Declaration of Independence

There’s a special permanent exhibition the National Gallery of Singapore. Behind glass cabinets were the set of documents that proclaim the independence of Singapore.

The City of Singapore

Singapore was a colony of Great Britain. On 9 April 1949, the Singapore Municipal Commission was granted a new coat of arms by a Royal Warrant.

Royal Warrant Assigning Armorial Ensigns for the City of Singapore

The Commission’s coat of arms (centre left in the document) features a red shield with a golden lion walking with one paw raised and looking to its left, atop a tower. This represented Singapore on the Straits Settlements coat of arms. Above the shield is a panel of gold, with a pair of wings flanked by two blue anchors, representing Singapore’s air and sea traffic. The crest of the Singapore municipality, consisting of a lion in front of a coconut palm, appears at the top of the coat of arms. The inscription “Majulah Singapura”, Malay for “Let Singapore Flourish” (as it was then translated), is the motto of the municipality.

Proclamation of Malaysia

Singapore became part of the Federation of Malaya together with North Borneo (later to be renamed State of Sabah), Sarawak and with the Proclamation of Malaysia by Prime Minister of Malaysia, Tengku Abdul Rahman.

Proclamation of SIngapore

Malaysia – constituting the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak – was officially formed on 16 September 1963.  Singapore became part of Malaysia with the signing of the Proclamation (in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil) by the then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, on behalf of the people of Singapore.  It decreed that Singapore would be “a part of the sovereign, democratic and independent state of Malaysia, founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of her people in a more just and equal society”.

Proclamation of Malaysia

Malaysia – constituting the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, North Borneo and Sarawak – was officially formed on 16 September 1963. Interestingly, it was mentioned that the decolonisation of Singapore was agreed in 6 Jul 1963 in London by the British in agreement only if Singapore became part of Malaya. With this declaration, Singapore ceased to be a Crown Colony. And Singapore became part of Malaysia for nearly 3 years.

Proclamation of Singapore

On 7 Aug 1965, an agreement was proposed by the Government of Malaysia and Government of Singapore for the separation of Singapore from Federation of Malaysia.

PMs Tunku Abdul Rahman and Lee Kuan Yew circa 1969 © National Archives of Singapore

In the ongoing months of the merger, Singapore’s People’s Action Party (PAP) won a majority of the seats in parliament, while UMNO’s allies won nothing. Subsequently, PAP won a seat in Selangor, and UMNO was humiliated by this defeat. In the last months of the Federation, racial tensions and riots had broken out in several places in Jul and Sep 1964. This was the last straw.

Draft Agreement of Separation of Singapore from Malaysia, missing one signature

The negotiations to separate Singapore from Malaysia were conducted under a shroud of secrecy to avoid alarming the British and Singapore Cabinet members, who might object to it. Only Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Minister for Finance Dr Goh Keng Swee and Minister for Law Edmund Barker were involved in the negotiations with the Federation government. Other ministers were only informed after the separation agreement had been drafted. DPM Dr Toh Chin Chye did not sign the document as he opposed to the separation.

Letter from Malaysia PM Tunku Abdul Rahman to Singapore DPM Toh Chin Chye

Malaysia PM Tunku Abdul Rahman rote a personal letter to Dr Toh to persuade him to agree to the separation. He made it clear in the note that in the interest of “security and peace of Malaysia as a whole there is absolutely no other way out.”

Signing off, “I request you most earnestly to agree.”

Dr Toh was finally persuaded to add his signature to the separation agreement. And with this, all parties came to conclusion for a sovereign and independent Singapore, despite objections from the British and several cabinet ministers on both sides.

The Monumental Table

The Proclamation of Singapore was subsequently signed on the Chief Justice’s desk at the Supreme Court by PM Lee and witnessed by CJ

Proclamation of Singapore

It was drafted by the then Minister for Law E W Barker. Radio Singapore went on the air on 9 August 1965 at 10am to announce the separation. The government gazette on the Proclamation was also issued at the same time.

Proclamation of Singapore read by PM Lee Kuan Yew in 2012 for the 50th of independence from the British

In the late PM Lee’s view, the root cause of the problems that arose when Singapore separated from Malaysia in 1965 lay in “our diametrically different approaches to the problems facing our two multiracial societies”. Singapore continues its path of nation building, celebrating 57th year of Independence today.

Majulah Singapura!

Visited in Mar 2022

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