The Little Known History Behind Singapore’s 1963 Merger With Malaysia

“I didn’t realise that Singaporeans voted for merger with Malaysia in 1963 simply because all three choices available in the referendum were for merger, just in different ways. And that Singapore was booted out of Malaysia because, among other things, the PAP reneged on its promise not to contest the elections in Malaysia.” – Bertha Henson

Many Singaporeans just like Bertha Henson, a veteran journalist would be surprised by the revelation that the people of Singapore were presented with a poll to vote for merger with no choice of saying “No”.

We all know what have been taught to us in school.  In 1962, we voted overwhelmingly in favour of merger.  In 1965, we got kicked out and the rest, as they say, is history.

However, did we actually vote overwhelmingly in favour of referendum? In fact, did we even have a choice to vote against referendum?

The answer was revealed to people like Bertha Henson via Sonny Liew’s visual masterpiece, ‘The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye‘.

The Illusion of Choice

The 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum and most other referendums like Brexit have choices where the voter could clearly choose to vote in favour or against the motion that is sought to be passed.

The ballot paper for the 2014 Scottish Independence Referendum

Whereas Singaporeans voting in the 1962 referendum for merger were basically presented with a Hobson’s Choice, with 3 choices offered to them, all of which were for merger. The only difference between the three is the form of merger.


As evidenced by the ballot paper, the Singaporean voters clearly had no option to vote against merger.

The results of the referendum

The only way one could reject the merger was probably through blank votes – which is exactly what Barisan Sosialis, a now-defunct political party did to suggest voters to do.

However, PAP countered the Barisan’s ploy by saying that blank votes would be counted as votes towards Option A – a move that highly likely confused  many of those who had initially thought of submitting a blank vote to protest merger.

In the end, a majority of the voters voted for Option A, which was the option that granted the greatest autonomy to Singapore among the 3 options – indicative of a clear thirst for autonomy among voters.

When viewed through a different lens, the people of Singapore did not, in fact, vote overwhelmingly in favour of merger. What they did instead, was to vote overwhelmingly in favour of autonomy.

This begs the question, if voters were given the choice of voting against merger, which is also the epitome of autonomy, would the merger bill have been shot down?

Gallup Poll

The answer, according to a Gallup Poll conducted in the constituency of Tanjong Pagar, was a resounding “Yes”.

Before we go into the results, we must first understand that the residents of Tanjong Pagar who were surveyed, were the same people who elected the late Lee Kuan Yew into the Legislature for 3 consecutive elections from 1955 with a majority of at least 42%. This was the constituency that returned the Prime Minister to the Legislature.

To ensure impartiality, Gallup also took measures like inviting third party observers from political parties, civil society organizations and members of the public supervise the proceedings and the counting of votes. The poll presented to voters was also a more straightforward one, it read: “Are you for or against the Merger Proposals?” with two choices, “Yes” or “No”

The PAP itself, perhaps aware of sentiments on the ground, tried to discredit the poll by it’s age-old tactic of mud-slinging.

Even the PAP's smear tatics could not stop the Gallup Poll

90% voted against merger

The results of the Gallup Poll revealed that 90% of the residents that returned the Prime Minister to the Legislature voted against Merger.

Fajar, a publication by the University Socialist Club, carried an article on the Gallup Poll and what it reveals about the Government’s plans. The article, in its entirety, can be viewed below.

It is vital that we re-examine history and that we do not accept, at face value, the Government’s ‘official narrative’ which, more often than not, is construed to disguise ulterior political motives.

I reckon that this revelation, although astounding, is merely the tip of the iceberg. Rather than undermining our national security, as the NAC and MDA might think so, it would instead strengthen the Singaporean core and unite us by reminding us of the power of active citizenry. Though PAP’s security on its political power and legitimacy may be undermined, but that is none of Singapore’s business as it surely will carry on.

The Fajar article in full

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