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Singapore

 
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Singapore

Toward New Leadership

Singapore successfully pursued its foreign policy goal of improved relations with Malaysia and Indonesia in the early 1980s as Lee Kuan Yew established cordial and productive personal relations with both Soeharto and Malaysian prime minister Mahathir Mohamad. Cooperation agreements were reached between Singapore and Malaysia on joint civil service and military training programs. The economic interdependence of the two countries was reaffirmed as Singapore continued its role as the reexport center for the tin, rubber, lumber and other resources of the Malaysian hinterland, as well as becoming a major investor in that country's economy.

Throughout the early 1980s, Singapore headed the ASEAN drive to find a solution to the Cambodia problem. Beginning in 1979, the ASEAN countries sponsored an annual resolution in the UN calling for a withdrawal of Vietnamese troops and a political settlement on Cambodia. In 1981 Singapore hosted a successful meeting of the leaders of the three Khmer liberation factions, which led to the formation of the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea the following year.

During the first half of the 1980s, the Singapore economy continued to grow steadily, despite a worldwide recession. The economic growth rate of about 10 percent in 1980 and 1981 dipped to 6.3 percent in 1982 but rebounded to 8.5 percent with only 2.7 percent inflation in 1984. In his 1984 New Year's message to the nation, Lee Kuan Yew attributed Singapore's high economic growth rate, low inflation, and full employment during the period to its hardworking work force, political stability and efficient administration, regional peace, and solidarity in ASEAN. Singapore's successful economic strategy included phasing out labor-intensive industries in favor of high-technology industries, which would enhance the skills of its labor force and thereby attract more international investment.

Although Lee Kuan Yew retained a firm grip on the reins of government during the second decade of the country's independence,the shift in leadership had been irrevocably set in motion. By the early 1980s, a second generation of leaders were beginning to occupy the important decision-making posts. The stars of the new team included Goh Chok Tong, Tony Tan, S. Dhanabalan, and Ong Teng Cheong, who were all full ministers in the government by 1980. In that year, the PAP won its fourth consecutive general election, capturing all the seats. Its 75.6 percent vote margin was five points higher than that of the 1976 election. The PAP leadership was shaken out of its complacency the following year, however, when Workers' Party candidate J. B. Jeyaretnam won with 52 percent of the votes the by-election to fill a vacancy in Anson District. In the general election held in December 1984, Jeyaretnam retained his seat and was joined on the opposition benches by Chiam See Tong, the leader of the Singapore Democratic Party, which was founded in 1980.

In September 1984, power in the PAP Central Executive Committee was transferred to the second-generation leaders, with only Lee Kuan Yew, as secretary general, remaining of the original committee members. When Lee hinted in 1985 that he was considering retirement, his most likely successor appeared to be Goh Chok Tong, serving then as first deputy prime minister and defence minister. Speculation also centered on the prime minister's son, Lee Hsien Loong, who had resigned his military career to win a seat in Parliament in the 1984 election. After two decades of the highly successful, but tightly controlled, administration of Lee Kuan Yew, it was difficult to say whether the future would bring a more open and participatory government, yet one with the same knack for success exhibited by the old guard. The answer to that question would only come with the final passing of Lee Kuan Yew from the political scene.

* * *

The early history of Singapore is treated most extensively in works on the Malay peninsula, particularly in the various issues of the Journal of the Malaysian Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society. Of special interest is a commemorative volume, 150th Anniversary of the Founding of Singapore, which includes reprints of articles on Singapore from previous issues of the journal. Three monographs that treat Singapore within the Malayan context from prehistory to the modern period are Tan Ding Eing's A Portrait of Malaysia and Singapore, N.J. Ryan's The Making of Modern Malaysia and Singapore, and K.G. Tregonning's A History of Modern Malaysia and Singapore. Prince of Pirates, by Carl A. Trocki, gives an interesting glimpse into the world of the early nineteenth-century Malay rulers of Singapore. The forty years during which Singapore was ruled from India as one of the Straits Settlements is well covered in The Straits Settlements, 1826- 67 by Coustance M. Turnbull.

Turnbull is also the author of the standard work focusing solely on Singapore, A History of Singapore, 1819-1975. Another useful work covering the same period is F.J. George's, The Singapore Saga. Two interesting works, both written in the early twentieth century, view nineteenth-century Singapore from different perspectives. One Hundred Years of Singapore, edited by Walter Makepeace, et al., deals with the history of the colonial government, whereas Song Ong Siang's One Hundred Years' History of the Chinese in Singapore covers the life and times of prominent Chinese Singaporeans.

For works focused on postwar Singapore, see Conflict and Violence in Singapore and Malaysia, 1945-1983 by Richard L. Clutterbuck and Singapore: Struggle for Success by John Drysdale. An interesting pictorial history is Singapore: An Illustrated History, 1941-1984, published by the Singapore Ministry of Culture. (For further information and complete citations, see Bibliography.)

Data as of December 1989

Singapore - TABLE OF CONTENTS

  • Introduction
  • History & Historical Setting

  • Go Up - Top of Page

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