ReVisiting Singapore’s 1962 Battle for Merger:

“A Longer Victory would have been Very Bad for my Future”

The 1962 Battle for Merger was also The Battle for my Future.
A young boy heard on the radio a man’s voice urging Singaporeans to join Malaya “or else, we will not survive” or words to that effect. His “language of survival” in a calm, authoritative voice exuding the confidence of leadership was sufficient to elicit trust and faith, and I also somehow felt the need of that defining moment. In 1962, more than 70% Singaporeans voted for Merger. And I became a “Malaysian” in the newly formed country, Malaysia, on 30 August 1963.

I can recall no particular affective feelings toward Malaysia, really. On 9 August 1965, Singapore was booted out of Malaysia at the stroke of midnight like a pariah and bastard child. 

The failure of Merger was a heavy blow to Prime Minister Lee, who believed that it was crucial for Singapore’s survival.  I saw on black&white TV how then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew cried as he announced Singapore’s eviction by Malaysia. He was in deep anguish, clearly disappointed and with extreme emotional pain permeating every part of his body. It was a language of despair, of utter disappointment, of hopelessness, of helplessness that seemed to signal the beginning of our inevitable journey into oblivion.  

It was better this way, Really. The early joy of Merger Victory had been followed by two years of love-hate, bittersweet honeymoon disputing the conflicting visions of a meritocratic, multicultural “Malaysian Malaysia” vs a Malay-dominant, racist, ethnic supremacist “Malay Malaysia”. With no ethnic group then exceeding 50% in the population, a Malaysian Malaysia would have made the most sensible choice, but not to the powerful Malay political elites and their interest groups.  A saline mixture of fresh and sea water would still taste salty, even if we had remained in Malaysia.

The Promised Land of Malaysia two years earlier had turned into a Desert of Acrimony. The Mirage of Mutual Prosperity clouded the Reality of sandy Political Interests.  We could not be forced into drinking the sand of political racism to quench our thirst for justice and equality.  And We refused to mistake it for the precious water needed to nurture our dream of Nationhood.

A longer Merger victory would see Singapore today becoming like resource-rich but poor Sabah and Sarawak. Both had entered Merger with Malaysia in 1963 on more or less similar terms as Singapore. Both had to surrender tremendous earnings to the Central Government in Kuala Lumpur without receiving any reciprocating and proportionate benefits of supposedly mutual prosperity. For both Sabah and Sarawak, their Merger victories were pyrrhic.

Malaysia today is understood in term of a class structure of social inequality created by her mostly Malay power elites. Political Racism in Malaysia nurtures a large number of politically connected Bumiputra (Native and Muslim) rent seekers promoting a business system riddled with kickbacks and corruption. Malaysia as a Promised Land exists only as an illusion. Our Victorious Merger with Malaysia would have been as pyrrhic as Sabah’s and Sarawak’s.

SINGAPORE IS NOT EASY. It took Hard Work, Long Patience, Deep Endurance, Plenty of Diligence, Many Lessons from Mistakes and Lots of Good Fortune to get to where we are Today.  FIFTY YEARS ON, I am glad that we Won briefly But LOST the Merger Battle. A Longer Victory would have been Very Bad for mine and Our Future.

From the Ashes of a Failed Vision, We had emerged More Prosperous, Stronger, More Rugged, More Resilient, More Robust and More Independent.  Our RIGHT to Survive with Independent Sovereignty CANNOT and MUST NEVER be compromised or sacrificed. Our Authenticity as a Nation providing Exceptional Value to the World MUST Always be visibly Demonstrated without Any Equivocation.

Our Greatest Moment as “One People, One Nation” was in picking up the Pieces of our young Nation when so Many had written us Off.  We had Believed in One Another when we Failed in our Merger Victory, and we Prevailed.  It is always easier to keep our faith and believing when we are succeeding. And TODAY as we reach our Jubilee 50 years old, and grappled with New Issues of Survival, let it not be forgotten that We Once Had a Difficult Birth, a Risky Delivery, a Vulnerable Existence and a Daunting Struggle to Continually Assert Our Right to Live among the Nations as a Sovereign Nation Deserving of Their Respect, Friendship and Admiration.  Let’s continue to Believe in Each Other and Ourselves as We March into the next 50 Years and beyond.

Kopi Level - Blue

Read Full Story:


Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

I was barely 13 and still in primary school when the Battle for Merger was being fought. I remember the maroon colour A4 size folder with the outline of empty square and rectangular boxes for us to paste pretty pictures of flowers and animals of Malaya.

All students received their copy of this joining Malaysia book. 'Malaysia, as sure as the sun will rise' was the war cry. As little children, there was really no sense of what it was all about becoming a part of Malaya.

Ya, could remember the crying scene on TV. If not mistaken, saw it on free TV at a community centre at Borneo Rd/Nelson Rd. Both roads are history now.

Anonymous said...

'Both Roads are history now'.

There are many countries that are not only history, they are literally unknown to many people.

Loulan kuo, Persia etc are examples.

History may includes others in future.

Virgo49 said...

Hi Mr Chua, Borneo Rd/Nelson Road now Keppel Distripark.

One chai tow kueh pushcart together with other stalls lining up the road. Godown with cotton cargo burned to ashes

Old shophouses with one Provision shop at main Kampong Bahru Road to Radin Mas Primary School. You are from there right??

Think we are school mates kena pulled ears until like elves from Miss Lee, the Principal.

Are you the rich provision shop's boss son??

Ya, got to sing Negara Ku after hearing God Save The Queen for so many years.

Then become Majullah Singapura after the pathetic fellow cried on TV.

Proclamation of Independence announced whole day thru radio and Rediffusion.

To me it is the dumbest most stupid blunder made by LKY.

See the Old Sultan of Brunei. So pandai (very the smart) do not even want to join.

Also, stupid Sabah and Sarawak now also been skinned by the Federal Government.

LYK thought he wants to be champion for the Malaysian Chinese. Loves them so much that now we have so many of them in our House and we are been kicked out in our own house.

Now Sinkie high calibre PM and Minsters should persuade Sabah and Sarawak to join Stinkapore as ONE.

Think they will get better deal from Sinkie PM.

Our Navy with its billion S$dollars ships and equipments will better serve them against the Sulu pirates and terrorists.

Half of our population can shift over there and live in Resorts and bungalows.

Only disadvantage, now got to live in Thailand to get back all your CPF as Sabah and Sarawak becomes ONE with Singapore.

West Malaysia also too near, not qualified.

With the Change of a NEW Government in Singapore, maybe this is possible.

They the East Malaysians also scared of the PAP's odour.

Chua Chin Leng aka redbean said...

Ya we were schoolmates, maybe classmates. Children from the area either went to Radin Mas or De Lasalle. Actually there were several provision shops along Kg Bahru Rd from the Police station to Kuching Rd and along Nelson Rd.

In the morning at the junction of Borneo Rd and Nelson Rd there were a few pushcarts catering to the coolies. Tow huey chwee, carrot cake and sometimes Yu chia kueh.

I wish I was the towkay kiah. No, I grew up in a coolie keng or ah pian keng.

Oh, the merger is not all negative. The most important thing coming out from the merger was that Singapore was returned to Malaya. The anger about Singapore being snatched or robbed from the Sultan of Johore by the British ended there. Period.

Singapore was given independence by Malaysia, legitimately. Singapore got a new lease of life with no historical baggages from colonialism. No one can claim that Singapore was stolen or taken away illegally from Malaya.

This is a historical fact, a new beginning for Singapore as an independent country and nation with the blessing of Malaysia.

b said...

I think sabah and sarawak will fight for independence via referendum like scotland in the near future. that will be very interesting.

Anonymous said...

Singapore is not Sabah, Sarawak or Brunei. It has nothing except beans, even water is in short supply.
If it is a district/province of Malaysia, Sinkies would have being able to live from Blakang Mati(Sentosa) all the way into parts of Borneo(Kalimantan).
Tengku was smart, he suspected the Ambition of Lee Kuan Yew and more so that Singapore is barren. It will not have much to offer in the long run and will be a liability rather than an asset. Why woukd he want to risk falling victim to Lee Kuan Yew?

Crying over spilt milk is and was act of babies, luckily after that crying, Singapore was and is playing middleman for the International Businesses. HOWEVER, globalization and the extensive use of aircraft are making the Middleman becoming redundant.
Middleman will be like remisier, there shall come a day when they will not be needed.

Will there be another 50 years worth celebrating at the 100th for Sin?

Michael Heng PBM said...

Guys, I think to be fair, LKY strategy going into Msia whether for Spe to become independent or/and beat the Commmies or/and Spe econ dev was a brilliant chess move. Commies were checkmated, having to deal with whole Msia; Brits were out; and well, the econ terms for entering Msia were NOT quite favorable to us. 2 out of 3 not bad, lah. Sure, riding both the Commie and Msian tigers at the same time were dangerous. Tunku (really nice guy!) did us a favour kicking us out; with Msian tiger gone, we went on to smash the Commies (mostly Chinese) decisively in Spe using our own methods. Some can take issue with the way we did it, but I sure glad wasn't made a Commie slave and went to school instead of farm. Of course, LKY may have his plan how to ride and dismount the Msian tiger ... well, he did not get the chance to deploy plan. Tunku (who actually repeatedly failed his Law exams) thot he outsmarted clever LKY kicking us out; BUT actually he Kickstarted LKY and Spe into a new resolve to Live. Also must thank Tunku for NOT sending in the Msian Army, or else many of you may never be born, and I wld have become a guerilla fighter still fighting in the Msian jungle today. To me, History will confirm the Battle for Merger to be one of the Finest we ever fought and won; and Losing the Merger Victory to win the Future later was just pure Lucky for Spe to finally find our Rightful Place under the Sun. Singaporeans should have NO quarrel with this FACT.

Virgo 49 said...

Bumis feared losing political power.

Economic power secondary to them.

if Singapore with its Chinese population in, they might lose their political power.

LYK can be real threat to win political power with just some support from the Indians and some malay votes.

So Tengku better lets Sin out rather than take the risks

Frankly, the world and the other races should not be fearful of the Chinese.

The Whites knew that the Chinese would betrayed, killed, conned and do whatever it got to take to kill their own kind for power, wealth and whatever benefits them.

They are like loose sand, disunited, and only care only at best their own families .

Robert Chia said...


'LKY strategy going into Msia whether for Spe to become independent or/and beat the Commmies or/and Spe econ dev was a brilliant chess move'

I think this is a bit 'whiggish'. Far too 'heroic' for my liking. It was more like out of desperation that we went for merger and then that did not work out so we were left in the cold and had to make do with our lot.

Thanks for reminding about what happened over 50 years ago and the subsequent 'break-up'. We were forced to take the 'road less travelled. And that has made all the difference' (Robert Frost).

Despite all the criticisms about Singapore today, it is hard to not appreciate all the transformation that has taken place from those difficult times. Like RB and perhaps others, I too was a young teenager during the Merger in 1962. Life in the 1950s through to early 60s was pretty basic: born on the sand floor of an attap house and delivered by a 'kan ter em'; outside 'jam-bun'; no electricity; having to 'tah chwee'; helping the tick tock mee man after school; eating 'see kah chua' soup for dinner; selling papayas and eggs to the corner shop and being laughed at for doing so, was my lot. Talking about 'swa ngiaw cher' was taboo. School was probably the only saving grace - and playing beetle-propelled wooden boats when it rained and flooded.

Today is a far cry from those times. It is hard for younger ones to understand where we have come from and important to remember our history. It is something the so-called Pioneer Generation can be proud off which is why it sickens me to see elderly cardboard collectors, and cleaners at hawker stalls, on the one hand, and hundreds of billions of reserve on the other. If ever there was an example of 'goal displacement' and warped priorities, this must be it!

Anonymous said...


Archives show that sabah supposed to cum under stinkapore administration

Wondering if it is truth n such records can be found in those archives

Anonymous said...


Me naively and innocently went about in processions and burning of Tunku Rahman's effigies around Singapore to oppose the Merger.
Honestly, I knew little or nothing of the Consequences of merger and the protests organized by the mostly Leftist Faction at that time. It was more of a communal activity that most Left Leanings participated.

As the Merger Topic kept getting revived from time to time and as I grow older, I got the Hunch that Lee Kuan Yew was and is indeed a visionary.
I suspect that he knew that Sin faces survival problems. What if neighbours turned hostile? How to keep the Economy going wirh little or no resources? Can the Entrepot Pot last? Indeed there were much to worry about. A merger with resource rich Malaya will solve much of the problems. With Malaya as an ally, there will be no conflict with it and together, they could deal better with the Active leftists. Confrontasi had not ended then and with Britain leading the Anzuk Forces protecting both Malaya, Singapore and even Brunei, merger was positive in almost all respects. Most wonderful would be the Opportunity to be the Head of Malaysia. And that was where Tunku was most mindful and worried about in my view. He(Tunku Rahman) wisely decided to kick Sin out to exterminate that potential danger instead of having to deal wirh it later on.

As I grow older, I long for a merger and Lee Kuan Yew himself had iterated many times that possibility.
Doubt it will happen before he says bye bye, however, I do wish that his foresight of a remerger will take place as soon as possible.


Anonymous said...

Merge wo kee koo koo cheow