Skip to main content

Advertisement

Advertisement

60 years ago, Singapore celebrated National Day on June 3. Here’s why

SINGAPORE — Come Aug 9 each year, Singaporeans come together to celebrate their country’s birthday.

Singaporeans celebrate their country’s birthday on Aug 9, but between 1960 and 1963, Singapore's national day was celebrated on June 3 to commemorate the day in 1959 when Singapore attained self-government.

Singaporeans celebrate their country’s birthday on Aug 9, but between 1960 and 1963, Singapore's national day was celebrated on June 3 to commemorate the day in 1959 when Singapore attained self-government.

Follow us on Instagram and Tiktok, and join our Telegram channel for the latest updates.

SINGAPORE — Come Aug 9 each year, Singaporeans come together to celebrate their country’s birthday.

But National Day was not always marked on this date — not before the Republic became independent in 1965.

Between 1960 and 1963, Singapore's national day was celebrated on June 3 to commemorate the day in 1959 when Singapore attained self-government.

Six decades ago, June 3 was the day when Singapore adopted its own constitution and became an internal self-governing state for the first time in its history (The British still had the final say over external matters, namely defence and foreign affairs).

The National Archives of Singapore (NAS) recorded the momentous day as “the making of a nation”. “On Jun 3, 1959, the 1.6 million people in Singapore awoke to a new beginning - as people of a fully internal self-governing city state under the British Crown,” it said on its website.

Speaking to CNA, historian Albert Lau said the date was a significant milestone in the Singapore story. “Attaining self-government sent an important signal that Singapore still needed a further push to achieve its goal of freedom from colonial rule,” said the associate professor from National University of Singapore.

On the 60th anniversary of Singapore’s pre-independence national day, CNA takes a look back at some of the key events and quotes that shaped its significance.

1959 GE: THE MOMENT ‘MASS POLITICS’ REACHED S’PORE

The General Election held in 1959 was to determine who would lead Singapore in this new period of internal self-rule, but it was also significant for another reason: It was the first time voting was made compulsory.

Nanyang Technological University Assistant Professor Ngoei Wen-Qing told CNA this was the moment “mass politics” reached Singapore.

According to the Chronicle of Singapore, a book put out in association with the National Library Board of Singapore, there were 51 seats on offer in that election, and the PAP contested for them against the likes of the Singapore People’s Alliance (SPA), led by Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock, the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and the Workers’ Party founded by David Marshall, Singapore’s first Chief Minister.

Singapore’s founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in his memoir The Singapore Story said the polls closed at 8pm on May 30, 1959, and counting of the votes began from 9pm onwards before ending at 2.45am the next morning.

Ultimately, PAP won 43 of the 51 seats contested, while the SPA won four — including Lim’s successful contest against Marshall in Cairnhill — and Umno took three. Independent A P Rajah won the remaining seat.

DELAYED SWEARING-IN

Immediately after the electoral victory, Mr Lee and his colleagues focused on securing the release of eight men associated with the PAP who had been detained under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance Act. This meant that Mr Lee and his cabinet would not be sworn in until June 5.

The eight men were C V Devan Nair (Singapore’s third President), Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, S. Woodhull, Chan Thiaw Thor, James Puthucheary, Chan Chong Kin and Chen Say James.

They were trade union leaders who were among 234 people detained by the Government in 1956 following the Chinese middle school riots. They were eventually released on June 4 —- 31 months after being detained.

In his memoirs, Mr Lee shared why freeing the eight took precedence over being sworn in: “We had done some hard thinking before the election and concluded that Lim Chin Siong and company must be released from prison before we took office, or we would lose all credibility.”

Dr Ngoei said: “The PAP, going into the 1959 election, pledged that they would get them released. And once they won that election, Lee Kuan Yew delayed taking office in order to get that release… so it’s important for the credibility of the PAP.”

Sir William Goode, the last governor of Singapore who then became its first Yang di-Pertuan Negara (Head of State), disagreed with the delay, especially after Lim Yew Hock had resigned as Chief Minister once he knew his party had lost the election. But Mr Lee stood his ground.

Sir William, though, would not wait. He gazetted and brought into force the new constitution on June 3. This was why there was a two-day delay between Singapore being recognised as a state with internal self-rule and its new leaders being sworn into office.

S’PORE’S FIRST EVER CABINET LINE-UP

On June 5, 1959, the PAP formed the first fully-elected government of Singapore and its nine-member Cabinet was sworn in:

  • Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister

  • Toh Chin Chye, Deputy Prime Minister

  • Ong Eng Guan, Minister for National Development

  • Goh Keng Swee, Minister for Finance

  • Ong Pang Boon, Minister for Home Affairs

  • K. M. Byrne, Minister for Labour and Law

  • Ahmad Ibrahim, Minister for Health

  • Yong Nyuk Lin, Minister for Education

  • S Rajaratnam, Minister for Culture

The swearing-in was done in a closed-door ceremony held at City Hall by Sir William. According to Mr Lee, Sir William arrived at the venue in “nothing more formal than a light fawn suit and tie” while the Cabinet wore “open-necked white shirts and trousers”.

The chamber for the swearing-in was “bare except for one table and a few chairs”, as there was no time for decorations, Mr Lee had added. CNA

For more stories like this, visit cna.asia.

Related topics

Singapore National Day National Day Parade

Read more of the latest in

Advertisement

Popular

Advertisement

Stay in the know. Anytime. Anywhere.

Subscribe to get daily news updates, insights and must reads delivered straight to your inbox.

By clicking subscribe, I agree for my personal data to be used to send me TODAY newsletters, promotional offers and for research and analysis.