#GE2020 Special: A History of Singapore Election Campaign Posters

As the election campaign continues past the halfway mark, there has been some buzz over the Singapore Democratic Alliance’s posters, which feature vintage style illustrations rather than the photos of candidates.

SDA’s 2020 election posters. Credit: Eisen Teo

That prompted me to look into the history of Singapore’s election posters and leaflets and see how the designs have evolved through the decades.

Pre-independence

In 1955, Singapore held elections under the Rendel Constitution. The incumbent Singapore Progressive Party, the new People’s Action party and the Labour Front were among the parties that contested. The Labour Front won the majority of votes and formed a coalition with the Singapore Alliance Party and David Marshall became Singapore’s first Chief Minister.

The Labour Front manifesto from 1954. Credit: Roots.sg
The master plate used to print Lee Kuan Yew’s election leaflets which emphasised his support for independence and workers’ rights. Credit: National Museum

Almost all posters and leaflets were printed in black and white to save costs.

Lim Yew Hock’s 1955 election leaflet. Credit: Roots.sg
The Tamil posters of Lee Kuan Yew (PAP) and Lam Thian (Democratic Party). Credit: Diary of a Nation
Official posters in all four languages assuring that votes were secret. Credit: Diary of a Nation
Banner outside polling station. Credit: Diary of a Nation

The poster below was produced to show the members of the Legislative Assembly elected in the 1955 election.

Credit: National Museum

In 1957, Lee Kuan Yew resigned his seat to recontest it in a by-election in response to David Marshall’s challenge. However Marshall withdrew from the contest and Lee won the by-election with 68.1% of the votes.

Credit: National Museum

In 1959, elections were held to usher in full internal self-government. The PAP and the Singapore Progressive Alliance headed by Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock contested the polls. The PAP won a landslide victory and formed the government for the first time.

Election leaflet from the PAP’s Ong Eng Guan. Credit: Roots.sg
Lim Yew Hock’s election leaflet. Credit: Roots.sg
Election banner of independent candidate and unionist S.T.V. Lingam in 1959. Credit: Diary of a Nation
Liberal Socialist party candidate poster. Credit: Diary of a Nation
The PAP’s Petir newsletter with photos of candidates. Credit: Diary of a Nation

Voting was made compulsory for the first time in 1959 and posters were also produced to remind people of this.

Credit: Youtube
Credit: Youtube
Credit: Youtube
Banners promoting voting. Credit: Youtube

In 1961, David Marshall contested in the 1961 Anson by-election as a Workers’ Party candidate after the PAP Assemblyman died. He won the seat but subsequently lost it in the 1963 general election.

David Marshall’s campaign card. Credit: Roots.sg

In the 1963 general election, Lim Yew Hock’s SPA once again contested. After not winning any seats, the party was dissolved after independence in 1965.

SPA newsletter in 1963. Credit: Roots.sg

After Independence

1972 election poster of Lim Kim San. Credit: NAS
Lee Kuan Yew’s election poster from 1976. Credit: NAS

In 1980, the Workers’ Party’s JB Jeyaretnam produced the poster below. While he was unsuccessful in winning the seat, he contested the 1981 Anson by-election and became the first opposition MP in Parliament since 1966.

Credit: NAS

In 1984, Chiam See Tong successfully contested the seat of Potong Pasir. His poster is below.

Credit: NAS

The 1984 election was the final one contested by Barisan Sosialis. The party merged with the Workers’ Party before the 1988 election.

Credit: NAS

For the 1988 election, the PAP capitalised on the newly opened MRT network to produce the poster below.

Credit: NAS
Lee Kuan Yew’s 1988 election poster. Credit: NAS

As GRCs were introduced in 1988, election posters also featured multiple candidates’ photos for the first time.

Goh Chok Tong’s Marine Parade team in 1988. Credit: NAS

“More Good Years” was a signature slogan for PM Goh Chok Tong in the 1990s and it was reflected in this poster.

Credit: NAS

Seet Ai Mee became infamous for washing her hands after shaking a fishmonger’s hands during a walkabout in the 1991 election. She subsequently lost her seat to the SDP’s Ling How Doong.

Credit: NAS

The Workers’ Party also produced a variety of posters in the 1990s. Below are some examples.

WP’s 1991 poster which featured a stock image of a Western crowd. Credit: NAS
WP’s 1997 poster which had a clearly Singaporean crowd. Credit: NAS

SDP’s Chee Soon Juan contested the 1997 election as party chief after Chiam left and headed the Singapore People’s Party. The SDP lost both seats it had won in 1991.

Credit: NAS

Independent Candidates post-1965

Independent candidates were largely irrelevant after independence. But some dogged individuals continued to produce posters with their meagre resources for elections. Their posters were simple and used generic symbols.

Stanley Mariadass contested against the PAP’s Tony Tan in 1984. He lost with 22.6% of votes.

Credit: NAS

Businessman Lee Mun Hung contested against the PAP’s Hu Tsu Hau in 1984, winning 16.8% of votes.

Credit: NAS

The poster below is the only one where the entire body of the candidate is visible and he is posing with a thumbs up. Yen Kim Khooi won 22% of the votes against the PAP’s Eugene Yap in 1991.

Credit: NAS

Acknowledgement: Many of the images credited to NAS were obtained from the following two blog posts by Justin Zhuang, who did a great job analysing their design elements. [Part 1] [Part 2]

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