Singapore held its legislative elections on the 21 Sep 1963, shortly after merger with Malaysia. PAP won 37 out of 51 seats with the remaining 14 going to the opposition; 13 went to Barisan Sosialis and the remaining seat went to the United People’s Party.
One such person to remember was Miss Loh Miaw Gong. She was first arrested as a student activist in 1956 are detained for the subsequent 3 years. Then, the late LKY acted as her lawyer who argued that the charges against here were “baseless”.
Upon release, she contested in the 1963 elections and she beat her opponents to become an elected lawmaker but never succeeded in representing her constituents as she was detained for the next 6 years without trial.
In her words, this was from hypocrisy of her former lawyer who had arrested her on similar grounds to those he had argued against earlier.
Using the communist insurgency as reason, the dark year saw the arrests of some of the longest prisoners of conscience not only in Singapore but also in the World. Chia Thye Poh was the longest-held political prisoner in the World, who spent 23 years in prison without charge before spending another 9 years under house arrest.
He was subsequently nominated for the Nobel peace price.
Another Dr Lim Hock Siew saw close to 20 in jail without trial and stood firm in his beliefs even though he was offered a release 11 years earlier if he was willing to sign a statement promising not to partake in politics. Upon his release, he showed that he still cared for Singaporeans by offering free medical care to the poor at his clinic.
Overall, 5 out of the 13 Barisan Sosialis members who were elected as MPs were arrested under the ISA. One historian said that it “would not be wrong to say that the arrests of the leaders of the opposition and trade unions in 1963 ensured monopoly of power for the PAP till today – Almost every year after 1963, there were arrests.”
Surely, as one looks at the success of Singapore’s skyline today, it may also be right to reflect on its political past 53 years ago.
*The author is part of the editorial team @ TRE but the views given are made in his own capacity.