How did Singapore manage to break away from Malaysia without major conflict?

How many of you all know the actual reason behind the separation of Singapore from Malaysia? Well, Singapore didn’t actually “breakaway” from Malaysia, instead Singapore was expelled from Malaysia.

It was on the of 9th of August 1965, when Singapore separated from Malaysia to become an independent and sovereign state. The separation was the result of deep political and economic differences between the ruling parties of Singapore and Malaysia, which created communal tensions that resulted in racial riots in July and September 1964. At a press conference announcing the separation, then Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew was overcome by emotions and broke down. Singapore’s union with Malaysia had lasted for less than 23 months.
Singapore in Malaysia’s Union

Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew signed the Malaysia Agreement in London on 9 July 1963. The agreement spelt out the terms for the formation of the Federation of Malaysia, comprising Singapore, Malaya, Sarawak and North Borneo (Sabah), which was to take place on 31 August 1963. The terms for Singapore’s entry into Malaysia, which were agreed upon by both the Singapore and federal governments, were published in a “White Paper” in November 1961.

This White Paper documented the outcome of talks between Lee and then Malayan Prime Minister “Tunku Abdul Rahman” on Singapore’s inclusion into Malaysia. The terms included the margins of Singapore’s autonomy, Singapore’s political representation in the federal government, the status of Singapore citizens and Singapore’s revenue contribution to the federal government. Prior to the signing of the Malaysia Agreement in London, there was a week of “arduous and gruelling negotiations” over the more thorny issues of a common market between Singapore and Malaya, and the portion of Singapore’s revenue and taxes that would go to the federal government. With these issues settled, Singapore began its journey as part of Malaysia.

A Tough Union!

Even before the proclamation of the formation of the Federation of Malaysia on 16 September 1963, Singapore and Malayan leaders were mindful that the differences in the political approach and economic conditions between the two countries “cannot be wiped out overnight”. This, however, did not prevent sharp exchanges between the leaders of both countries throughout the period of the union. The slow progress of the creation of a common market and the difficulty in getting pioneer status from Kula Lumpur for Singapore industries frustrated Singapore leaders, while Kuala Lumpur was dissatisfied with Singapore’s dogged response to the federal government’s clamour for increased revenue contribution to combat the Indonesian Confrontation, and for an agreed loan to develop Sabah and Sarawak.

At the political front, the grossly imbalanced Malay-Chinese population in both countries made each vulnerable to communal prejudices which were played up by political leaders. The two major political parties in Malaysia, the People’s Action Party (PAP) and the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO), were soon accusing one another of communalism.

The accusations escalated into tensions until they erupted into racial violence in Singapore on 21st July and 2nd September 1964. Despite agreeing to a two-year truce in September 1964, the acrimony between UMNO and PAP soon flared up again. At the heart of the rift was Lee’s multi-racial slogan, “Malaysian Malaysia”, which sowed deep distrust among UMNO leaders, especially the “ultras”, who viewed his vision of a non-communal Malaysia as a challenge to their party’s raison d’être of undisputed Malay dominance.

The Birth of Singapore!

The proclamation declaring Singapore’s independence was announced on Radio Singapore at 10:00 am on 9th August 1965. Simultaneously in Kuala Lumpur, the Tunku announced the separation to the federal parliament. He then moved a resolution to enact the Constitution of Malaysia (Singapore Amendment) Bill, 1965, that would allow Singapore to leave Malaysia and become an independent and sovereign state. The bill was passed with a 126-0 vote and given the royal assent by the end of the day. Singapore TV also aired the press conference called by Lee at 4:30 p.m. during the press conference, Lee explained why the separation was inevitable despite his long-standing belief in the merger and called on the people to remain firm and calm. Filled with emotions and his eyes brimming with tears, Lee had given Singaporeans a glimpse of their leader’s “moment of anguish”.

Many rallied behind the news of the separation with relief although the manner of its announcement came as a shock and was initially greeted with disappointment and regret. It was slightly less than two years ago that the people of Singapore had backed Lee’s merger through their votes in the September 1962 referendum.

So far several countries have separated apart due to political and cultural differences among them. This example of Singapore break away from Malaysia is one among such epic separations taken place. Singapore is, so far, the only country in the world that achieved independence against its own will. At least, against its 1965 will, because right now I don’t think there must be many Singaporeans yearning to go back to Malaysia.

Singapore worked with the US and the UK, and also tightly with Israel, to create its own armed forces which, regardless of their size, are damn well equipped and trained.

Eventually, the tiny state became a master of manufacturing, also purchasing millions of litres of crude oil from the Middle East that were refined and turned into gasoline in the Jurong refineries. In addition, its geographic location and huge port made it a pretty interesting trade hub, something that also helped business and finances immensely.

By the time the Malaysians realized they had made a mistake, Singapore’s GDP was already as huge as theirs, with an important difference: while Malaysia’s current population is 30 million people, which of Singapore is six times smaller.