Monday, 7 December 2015

This week in 1965: Opposition MPs boycott Singapore's first House session

They later quit to take their struggle outside Parliament, marking start of one-party politics
By Ho Ai Li, The Sunday Times, 6 Dec 2015

The first parliamentary session in Independent Singapore opened on Dec 8, 1965, and was not attended by a single opposition MP.

MPs from the opposition Barisan Sosialis boycotted the session to protest against the "undemocratic acts" of the People's Action Party (PAP). They later resigned and took their struggle outside Parliament, leaving the PAP unchallenged in the legislative arena.

The boycott marked the start of one-party politics in Singapore, with no opposition MP elected into Parliament until J.B. Jeyaretnam of the Workers' Party won a seat in 1981.

A day before the opening of Parliament, Barisan Sosialis chairman Lee Siew Choh had announced the boycott. The party was not prepared to attend the session to give "legal cover" to the PAP's "phoney independence", he said.

The party, formed by a breakaway faction from the PAP, had won 13 seats to the Legislative Assembly, but three of its MPs were under political detention and another two had disappeared, The Straits Times reported in December 1965.

The other eight MPs stayed away from the session, the first time that the opposition benches were empty for an entire session.

A Straits Times editorial said: "What the opposition hopes to accomplish by its absence is beyond comprehension".

Before the boycott, the Government released a statement to say that Lim Chin Siong, a former key leader of the Communist movement in Singapore, who was then under detention, was prepared to renounce Communism.

Dr Lee's move led to division within the Barisan, with several MPs from the party resigning as lawmakers, including S.T. Bani, who was then in detention.

In October 1966, Dr Lee announced the resignation of the Barisan MPs from Parliament and said their new strategy would be to continue their struggle outside Parliament. He said the party would ask police for permits to mount rallies and house-to-house campaigns to explain its reason for the boycott and resignations.

In 1968, the Barisan decided to sit it out when a general election was called, paving the way for the PAP to win walkovers in 51 seats and to win the remaining seven with more than 80 per cent of the votes.

Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew wrote in his memoirs: "Lee Siew Choh had not only rendered the communist united front ineffective, he had in effect surrendered the constitutional arena to the PAP. It was a costly mistake, one that gave the PAP unchallenged dominance of Parliament for the next 30 years."

Lawyer made first Speaker of Parliament
By Ho Ai Li, The Sunday Times, 6 Dec 2015

Mr A.P. Rajah was appointed the first Speaker of Parliament in December 1965 when the first parliamentary session opened in independent Singapore.

Previously, he had been a Speaker of the Legislative Assembly while still continuing his law practice. As a full-time Speaker of Parliament, Mr Rajah was given a salary of $3,000 a month.

Born in Port Dickson, Negri Sembilan, Mr Rajah read law at Oxford University and was called to the English Bar in 1937. He later moved to Singapore and opened up a law firm, Tan Rajah & Cheah, in 1947.

Mr Rajah later became a city councillor and ran for elections in 1959 as an independent candidate for Farrer Park. He won the seat and was elected into the Legislative Assembly. In 1963, he lost his seat but became Speaker of the Legislative Assembly a year later.

In 1966, Mr Rajah was appointed Singapore's first High Commissioner to Britain and was later High Commissioner to Australia and Fuji.

He was a High Court judge from 1976 until his retirement in 1990. He was also the first Supreme Court judge to remain on the Bench after turning 70.

He died in 1999 at age 88.

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