The PAP’s “aim number one” 60 years ago

The People’s Action Party (PAP) was formed on 12 November 1954.

This year thus marks the party’s 60th anniversary.

According to the PAP Facebook page:

“Lee [Kuan Yew] formed the socialist People’s Action Party (PAP)… with a group of English-educated middle-class colleagues and pro-communist trade unionists…”

The next year, 1955, the PAP nominated five candidates for the Legislative Assembly elections. Described as “action candidates” by The Singapore Free Press then, four of the five were:


And before the PAP was officially formed, in fact one month before – on 28 October 1954 – the Straits Times reported the party’s aims as a political organisation.

The Straits Times reported the PAP’s “aim number 1” as:

“The repeal of the Emergency Regulations heads the list of aims and objects of the People’s Action Party…”

The PAP, however, never did repeal the Emergency Regulations.

The Emergency Regulations were the precursor to the Internal Security Act (ISA) which the PAP Government, after it came into power, used to arrest and jail its political opponents, including those which it had partnered with – such as the “pro-communist trade unionists” – when it formed the party.

According to this online entry:

British colonial Malaya introduced the Emergency Regulations Ordinance 1948 on 7 July 1948 during the Malayan Emergency in response to a Communist uprising and guerrilla war. The regulations allowed the police to arrest anybody suspected of having acted or being likely to act in a way that would threaten security without evidence or a warrant, hold them incommunicado for investigation, and detain them indefinitely without the detainee ever being charged with a crime or tried in a court of law.

The successor to the Emergency Regulations Ordinance, the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance 1955 (“PPSO”), was introduced a result of the 1955 Hock Lee bus riots by the Labour Party government in Singapore. There was strong opposition to the PPSO by the party then in opposition, the People’s Action Party (“PAP”).

In 1958, Lee Kuan Yew of the PAP accused the Lim Yew Hock government of using the PPSO to stifle political dissent.

In 1960, three years after Malaya’s independence, the Emergency was declared over. However, the Malayan Internal Security Act 1960 (“ISA”) was passed in place of the PPSO with much of the same powers. During parliamentary debates on the Act, Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman stated that the ISA would only be applied against only the remaining Communist insurgents. The Malayan Communist Party and its insurgents eventually surrendered in 1989.

Nonetheless, the ISA was retained in Malaysia.

The drafter of the Malayan ISA was Hugh Hickling, a British lawyer, author and professor.

In 1989, he commented that he “could not imagine then that the time would come when the power of detention, carefully and deliberately interlocked with Article 149 of the Constitution, would be used against political opponents, welfare workers and others dedicated to nonviolent, peaceful activities”.

Nonetheless, he commented that he supported review of the ISA but it was not for him to say if the law should be scrapped, as “you’ve got a multi-racial society [in Malaysia] in which emotions can run high very quickly”.

When Singapore joined the Federation of Malaya in 1963, the Malayan ISA was extended to Singapore. The Act was retained in Singapore even after its separation from Malaysia in 1965. The current version of the Act is known as Chapter 143 of the 1985 Revised Edition.

In 1991, then deputy prime minister Lee Hsien Loong said the government “will seriously consider abolishing the Internal Security Act if Malaysia were to do so”.

Source: National Library Archives

In September 2011, Malaysia announced that it was repealing the ISA.

A month after Malaysia’s announcement, Singapore’s deputy prime minister Teo Chee Hean, told Parliament on 19 October 2011, that “[for] the foreseeable future, Singapore will need a law containing provisions like those in the ISA, including preventive detention, to empower the Government to pre-empt and prevent serious threats to our security.”

“The precise form the law takes may evolve with time and circumstances,” he said. “But for the present, the ISA is a shield that we need that protects us against these threats, allowing us to deal with them swiftly and effectively before they cause us serious and possibly permanent harm.”

The PAP’s “aim number 1” at its founding – to repeal the security laws – thus remains unfulfilled.

Among the PAP’s other pledges at its founding 60 years ago was “[the] restoration of the right to assemble in public; for any purpose that does not intend force’.”

Public assembly in Singapore remains banned, unless a police permit is granted.

Straits Times, 28 Oct 1954

Straits Times, 28 Oct 1954



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