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History, The Republic

Devan Nair, Wee Kim Wee, diplomatic recognition, parliamentary elections, firm hand

The union was uneasy, however, and in 1965 Singapore separated from Malaysia and became a sovereign state within the Commonwealth. It also became a separate member of the United Nations (UN). In December of that year the island was proclaimed a republic. Inche Yusof bin Ishak, who had been Singapore’s head of state since 1959, became the first president. His successors were Benjamin Henry Sheares, who held the office from 1971 until his death in 1981, and C. V. Devan Nair, who took office in 1981. Nair resigned the presidency in 1985 and was replaced by Wee Kim Wee. From 1959 to 1990 executive power was exercised by Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew. His People’s Action Party (PAP) captured parliament in every election from 1968 on, and he governed with a firm hand. Fearing Communist subversion, Lee staunchly supported U.S. policies in Southeast Asia, and in 1971 he led Singapore into a defense alliance with Australia, the United Kingdom, Malaysia, and New Zealand. Lee’s attitude toward the Communist regimes in the region was a more conciliatory one after the end of the Vietnam War (1959-1975). In 1990 he finally extended diplomatic recognition to mainland China.

Lee resigned in 1990 and designated Goh Chok Tong as his successor. Goh’s People’s Action Party won 77 out of 81 seats in the 1991 parliamentary elections. In 1993 Singapore held its first direct presidential elections, and Ong Teng Cheong of PAP received nearly 60 percent of the votes cast. In parliamentary elections held in 1997, PAP raised its number of seats to 81 out of 83. Opposition candidates won 2 seats, and an additional opposition candidate was nominated to parliament. Ong declined to run for a second term as president. He was succeeded in 1999 by former diplomat S. R. Nathan, who became president without an election after Singapore’s Presidential Elections Committee declared his two rivals ineligible.

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