Although Britain retains control of security, foreign affairs, and defense, independent Singapore holds elections for its new Legislative Assembly. Ten parties field candidates for 51 seats. Reformer Lee Kuan Yew's People's Action Party (PAP) wins 43. The Cambridge-educated lawyer becomes the first prime minister, but refuses to take office until Britain releases jailed communist PAP members.
The new government launches a four-year plan to attract foreign investment, expand industrial capacity, and build more schools and housing. When Lee and the Legislative Assembly support Malayan leader Tunku Abdul Rahman's call for a Federation of Malaya, PAP's communist wing forms the opposition Barisan Socialis ("Socialist Front") party in protest.
Opponents call the Federation of Malaya a front for British control. Singapore's Barisan Socialis party conspires with other opposition groups to scuttle the union. Lee jails Barisan leaders and calls for new elections. Aided by the arrests, his People's Action Party prevails. Indonesian president and Federation opponent Sukarno institutes a policy of "Confrontation" against Federation states.
Animosity grows between Singapore and Kuala Lumpur. Malaysian leaders distrust Singapore's largely Chinese population, and the Malaysian parliament votes Singapore out of the Federation. Within days, Lee Kuan Yew declares Singapore a republic. In 1967 Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines form the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).
Despite five opposition parties who carry a third of the popular vote, Lee Kuan Yew and the PAP party sweep parliamentary elections in 1968 and 1972. Lee's policies create an extraordinary period of peace and prosperity. His golden touch even turns the 1971 British pullout to Singapore's advantage by converting the old British naval base into the world's third largest commercial port.
The People's Action Party retains control of parliament in the 1976 and 1980 elections. But the international press steps up criticism of Lee's paternalistic style. His government is not above suppressing or co-opting opposition voices, and the state brings economic pressure to bear on critical newspapers and broadcast media.
Lee resigns as prime minister in November 1990 after choosing his deputy Goh Chok Tong to succeed him. But Lee retains a special "senior minister" position. Constitutional changes make the presidency elective rather than appointed and grant the office more powers. The People's Action Party share of the popular vote declines to 65 percent in 1997. Sellapan Rama Nathan is elected president in 1999.
Despite recession, the People's Action Party remains overwhelmingly dominant, thanks to both its own popularity and harsh measures to limit opposition campaigning. It wins 84 of 86 seats in the 2001 general election. Elder statesman Lee Kuan Yew remains a highly respected and influential figure.
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