TOH CHIN CHYE
Toh Chin Chye is seldom heard and neither is he found or mentioned in our History textbooks, he is a remarkable man to be respected by the people of Singapore.
As Dr. Toh Chin Chye is seldom, or never sighted nowadays, he seem to be vanishing from the life ignorant Singaporeans whom are unaware that he was our nation's Deputy Prime Minister who has contributed to the growth of this young nation, Singapore.
Personally, we did not even know who Toh Chin Chye was and neither did we know of his contributions towards Singapore before we started with this project. Thus, from this Hisory project, our group has learnt of our former Deputy Prime Minister and we hope that you would also be able to learn more about him through the detailed biography about him below. ENJOY!
Toh Chin Chye’s Chinese name, 杜进才 is born in Malaysia in Taiping on 10 December 1921. His parents were Toh Kim Poh (Father) and Tan Chuan Bee (Mother). Toh Chin Chye was married to Yeap Sui Phek, his wife and has a daughter. He completed his early education in St George’s School then he studied in Anglo-Chinese School in Ipoh.
In 1946, he studied at Raffles College and graduated in first Class Diploma in Science in Singapore and later continued his doctoral studies in National Institute for Medical Research in England, London and obtained PhD in Physiology in 1949.
He began his career during the days in London, he was very helpful and actively involved in helping out the Malayan Forum, anti-colonial group of Malayan. It is a forum for many Malayan national Prime Ministers to meet for discussions and debates about the improvement that can be made in the future of Malaya. After that he became the chairman and in 1953, he then return back to Singapore and went to the university of Malaya to be a lecturer.
To avoid complications such as being arrested by the Special Branch they formed a political party and registering as a society. Initially, the “Action Party” was coined and later, they added the word “People” into it. The word “Action” reminded Dr Toh of a lightning symbol and with other suggestions thrown in; the famous logo of PAP was born.
The Peoples’ Action Party was formed on the 21st of November 1954 having its ceremony held at the Victoria Memorial Hall (S’pore). It was a series of meetings and discussions in this young political group. There was a group of prominent conveners of the inaugural meetings Toh Chin Chye together with Lee Kuan Yew, S. Rajaratnam and Goh Keng Swee form the People’s Action Party (PAP). Toh Chin Chye is the first generation political leader and he is also the first chairman of PAP that was in charge of the party’s organisation and policy making.
With that, his political career starts here. The general election in 1959,he was elected to be in the Legislative Assembly as Rochor constituency. However, during the 1950s, as the Chairman of the PAP, he led the PAP during its critical internal struggles between Left and Right. In 1957, the communist have taken over the Central Executive Committee. Toh Chin Chye and Lee Kuan Yew lost control over the party.
After the victory of the election, Toh Chin Chye became an important member to Lee Kuan Yew in the People’s Action Party. There was a contect between Lee Kuan Yew and Ong Eng Guan, Singapore’s only mayor for premiership. Ultimately,it was Toh Chin Chye’s vote that swung the fight in Lee Kuan Yew’s favour.
The PAP’s CEC held a vote to pick its Prime Minister, but there was an even split and thus a deadlock. Toh Chin Chye as Chairman, held the casting vote, threw his support behind Lee Kuan Yew and broke the impasse. If Toh Chin Chye has voted differently, Lee Kuan Yew would not have become Prime Minister in 1959 and the history of Singapore and Malaysia would have turned out very differently.
In August 1961, a rival party was formed, the Barisan Sosialis, led by Dr Lee Siew Choh and Lim Chin Siong. They took 35 branch committees, 19 of the 23 organizing secretaries and an estimated 80 percent of the membership.
Toh Chin Chye was again the tenacious fighter in the fight against the Barisan Sosialis Party, splinter group from the PAP. A fight that Dr Toh would not shy away from, Dr Toh chose the most difficult of constituencies to contest and fought head on. In September 1963, he presided over the PAP’s historic election victory over the breakaway Barisan Sosialis. Rather than opting for a safer seat, Dr Toh chose to stand in Rochore constituency, a tough Chinese working-class area and a natural constituency for the Left-wing Barisan Sosialist Party. To add to his challenge, he was to face a formidable opponent, the Chairman of Barisan Sosialist, Dr Lee Siew Choh. He managed to beat Barisan Chairman Lee Siew Choh by a mere 89 votes in the 1963 elections, his narrowest electoral victory.
When Singapore managed to attain self- government, Toh Chin Chye led a group of people to design the state flag, state crest and also write the state anthem for Singapore which was unveiled on 3 December 1959 at City Hall and it became the National Anthem and National Flag when Singapore gain its independence on 1965.
The state flag consists of two equal horizontal sections, red above white, where the red segment has a white crescent moon beside five stars placed in a circle. The national anthem, Majulah Singapura, the state crest and the national flag were incorporated on 3 December 1959 during National Loyalty Week. The flag replaced the Union Jack which had previously flown over Singapore.
After which, he was then appointed as the Deputy Prime Minister when Singapore attained independence from 1959 to 1968. He relinquished the post in 1968 and became the Minster for Science and Technology till 1975.
In the later years, he was the Chairman of Singapore Polytechnic and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Singapore. His behavior drew mixed reactions between staffs and students. His role in the school was to reorient the university focus to suit the fledging nation needs, he was also perceived as authoritarian when he clamped down on students demostration and political activities.
He established the faculties of Engineering and Architecture in the University of Singapore and had professional courses like Business Administration and Accountancy so as to support Singapore’s industrialisation efforts. He prompted the move of the university from Bukit Timah to Kent Ridge and initiated in building the National University Hospital.
On 2 June 1972, he serves as a Minister of Health and stepped down from the post in 1981.
Toh Chin Chye was then a backbencher (meaning he step down as a Minister to become only a Member of Parliament). When he was in Cabinet, Lee Kuan Yew identified Toh Chin Chye as a minister who sometimes would disagree with him over the matters of principles and policies. He noted for his outspoken views on various government policies such as Medisave Scheme and the age limit on CPF withdrawal.
He retired from his politics career in 1988 to pave way for the younger generation to lead Singapore.
In his twenty –nine years of service, he was awarded with a few awards “Honorary Doctor of Letters, University of Singapore”(1976), “Order of Nila Utama, contributions to Singapore during those critical times before and during the merger with Malaysia”(1990) and “Professorship in Molecular Biology "for his dedication and his contributions as leader, educationist, teacher and public servant”(2001).
To many Singaporeans, I bet they have never heard of Toh Chin Chye or only remembered his as one of the Deputy Ministers to Lee Kuan Yew. In two occasions, Lee Kuan Yew offered his resignation and Toh Chin Chye could have chance upon it and made himself the Prime Minister.
Nonetheless, the contribution by Dr Toh to the tertiary education was significant and positive. He set in place a university that contributes rather than hinders Singapore’s growth. Today, the shape and success of NUS and NTU bears Dr Toh’s imprints
For the better good and stability of the Party and Singapore, Dr Toh rejected the proposal and threw his support behind Lee Kuan Yew. Singapore’s success is NEVER and NOT by chance or the miracles of one man. It is the sweat, blood and effort of talent men, like Toh Chin Chye, who served and toiled for Singapore not for their own fame and fortune but for Singaporeans.
Toh Chin Chye spend his retirement days away from the public eyes. The Straits Times featured him once on 2 May 2005 to pay respect to former president Wee Kim Wee. He was featured again later in Febuary 2006 to pay his last respect to the late former Deputy Prime Minister S. Rajaratnam.
Toh Chin Chye was considered one of the founding fathers in Singapore. He was a part of a group that helps make a tiny island into a successful Singapore. He made passionate dreams for Singapore. Both in the development and building of modern Singapore, Toh Chin Chye was instrumental in making the Singapore we know today.
Never take Singapore granted for what it is today, it is our forefathers who path the way and a success to it.
Winnie Soh , Yvonne Wen , Neo Qian Yu