1957 City Council Election
Singapore’s only election for a fully elected City Council was held in December 1957. The City Council administered the urban areas of Singapore and was responsible for water supply, electricity, gas, roads and bridges, and street lighting. In July 1957, the Legislative Assembly passed the Local Government Bill, under which Singapore would have three district councils and a fully elected body of 32 wards. The bill paved the way for the elections in December.1
Contesting parties and candidates
Following the adoption of the Rendel and McNeice Commission recommendations, Singapore was carved into 51 electoral constituencies with 32 wards in the urban areas that would make up the City Council.2 Among the incumbent Municipal Commissioners, now known as City Councillors, several had switched allegiance over the last four years.3 S. Jaganathan from the Labour Party and Progressive Party councillor Sim Beng Seng became independents. They were also briefly with the Labour Front (LF).4 Former Chief Minister David Marshall had quit LF and established the Workers’ Party in 1957, which fared well in its electoral debut and was to become a renowned opposition party in the decades to come.5
Eligibility of candidates
Candidates who were literate in any one of the four official languages were eligible to stand. All adults were automatically registered as voters. This effectively extended the vote to about half a million new voters who were non-British subjects.6 Such changes were part of the broader move to increase local political participation in preparation for self-governance.
However, in the lead up to the elections, some political parties such as the LF and Liberal Socialist Party (LSP) faced a huge setback. The parties had difficulties fielding experienced candidates as representatives, as most of them preferred to run for the general elections in the following year instead.7 The executive council of the LSP rallied its youth leaders to contest in the elections.8 This came to be an issue as the political ideology of younger, inexperienced or unknown candidates were unclear to voters of the City Council elections.9
The People’s Action Party (PAP) promised to fight corruption and reorganise the council. The LSP held discussions on Malayanisation programmes, council rates, and lights in Singapore Improvement Trust buildings.10
A total of 81 candidates contested for 32 seats in the 1957 election. The nomination day was 18 November, and voting took place on 21 December.11 Previously dominating the old City Council, the LSP retained only seven seats.12 The LF won 4 of 16 seats it contested, whereas the independents won two.13 The PAP won 13 of the 14 seats it contested, becoming the largest party in the new council.14 However with 13 seats, the PAP did not have a majority in the 32-seat council.15 The party then formed a coalition with the Singapore branch of the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) to run the council with a combined total of 15 seats.16
Wong Soon Fong of PAP Toa Payoh polled the largest number of votes at 4,830.17 Among the 32 City Council members, Ong Eng Guan, the PAP treasurer, was chosen as mayor.18 Ong won by a large majority in the Hong Lim ward against Lee Kok Liang of the LSP.19
1. “Fully-Elected City Council Bill Passed,” Straits Times, 31 July 1957, 7. (From NewspaperSG)
2. “Search for City Council Candidates,” Singapore Standard, 11 October 1957, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
3. “The King Sends Congratulations,” Straits Times, 22 September 1951, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
4. “Untitled,” Singapore Standard, 13 December 1952, 3; “Sim Wants To Quit But Can't,” Singapore Standard, 28 April 1956, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
5. Workers’ Party (Singapore), The Workers’ Party: 50th Anniversary Commemorative Book, 1957–2007 (Singapore: The Workers’ Party, 2007), 20–21. (Call no. RSING 324.25957 WOR)
6. C. M. Turnbull, A History of Singapore, 1819–1988 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989), 268. (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR)
7. “Search for City Council Candidates.”
8. “LIB-SOC. CALL FOR NEW BLOOD,” Singapore Standard, 15 October 1957, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
9. C. X. Pereira, “The Enigmatic Singapore City Councillors,” Straits Times, 28 December 1957, 12. (From NewspaperSG)
10. “Party Plans City Polls Strategy,” Straits Times, 4 October 1957, 9. (From NewspaperSG)
11. “Nomination Day Will Be Nov. 18,” Singapore Standard, 17 October 1957, 2. (From NewspaperSG)
12. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 268.
13. “Pap Pact with Umno,” Straits Times, 23 December 1957, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 268.
15. “PAP Conquers the City,” Straits Times, 22 December 1957, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
16. “Pap Pact with Umno.”
17. “PAP Conquers the City.”
18. “PAP Conquers the City.”
19. “PAP Conquers the City.”
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.