1949 Municipal Commission Election

Singapore Infopedia


On 2 April 1949, the Municipal Commission election was held to elect 18 of the 27 members of the Municipal Commission.1 This election was the result of the enactment of the Municipal Elections Ordinance in 1948.2 The 1949 Municipal Commission election was a political milestone in Singapore’s journey to self-government as it was the first time a public institution, the Progressive Party (PP), was installed with a popularly elected majority.3 Other than PP, a new political party, the British aligned Labour Party (LP), also made its debut.4 In April, the Elections Department organised the first Municipal Commission Election.5 A second election was held in December 1949.6

The Municipal Commission

In June 1848, a Municipal Committee was established.7 The committee was responsible for overseeing local matters and services such as sanitation, health, water and roads.8 In 1887, the first Municipal Ordinance was introduced to establish the Municipal Commission and separate its functions from the Rural Districts Council, which would focus on the rural districts.9 The municipal commissioners were provided with an office within the municipality for the transaction of business.10 The commissioners were authorised to expend municipal funds on public safety, public lighting, regulation of traffic, public health markets, drainage works, cleaning of streets, construction, as well as the purchase and maintenance of buildings.11 In the 1913 Ordinance, the Municipal Commission was retained but elections were abolished.12 The control of the municipal budget was transferred to the governor and remained in force until World War II.13

In 1921, The Straits Settlement (Singapore) Association, Muslim Advisory Board, Hindu Advisory Board, Chinese Chambers of Commerce, Straits Chinese British Association and Eurasian Association were given representations in the municipality.14 Each organisation nominated municipal commissioners to fill the seats.15 In 1949, the elections were reintroduced to expand local political participation in preparation for self-governance.16

Municipal Elections Ordinance 1948
In late 1948, the property clause in the Municipal Elections Ordinance was opposed by several personalities such as Lim Yew Hock and the Labour Party.17 John Laycock, (Municipal North-East) echoed this sentiment a year later.18 He further commented that the property clause was “retrograde” and a study of the bill was initiated after the election results.19 Under the property clause, only the occupiers of premises and those who were paying at least $10 in rent were entitled to register as voters and/or serve as commissioners.20 The clause was exclusionary and prevented homemakers, sons and daughters from voting as they did not pay rent. The clause was argued to be disenfranchising women and the working class as they would have had to be paying tenants to qualify as a voter.21 This included police officers living in barracks and government servants residing in free quarters.22 The period of registration to be a voter was recommended to be extended so as to allow eligible voters to register and allow time for the amendment of the ordinance.23

The earliest date that changes to the proposed bill (to admit prospective voters) could be accommodated was February 1949, which coincided with the first Legislative Council meeting.24 It was deemed impossible to amend the ordinance without delaying elections further.25 As such, the property qualification was only abolished in July 1949 at the third reading of the Municipal Elections (Amendment) Bill.26

Campaign aims

PP’s stated aims included water-borne sewerage for all, higher municipal posts for local-born candidates and cleaning of towns.27 The LP focused on alleviating the housing shortage problem, improving the productivity of workers via vocational training as well as improvements to municipal services such as sanitation and medical facilities.28 Both parties pushed for the abolishment of the property clause in the Municipal Ordinance of 1948.29

April 1949 Election results

The Municipal Commission election sought to elect commissioners for six electoral wards, each with three seats making up 18 or two-thirds of the commission.30 The wards were City, Rochore, North, South, East and West.31 The remaining nine commissioners were nominated and appointed by the British colonial government.32 Nomination day (7 March 1949) saw a total of 28 individuals fielding their candidacies for the 18 seats.33 There were 16 candidates from PP, five from LP and seven independents.34 The candidates comprised doctors, merchants, educators and lawyers among others.35

Each elected candidate was to serve a term in office depending on the number of votes cast in their favour.36 For example, the candidate with the highest number of votes in each ward would serve as an elected representative of the commission for an extended period. Conversely, elected representatives who had received the least number of votes were to relinquish their posts in the following election.37  Each voter could choose three candidates.38 The voter was only allowed to cast one vote for any of the candidates in their ward.39 The voter could then either cast their two remaining votes to candidates from other wards or refrain from voting for any.40

PP won the election by a landslide, capturing 13 of the 18 seats. The rest of the seats were won by one LP candidate and four independents, one of whom was Malayan Union member Ahmad Mohamed Ibrahim, who later stood as an independent candidate in Rochore.41 70 percent of the 8,688 registered voters went to the polls.42 78 percent of the electorate in the East ward voted.43

December 1949 Election results

On 3 December 1949, elections were held to fill a vacancy in each of the six wards due to the mandatory retirement of commissioners under the Municipal Elections Ordinance.44 These commissioners were elected representatives from the 2 April election who had received the least number of votes and were required to relinquish their seats at the following election.45 The six retiring commissioners were H. A. Jivabhai (City), Ahmad Mohamed Ibrahim (Rochore), Chong Thutt Pitt (North), D. Robertson (South), S. J. Al-Juneid (East) and Robert Eu (Mrs) (West).46 All of them, except for Jivabhai and Ahmad, were from PP.47 There were 13 candidates contesting for six seats. Of the 7,923 accepted votes, 3,907 was for PP, 3,338 for LP, 561 for independent candidates and 117 spoiled papers.48 Ultimately, 12 seats went to PP, 3 went to LP and 3 to the independents. This meant that PP lost their working majority in the Municipal Commission.49 Phyllis Eu and Amy Laycock were the only two women contesting in the elections and both enjoyed the biggest victory margins for PP with Laycock capturing 450 votes.50

Nadirah Norruddin

1. C. M. Turnbull, A History of Singapore, 1819–1988 (Singapore: Oxford University Press, 1989), 232 (Call no. RSING 959.57 TUR-[HIS]); “Selection: Six Wards Named,” Singapore Free Press, 16 November 1948, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
2. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 232.
3. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 239.
4. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 234.
5. “Milestones,” Elections Department Singapore, accessed 26 April 2018.
6. Elections Department Singapore, “Milestones.”
7. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 83.
8. Ong Choo Suat, ed., Guides to the Sources of History in Singapore (Singapore: National Archives, 1989), 39–40. (Call no. RSING 016.95957 GUI)
9. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 124; Ong, Guides to the Sources of History in Singapore, 39–40.
10. Ong, Guides to the Sources of History in Singapore, 39–40.
11. Ong, Guides to the Sources of History in Singapore, 39–40.
12. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 115.
13. Ong, Guides to the Sources of History in Singapore, 39–40; Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 115.
14. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 152.
15. Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 152.
16. Elections Department Singapore, “Milestones”; Turnbull, History of Singapore, 1819–1988, 232.
17. “Property Clause Opposed,” Straits Times, 21 December 1948, 4; “SMC Elections: New Move,” Singapore Free Press, 6 October 1948, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Colony of Singapore, Government Gazette, 4 March 1949, 256 (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SGGSLS-[RFL]); “SMC Voting: 5 Men to Study Bill,” Singapore Free Press, 13 April 1949, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “SMC Voting.”
20. “SMC Elections.”
21. “SMC Elections.”
22. “City Election Plan Too Late,” Straits Times, 16 December 1948, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
23. “Property Clause Opposed.”
24. “SMC Election Amendment Is 'Too Late',” Singapore Free Press, 15 December 1948, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
25. “SMC Election Amendment Is 'Too Late'.”
26.  Colony of Singapore, Government Gazette, 256; “Property Clause Opposed.”
27. “Progressives State Their Aims,” Straits Times, 4 February 1949, 5; “Singapore Holds Municipal Elections Today,” Straits Times, 2 April 1949, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
28. “Labour Party Announces Its Policy,” Straits Times, 4 March 1949, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
29. “Progressives State Their Aims”; “Labour Party Announces Its Policy.”
30. “Six Wards Named.”
31. “Election List,” Straits Times, 8 March 1949, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
32. “Singapore Holds Municipal Elections Today.”
33. “Fight for Every Municipal Seat,” Straits Times, 8 March 1949, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
34. “Fight for Every Municipal Seat.” 
35. “Fight for Every Municipal Seat.” 
36. “Ensuing Municipal Elections,” Indian Daily Mail, 27 January 1949, 4. (From NewspaperSG)
37. “Ensuing Municipal Elections.”
38. “Ensuing Municipal Elections.”
39. “Ensuing Municipal Elections.”
40. “Ensuing Municipal Elections.”
41. “Three Candidates to Stand from Malay Union,” Sunday Tribune, 5 December 1948, 2; “Progressives Win SMC Elections,” Straits Times, 3 April 1949, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
42. “Progressives Win SMC Elections.” 
43. Colony of Singapore, Government Gazette, 8 April 1949, 521. (Call no. RCLOS 348.5957 SGGSLS-[RFL])
44. “Parties Get Ready for S.M.C. By-Elections,” Malaya Tribune, 18 September 5. (From NewspaperSG)
45. “Ensuing Municipal Elections.”
46. “Parties Get Ready for S.M.C. By-Elections.” 
47. “Parties Get Ready for S.M.C. By-Elections.” 
48. “Labour's 2 Gains: Amy Wins,” Straits Times, 4 December 1949, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
49. “Labour's 2 Gains.”
50. “Labour's 2 Gains.”

The information in this article is valid as at 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


Rights Statement

The information on this page and any images that appear here may be used for private research and study purposes only. They may not be copied, altered or amended in any way without first gaining the permission of the copyright holder.