Party Milestones

Party Beginnings

The date: 21 November 1954.

The place: A packed Victoria Memorial Hall, a name which reminded not a few of the 1,500 present of their British colonial masters.

The event: The birth of a new political party.

In a country on the threshold of nationhood, among a people fermenting with anti-colonialism, the People's Action Party (PAP) was born.

It was a tumultuous start for our party, fighting for a young country's independence. Our chosen path was neither not war nor revolution, but a collective and undeniable urge for self-determination. PAP members turned up in short sleeves to show solidarity with the workers who pledged loyalty to a new vision.

The first key office-holders included a group of English-speaking young men who had been educated overseas. These were Lee Kuan Yew, who was the party's first secretary-general, Toh Chin Chye, the party's first chairman and S Rajaratnam, who later held key ministerial posts in the Government.

In the early days, although the PAP worked with communists with anti-colonialism as their mutual platform, the PAP made it clear it had a different set of political values. Lim Chin Siong, along with his Chinese High senior, Fong Swee Suan, was introduced to Lee Kuan Yew. The PAP's goal was to achieve merger with Malaya, but the pro-communists wanted a united Singapore-Malaya under the communist banner.

In 1956, Lim and Lee represented the PAP at the London Constitutional Talks led by David Marshall, which ended in failure: the British declined to grant Singapore internal self-government. Marshall, disappointed with the constitutional talks, stepped down as Chief Minister, and was replaced by Lim Yew Hock.

After two more rounds of Constitutional Talks in 1957 and 1958, a General Election for a fully elected government was held on 30 May 1959. That year, the PAP won the election and formed Singapore's first fully elected government under the new Constitution. The Cabinet of self-government was sworn in on 5 June with Lee Kuan Yew as Prime Minister, Dr Toh Chin Chye, the Deputy Prime Minister, Goh Keng Swee, the Minister for Finance and Ong Pang Boon, Minister for Home Affairs.

Although foreign relations and matters of defence were still in the hands of the British at that time, it was a step closer to its mission of seeking independence through merger with Malaya.

Then in 1961 came the Big Split. Lim Chin Siong and a few others turned against the PAP and the government over the issue of the day: Independence through merger.

Once comrades-in-arms, Lim Chin Siong broke away from Lee Kuan Yew and left the PAP to become the leader of the opposition party Barisan Socialis (Socialist Front).

On 16 September 1963, amidst internal tension and external hostility, Singapore became part of Malaysia. 71% of electorate in Singapore voted in favour of a new nation comprising the Federation of Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak. Lee Kuan Yew remained as the PM of the State of Singapore. The General Election for that year was fiercely fought, with 46.5% of votes coming to the Party. Only Mr Lee and Dr Goh Keng Swee had clear majorities.

The merger with Malaya, however, was short-lived. In 20 odd months, the fundamental difference between PAP and the Alliance hinged on the nature of a Malaysian society - whether a Malaysian Malaysia or a Malay Malaysia. It caused an insurmountable ideological divide and led the Malay leaders to take the decision to separate Singapore from the rest of Malaysia in August 1965. Finally, on 9 August 1965, PM Lee announced the Separation.

Party Philosophy


Over the years, certain core values have formed the foundation for the country's key policies. The party's preference has been for ideas to manifest themselves through policies, rather than be cast in a theoretical philosophy of manifestos .

Our multi-racial and multi-religious focus can be seen in the equal treatment which all races - Chinese, Malay, Indians and Eurasians - receive in all areas of public service. This includes equal treatment in education, housing, and health. As a party, we also raised funds to to support community and social groups working on education and health across all racial groups.

Politically, the minorities are assured of proportionate representation in Parliament through the Group Representation Constituency, or GRC system set up in 1988. MPs can be elected under single wards or under GRCs, where a group of MPs are elected as a team. Each team must contain at least one MP who is a member of a minority group.

Our focus on meritocracy can be seen most clearly in the education system, in which one child is ensured of as many educational opportunities as the next child - regardless of his parents' financial status. This is through the many scholarships and bursaries given out for academic excellence.

Party Progress: Make it our best home


On the 45th anniversary of the party in 1999, Mr Goh Chok Tong, then-Prime Minister of Singapore and Secretary-General of the party since 1992, said: "Let us not celebrate so much past achievements, but prepare ourselves for challenges ahead...Let us inject our Party with a new vitality and drive.''

At the polls, the party has been returned to power since Singapore became independent. We have won all General Elections since independence, and the party's three secretary-generals - Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Goh Chok Tong and Mr Lee Hsien Loong - have been Singapore's three Prime Ministers.

We have a Women's Wing (set up in 1989) and Young PAP (the youth wing, set up in 1986). We continue to operate out of a modest headquarters in Upper Changi, within the heartlands of Bedok.

Over the years, our party's self-renewal has been systematic and planned. Each election, some 20 new candidates are trained and fielded. We will continue to attract good men and women to join us to stand and fight for office. Each generation of leaders builds on the progress of the past to continue our march to a better and brighter future for all Singaporeans.

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Published by and at the directions of People's Action Party
PAP HQ, Block 57B New Upper Changi Road, #01-1402 Singapore 463057

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