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Lee Kuan Yew declares de facto independence for Singapore 31st Aug 1963

On 31 August 1963, then Prime Minister of Singapore Lee Kuan Yew declared de facto independence for the island state ahead of the official proclamation of the Federation of Malaysia.[1] The inauguration of Malaysia was originally slated to take place on 31 August 1963, but the federal government in Kuala Lumpur postponed it by about two weeks to 16 September in order to give the United Nations (UN) more time to complete its mission to determine whether the people in the Borneo territories of Sabah and Sarawak were in favour of being part of Malaysia. The UN mission was undertaken to allay the objections by both Indonesia and the Philippines to the formation of Malaysia.[2]

A ceremonial rally was held on the steps of City Hall on 31 August to mark the occasion, and Lee made a speech where he pledged Singapore’s loyalty to the federal government in Kuala Lumpur. He stated that this loyalty “transcends party rivalries and petty personal differences” and was “an unalterable principle” to the unity and prosperity of Malaysia. In addition, Lee noted that declaring Singapore’s de facto independence was “an assertion of [its] right to freedom” and it signified the end of British colonial rule in Singapore.[3] In the interim between 31 August and 16 September, all powers over defence and external affairs of the state were transferred to Yusof bin Ishak, then the Yang di-Pertuan Negara (Malay for “Head of State”) of Singapore. He would hold these powers in trust for the federal government until the official proclamation of Malaysia.[4]

The federal and British governments were, however, unhappy with Singapore’s declaration of independence. Both sides did not send representatives to attend the ceremony as they questioned the legality and validity of Singapore’s claim to powers over its defence and external affairs.[5] The federal government also felt that Lee had encouraged Sabah and Sarawak to follow in Singapore’s footstep as they had also declared their de facto independence on the same day as Singapore.[6] Nonetheless, after the UN had completed its mission in Borneo and discovered that the majority of the people in Sabah and Sarawak supported the merger, the formation of the Federation of Malaysia was officially declared on 16 September 1963.[7]

1. Lau, A. (2003). A moment of anguish: Singapore in Malaysia and the politics of disengagement (pp. 16–17). Singapore: Eastern Universities Press. Call no.: RSING 959.5705 LAU.
2. S’pore’s M-Day aim is still Aug. 31. (1963, August 19). The Straits Times, p. 19; Singapore gets set for the big show on M-Day. (1963, September 3). The Straits Times, p. 5. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. Ministry of Culture (1963, August 31). Text of speech by the Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, at Malaysia Solidarity Day Mass Rally and March-past on the Padang on Saturday, August 31, 1963 [Press Statement]. Retrieved November 22, 2013, from National Archives of Singapore website: http://archivesonline.nas.sg/
4. Lee: We are free!. (September 1, 1963). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Singapore’s claim ‘not valid’. (1963, September 4). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Lee, K. Y. (2000). The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew (p. 499). Singapore: Times Editions: Singapore Press Holdings. Call no.:  RSING 959.57 LEE-[HIS]; A great day for Malaya’s partners. (1963, August 31). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Sabah, Sarawak get home rule. (1963, September 1). The Straits Times, p. 1; Up goes the flag. (1963, September 17). The Straits Times, p. 1. 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.

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