1950s: The Big Sweep

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It was a party he founded more than 60 years ago and, over the years, it has become synonymous with Lee Kuan Yew. Petir looks at several key moments when Mr Lee left his indelible mark on the party.

Nov 21, 1954: The People's Action Party (PAP) was founded with Lee Kuan Yew as its secretary-general and Dr Toh Chin Chye as the chairman. The inaugural meeting was held that day at the Victoria Memorial Hall.

April 2, 1955: The PAP fielded four candidates in the first partially-elected Government, winning three seats. An independent winner, Mr Ahmad Ibrahim, later joined the party as well. Mr Lee, who contested in Tanjong Pagar, became the de facto opposition leader with Mr David Marshall from the Labour Party appointed as Chief Minister.

June 29, 1957: Mr Marshall challenged Mr Lee to contest a by-election in June and both resigned from their seats. Mr Lee was re-elected as a member of the Legislative Assembly for Tanjong Pagar.

Aug 13, 1957: Pro-communists leaders within the party won six of the 12 Central Executive Committee (CEC) seats, seizing the key posts of secretary, chairman and vice-chairman, and capturing nearly all of the PAP branches. They allowed Mr Lee, Dr Toh and Mr Ahmad to remain, but Mr Lee and Dr Toh refused to take office.

October, 1957: After the pro-communist leaders were arrested by the government, Dr Toh took over as interim chairman and the original party leaders resumed control in elections the next month.

Dec 21, 1957: The PAP contested the first City Council elections, and won 13 of the 32 seats, forming the majority party.

1958: As a result of the way the pro-communists took power of the party, Mr Lee led a change of the PAP Constitution to allow only cadre members to vote for CEC members.

May 30, 1959: The PAP fielded 51 candidates to contest the first Legislative Assembly general elections and won 43 of 51 seats with 53.4 per cent of the votes. The PAP formed the first government of the self-governing state of Singapore with Mr Lee as Prime Minister at the age of 35.


Big brooms were election symbols of the PAP during the election for the first fully-elected City Council in 1957 - to "sweep away" corruption, nepotism and the incompetence of the incumbent political parties.

The City Council was the decision-making body for local government matters such as public health and housing. It was the first time the 32-member council was to be fully elected, and the first where all adults in Singapore were automatically registered as voters. A total of 81 candidates contested the 32 seats.

Being free of corruption was a promise the PAP used to win elections. It was Mr Lee's belief that only a government free of corruption could truly serve the people.

The PAP won 13 seats, becoming the leading party. Under the PAP, the City Council had proved itself effective in improving water supply, markets, hawker stalls, and the sewerage system - areas which touched the daily lives of the people. This gave the people a sneak preview of what the PAP could do for them. The City Council Election was a rehearsal for the upcoming national election. This time, the PAP would fight to become the ruling party

In the early years of his political career, Mr Lee once said: "I am convinced that we will thrive and flourish, provided there is an honest and effective government here."

This was a constant and important theme in his approach to governance. In an interview to mark the PAP's 45th anniversary, Mr Lee said: "Our survival depends on running a clean, efficient system, which means the politics must be clean before the government can be clean. If you need money to win seats, money to become a minister, to be the president, then Singapore is done for."

Keeping things "clean'' has been so important to Mr Lee that on his 90th birthday in September 2013, and against his doctor's advice to stay home, Mr Lee showed up in Parliament. As MPs gathered in the Meeting Room to celebrate his big day, Mr Lee told them his birthday wish - that the government continues to remain clean and honest and to uphold moral standards.

This was first published in 'Thank You Comrade Lee Kuan Yew: A Special Tribute From the People's Action Party'

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