Singapore’s first general election was held on 20 March 1948 to elect six members to the Legislative Council. Soon after the re-establishment of civil government in Singapore on 1 April 1946, a reconstitution committee was appointed by then Governor Franklin Gimson to make recommendations for developing the existing executive and legislative bodies in order to widen political representation. The constitution that was subsequently proposed by the committee made provisions for a 22-seat Legislative Council comprising nine officials and 13 unofficials, of whom four would be nominated by the governor, three elected by the Chinese and Indian chambers of commerce (to reflect the importance of trade to the colony's future prosperity), and the remaining six by popular ballot. Under the 1947 Singapore Legislative Council Elections Ordinance, Part I (5), only registered adult voters over the age of 21 who had been British subjects for at least a year prior to the election were eligible to vote.
Though the franchise was limited, the recommendation of an unofficial majority was a step forward and far in advance of the constitutions of the Malayan Union and its successor, the Federation of Malaya, where no provisions for elected legislative councillors were made. However, public response to the registration exercise, which was held from August to September 1947, for the general election was muted. Only 22,395 out of an estimated 200,000 eligible voters registered, with around 45 percent being Indian British subjects. A mere 25 percent of those who registered to vote were Chinese British subjects.
After the Malayan Democratic Union had boycotted the election on the grounds that the process was not sufficiently democratic, only one other party – the Singapore Progressive Party (SPP) – took part. The SPP fielded five candidates against ten independents for the six seats up for contestation. On polling day, John Laycock, C. C. Tan and Nazir Bin Abdul Mallal of the SPP successfully defeated their opponents. The remaining three seats went to independents S. C. Goho, Sardon Bin Haji Zubir and Mohamed Javad Namazie. Despite Singapore’s Chinese-majority population, only one out of the six elected councillors was Chinese – C.C. Tan of the SPP. The other councillors comprised three Indians, one British and one Malay.
1. Singapore goes to the polls today. (1948, March 20). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
2. Singapore. Report of the committee appointed by His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to make recommendations for the reconstitution of the Legislative Council of the colony (p. 1). (1946). Singapore: Government Printing Office. Call no.: RCLOS 328.5951 SIN-[RFL].
3. Report of the committee appointed by His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to make recommendations for the reconstitution of the Legislative Council of the Colony, 1946, pp. 2–5.
4. Yeo, K. W. (1973). Political development in Singapore, 1945–55 (p. 252). Singapore: Singapore University Press. Call no.: RCLOS 320.95957 YEO.
5. Report of the committee appointed by His Excellency the Governor of Singapore to make recommendations for the reconstitution of the Legislative Council of the colony, 1946, p. 3; Great Britain. (1946). Malayan Union and Singapore: Summary of proposed constitutional arrangements (p.8). London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office. Call no.: RCLOS 342.5951 GRE.
6. Lau, A. (2003). A moment of anguish: Singapore in Malaysia and the politics of disengagement (p. 7). Singapore: Eastern Universities Press. Call no.: RSING 959.5705 LAU-[HIS].
7. Lau, 2003, p. 7.
8. M.D.U. calls for boycott. (1948, February 26). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
9. 63 per cent voters go to poll. (1948, March 21). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. The Straits Times, 21 Mar 1948, p. 1.
11. The Straits Times, 21 Mar 1948, p. 1.
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.