCLOS 342.5957 SIN)
6. Miller, H. (1956, May 17). Drama of the last hours. The Straits Times, p. 9. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chan, H. C. (2008). A sensation of independence: A political biography of David Marshall. Singapore: Marshall Cavendish Editions, p. 191. (Call no.: RSING 324.2092 CHA); Singapore. Legislative Assembly. (1956). Report on Singapore All-Party Mission to London, April/May, 1956 (Sessional Paper, Cmd. 31 of 1956). Singapore: Printed at the Govt. Print. Off., p. 31. (Call no.: RCLOS 342.5957 SIN)
7. Miller, H. (1956, May 21). Marshall to resign on June 6. The Straits Times, p. 1; The Marshall diary. (1956, June 6). The Straits Times, p. 2. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Chew, E., & Lee, E. (Eds.). (1991). A history of Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 137. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 HIS); Singapore. Legislative Assembly. (1957). Report of the Singapore Constitutional Conference held in London in March and April, 1957 (Sessional Paper, no. Misc. 2 of 1957), p. 2. (Call no.: RCLOS 342.5957 ALL)
9. Abisheganaden, F. (1957, March 30). Colony talks a success – triumph for Mr. Lim. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.; Singapore. Legislative Assembly. (1957). Report of the Singapore Constitutional Conference held in London in March and April, 1957 (Sessional Paper, no. Misc. 2 of 1957), pp. 6–7. (Call no.: RCLOS 342.5957 ALL)
10. 2 a.m.: It’s success! (1957, April 10). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Singapore. Legislative Assembly. (1957). Report of the Singapore Constitutional Conference held in London in March and April, 1957 (Sessional Paper, no. Misc. 2 of 1957), p. 18. (Call no.: RCLOS 342.5957 ALL)
11. Lee, E. (2008). Singapore: The unexpected nation. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 139. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE); Singapore. Legislative Assembly. (1957). Report of the Singapore Constitutional Conference held in London in March and April, 1957 (Sessional Paper, no. Misc. 2 of 1957), pp. 3–5. (Call no.: RCLOS 342.5957 ALL)
12. Lee, E. (2008). Singapore: The unexpected nation. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 139. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE); Abisheganaden, F. (1957, March 28). Last lap in London. The Straits Times, p. 1; 2 a.m.: It’s success! (1957, April 10). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG. Singapore. Legislative Assembly. (1957). Report of the Singapore Constitutional Conference held in London in March and April, 1957 (Sessional Paper, no. Misc. 2 of 1957), pp. 6–7. (Call no.: RCLOS 342.5957 ALL)
13. Morgan, P. (1958, March 19). New London mission. The Straits Times, p. 1; Last mission to London. (1958, May 8). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
14. Abisheganaden, F. (1957, April 12). Lim's big moment. The Straits Times, p. 1; ‘That clause is vital’. (1957, May 9). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
15. The flaw in the clause. (1958, October 3). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
16. Morgan, P. (1958, March 19). New London mission. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG; Chew, E., & Lee, E. (Eds.). (1991). A history of Singapore. Singapore: Oxford University Press, p. 137. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 HIS); It’s final – that detainees ban will stay. (1958, May 28). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
17. Hoffman, L. (1958, May 23). 2 a.m. news roundup. The Straits Times, p. 1; Singapore, a city state. (1958, May 29). The Straits Times, p. 6. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
18. Singapore. (1958). Singapore annual report 1958. Singapore: Govt. Print. Off, p. 4. (Call no.: RCLOS 959.57 SIN)
19. Lee, E. (2008). Singapore: The unexpected nation. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 139. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE)
20. Lee, E. (2008). Singapore: The unexpected nation. Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, p. 139. (Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE)
21. Great Britain. (1958). State of Singapore Act 1958: Chapter 59, 6 & 7 Eliz. II. [Microfilm: NL 259]. London: H.M.S.O., p. 1.



The information in this article is valid as at September 2018 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
Singapore--History--1945-1963
Events>>Historical Periods>>Self-Government, Merger and Separation (1955-1965)
Political development
1955-1965 Road to independence
Politics and Government