Singapore, Penang, and Malacca comprise the British-controlled Straits Settlements on the Malay Peninsula. Singapore is the area's primary port and a major producer of rubber and tin. Its diverse population includes Chinese, Indians, and Malays. British authorities open English-language primary schools, while the Chinese majority builds Chinese-language schools.
Singapore is largely unaffected by World War I, but the postwar rise in tin and rubber prices creates pockets of great wealth. Britain starts to build a naval base and airstrip. Anti-Japanese sentiment among Singaporean Chinese grows after Japan invades Manchuria in 1931. British officials outlaw anti-Japanese demonstrations and propaganda.
Japan invades the Malay Peninsula in December 1941. The British surrender Singapore in February 1942. Japan occupies Singapore for the remainder of the war, changing its name to Shonan ("Light of the South") and killing or imprisoning many Chinese intellectuals suspected of anti-Japanese activities or sentiments.
Allied forces retake Singapore in September 1945. Despite calls for a unified Malay Peninsula, Britain maintains Singapore as a separate crown colony. An interim military government restores utilities, reopens schools, and conscripts Japanese POWs to rebuild the port and airfield before handing control to a civilian administration in April 1946.
A communist movement called The Emergency gains power on the Malay Peninsula. The Emergency boycotts Singapore's 1948 elections. Only British citizens are allowed to vote. Colonial government offers primary education in Singapore's four main languages: English, Malay, Chinese, and Tamil.
As a longtime British colony, Singapore has a British-appointed governor and a legislative council whose members are mostly wealthy Chinese businessmen. But government officials appoint a commission chaired by Sir George Rendel to redraft Singapore's constitution in preparation for limited self-rule.
Britain adopts the Rendel commission's blueprint for a new government structure. Elections for one 25-seat Legislative Assembly are scheduled, and automatic registration swells the voting ranks. The new Labor Front party, led by British-educated lawyer David Marshall, gains 10 Assembly seats and forms a coalition government that supports a unified Malaya and strongly opposes colonial rule.
Chief Minister Marshall faces student and labor unrest and a governor reluctant to cede control. He leads a delegation to England to negotiate self-rule. Among the delegates is Lee Kuan Yew, head of the People's Action Party (PAP). Talks stall over who handles internal security. Marshall resigns. His successor Lim Yew Hock's aggressive response to unrest helps allay Britain's security concerns.
Britain finally grants Singapore self-rule and schedules elections which bring the People's Action Party to power. PAP leader Lee Kuan Yew calls for national unity, social and economic reform, and for a Federation of Malaya that includes Singapore. Lee introduces a new flag, a new national anthem, and makes English, Chinese, Malay, and Tamil official languages.
Minister of Finance Goh Keng Swee introduces a four-year plan to expand Singapore's trade-based economy. Singapore, Malaya, Sabah, and Sarawak form the Federation of Malaysia in 1963, angering Indonesian president Sukarno, who severs relations with Malaysia, steps up border patrols, and stirs up Singapore's Malay population.
Political tensions among Federation members mount until, on August 9, the Malaysian parliament votes Singapore out of the Federation. A tearful Lee Kuan Yew publicly rues Singapore's ouster: "My whole adult life, I have believed in merger and unity of the two territories."
Singapore becomes a republic. Lee promises to create an honest government and a single multicultural national identity, and to expand trade. Singapore joins Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, and Thailand in the regional Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN). Lee Kuan Yew's PAP party sweeps the 1971 elections, and he exploits the victory to press economic and labor reforms.
Government policies to expand trade and industry and attract foreign investment pay off. Singapore is a magnet for U.S. and European companies. Job opportunities abound, and the average worker's standard of living rises. By 1975, Singapore is the world's third largest oil-refining center and its third busiest port.
Singapore's economy continues its remarkable growth. PAP continues to dominate the country's politics. Lee Kuan Yew's paternalistic approach delivers stability, prosperity, and an orderly, well-educated society. But he is not above suppressing opponents within opposing parties and the press. Some critics mourn the loss of freedoms.
Lee Kuan Yew steps down as prime minister, but retains influence from his newly created "senior minister" position. Deputy Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Lee's handpicked successor, assumes the post and continues Lee's economic policies. In the January 1997 general election, the governing People's Action Party (PAP) wins 81 of 83 Assembly seats.
Singapore weathers the Asian financial crisis, but export dependence causes recession in 2001-02. Low unemployment and inflation inch upward, but quality of life remains high. The PAP maintains power. Competition from China spurs the government to seek trade alliances and economic restructuring. The spread of the deadly Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) brings fear of an economic crisis.
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