SINGAPORE - Sixty years ago on June 5, the first Cabinet after Singapore became self-governing was sworn in at City Hall.
Describing it as one of the milestones that made possible the country's independence and all that has followed since, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said: "We owe a deep debt of gratitude to this pride of lions who took office 60 years ago, and to the people they led.
"As I told my colleagues, the fight continues. The dream of an ever better Singapore is alive and well. Our pledge to be one united people, regardless of race, language or religion, endures."
PM Lee was writing in a Facebook post, in which he shared two photos taken six decades apart - one of the first Cabinet and one of the 14th Cabinet.
The People's Action Party formed the first fully-elected government of Singapore, after it won 43 of the 51 seats in the general election of 1959.
The nine-member Cabinet sworn in on June 5, 1959, comprised Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Deputy Prime Minister Toh Chin Chye, Minister for National Development Ong Eng Guan, Minister for Finance Goh Keng Swee, Minister for Home Affairs Ong Pang Boon, Minister for Labour and Law K. M. Byrne, Minister for Health Ahmad Ibrahim, Minister for Education Yong Nyuk Lin and Minister for Culture S. Rajaratnam.
Singapore, then a British colony, had gained internal self-rule on June 3, though the colonial government still retained control of defence and foreign affairs.
On Thursday, the 14th Cabinet took a photograph at its weekly meeting - postponed from Wednesday because it was Hari Raya Puasa- to mark the 60th anniversary of the historic swearing-in of the first Cabinet, PM Lee disclosed. A few ministers were not able to be present.
He said the first Cabinet had taken their oaths of office in 1959 wearing simple white shirts and trousers, with no suits and ties, as a signal that times had changed.
Similarly, the former governor and newly-appointed Yang di Pertuan Negara, Sir William Goode, had officiated at the 40-minute ceremony, held behind closed doors, in a fawn-coloured suit and not the regalia of empire, he added.
Quoting founding prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, who is his father, PM Lee said: "As Mr Lee declared at a huge rally at the Padang on June 3, two nights earlier: 'Once in a long while in the history of a people, there comes a moment of great change. Tonight is such a moment in our lives... We begin a new chapter in the history of Singapore.'"
PM Lee added that governing was not plain sailing in those early days and the PAP was nearly defeated and perhaps even extinguished in the struggles that followed.
The first PAP government had to deal with the "life-and-death battle against communists and their supporters", he said.
"Mr Lee had insisted that the British release eight left-wing detainees from Changi Prison before he would take office. Two years later, all but one of them split from the PAP to form the Barisan Sosialis," added PM Lee.
After Barisan lost the September 1962 referendum on Singapore's merger with Malaysia and the 1963 general election, Singapore spent two years in Malaysia, noted PM Lee.
"Mr Lee and his key colleagues fought tenaciously for a multi-racial society, risking arrest or worse," he said, noting that through all the ups and downs, Mr Lee's core team, which included Dr Goh, Dr Toh, Mr Rajaratnam and Mr Ong, had held.
Referring to Singaporeans born in or before 1959, he said: "If Singaporeans of that generation - the Pioneer and Merdeka Generations - had not united behind the PAP's leadership, (Malaysian Prime Minister) Tunku Abdul Rahman would never have let Singapore leave Malaysia to become a sovereign independent country."