1962 Merger Referendum of Singapore

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The Singapore national referendum of 1962, or also commonly referred to as the Merger Referendum of Singapore was held in Singapore on 1 September 1962. It called for people to vote on the terms of merger with Malaysia. Some of the options ultimately involved questions of national identity, and such questions would come to be cited years after the merger, as well as after the subsequent separation.

There was no option to vote against the merger amongst three options presented to the people:

  • Option A: All Singapore citizens would automatically become citizens of Malaysia, and Singapore would retain a degree of autonomy and state power, such as over labour and education. Singapore would also get to keep its language policies, such as to retain using all four major languages: English, Mandarin Chinese, Malay and Tamil.
  • Option B: Singapore would become a federal state like that of the other eleven states of Malaysia, with no more autonomy than the others, thus ceding control over issues such as labour and education policies to the central (federal) government in Kuala Lumpur. This also meant that there would be less multilingualism - only English and Malay would be used for official purposes, and possibly education. Only those born in Singapore or descended from the Singapore-born would become citizens of Malaysia. There would also be proportionate representation in the federal Parliament from Singapore.
  • Option C: Singapore would enter on terms no less favourable than the Borneo territories, Sabah and Sarawak, both whom were also discussing merger with Malaysia. This was to ensure that Malaysia would not discriminate along racial lines, as that would mean discriminating against Sabah and Sarawak, which were predominantly Bumiputra as well.

Option A received the majority of the vote at 73%, more then the two-thirds required for constitutional reform. The pro-communist Barisan Sosialis was strongly against the idea of a referendum, as they thought it would result in their suppression. The Barisan Socialis called for a boycott of the referendum, telling their supporters to submit blank votes in protest against the "rigged" referendum. 26% of the vote were left blank as a result. This move had been anticipated by the ruling PAP government, which therefore inserted a clause stating that all blank or defaced votes would be counted as a vote for option A.

The media campaign fielded by both sides was extremely heated, and many of the leaders on both sides broadcast radio shows in several languages. The voter turnout was extensive: around 624,000 were eligible to vote, and around 561,000 voters turned up, a turnout of 90%.

The PAP was not legally obliged to call for a referendum, but did so to secure the mandate of the people. However, the Barisan Sosialis, a left-wing socialist party consisting of former PAP members with communist sympathies, alleged that the people did not support merger. Lee Kuan Yew declared the people did. The referendum did not have an option of objecting to the idea of merger because no one had legitimately raised the issue in the Legislative Assembly before then. However, the methods had been debatable. The referendum was therefore called to resolve the issue as an effort to decide objectively which option the people backed. The legitimacy of the referendum is often challenged by Singaporean left-wing supporters, due to the lack of an option to vote against the merger.

Backed by the official mandate, Singapore entered into merger with Malaysia on 16 September 1963, marking the birth of Malaysia.

References