It was rightfully said that ‘the sun never set on the British Empire’ as the British Empire was the foremost global power for over a century and ruled over 412 million people across the globe. Singapore is a prime example of a country that did not fight for freedom from the British Empire but a country that wanted to become a part of another nation. This piece takes us through the independence or rather the expulsion of Singapore from Malaysia and the effects it had on the two nations.
Singapore is a small group of islands which along with the island nations of Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia, and several others formed the Malay Archipelago. The Malay Archipelago allowed the British Empire to set up a trade route between India and China for the famous Opium Trade.
Singapore throughout its glorious history was ruled by many empires- the Dutch, the Portuguese and the British Empire mainly for its spices. In 1819, the Johar Sultanate of Singapore signed a treaty with Sir Thomas Stamford Raffles, allowing the British Empire to set up a trading port in Singapore. Hence, Singapore became a British Colony.
Post the Second World War, the British Empire created the Malayan Union out of nine states of Malaya and two other islands in order to ensure efficient administration and security. Singapore was excluded from this Union due to the presence of a large Chinese population and also because it was a free port and naval base for the British. However, due to widespread opposition of the Malays towards the immigrant, non-native communities the Union ceased to exist and the Federation of Malaya was formed in 1948, but Singapore was yet again excluded. But, the British had a bigger picture in mind, they believed it was only a matter of time and they shall include Singapore in the Federation too.
However, the ruling party of Singapore, People’s Action Party, which was of an anti-communist mindset, was of the opinion that due to strong historic and economic ties between the two countries, Singapore should be merged with the Federation of Malaya. Part of the reason was the declining resources of the country and the increasing population and falling jobs. However, the ruling party of Malaya, UMNO which too was an anti-communist mindset was skeptical of the merger due to the large Chinese population residing in Singapore.
But during 1961, fearing a communist takeover of Singapore, Malaya agreed to the merger to avoid this. According to the agreement between the political parties of the two countries, UMNO would not participate in the state politics of Singapore. However, UMNO still participated, which worsened the relations between the two parties. Moreover, the racial tensions between the non-Malays including the Chinese population of Singapore and Malays as the non-Malays rejected the discriminatory practices of the UMNO party. The Chinese were denied Malaysian citizenship even after the merger and certain special privileges were provided to the native Malays. Islam was declared the sole religion though the freedom to practice all religions was granted. Coupled with this, the Malays in Singapore were being incited that the state party, in essence, People’s Action Party was mistreating Malays. This resulted in several racial riots and curfew broke out in several parts of the country to keep the situation under control.
The UMNO feared that the economic dominance of Singapore might shift the political power away from Kuala Lumpur. It saw PAP as a threat to the Malay based political system. Even though both Singapore and Malaysia agreed to a common market Singapore still experienced restrictions while trading with the rest of Malaya leading to an increase in costs. All this led to hate speeches between the two parties and escalation of tensions. To avoid further escalation of tension which might lead to bloodshed the Malaysian Prime Minister expelled Singapore from the Federation.
Throughout history, we come across innumerable examples of nations, of people, of organizations who in a bid of global dominance or rather dominance assert control over another country, another people or organization. We started this article with the British Empire because it is a leading example of this nation striving for power and dominance. It also started in that way in order to create or rather draw a contrast with Malaysia, a country which in a bid to assert supremacy expelled another nation, instead of asserting control over it. It expelled Singapore to protect its own rights, its own power, and its own people. Singapore could be a leading example of a country that wanted to merge with another at a time when countries were disintegrating, countries like the great Soviet Union, countries like India.
The Malaysian Prime Minister’s decision to expel Singapore might have been extremely humiliating for Singapore and for the party which initiated this merger but if you take a look at the bigger picture, this was the right decision, because it spared innocent lives, it put an end to the escalating racial tensions and it put an end the discriminatory practices against the Chinese residents of Singapore.
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Currently in her second year of Economics Honours from Shri Ram College of Commerce, she is a Punjab-Delhi express that demands to be recongnised. She is an enthusiastic soul looking for happiness in small things while trying to make it big in life. From books to humans she has opinions on all, a curious soul who never gets tired of learning.