On this day in 9 May 1966, Singaporeans began registering for pink and blue identity cards.
The National Registration Act of 1965 took effect a few days before – on 5 May – and required all Singaporeans aged 12 and above to register for new identity cards.
The new identity cards replaced the identification papers issued under British colonial rule. Singapore had haphazard population registration mechanisms until independence, when the government implemented population registration plans to get more accurate population numbers. Between May and December 1966, about a million new cards were issued to Singaporeans, and the first card (number S0000001) was issued to our first President, the late Mr Yusof Ishak.
National registration provided each Singaporean with a unique identification number for citizenship services, and allowed them priority in receiving employment and receiving social benefits.
“Since Singapore is now fighting for its survival and endeavouring to build a more prosperous and just society, it is only logical that the fruits of our endeavours should benefit only those who are rightfully entitled to them, namely our citizens,” then-Minister for Labour Jek Yeun Thong stated in Parliament in 1965.
The cards were much better than their predecessors too — they were laminated, waterproof, and designed to deter forgeries, which were rampant at the time.
The registration exercise lasted till 31 Jan 1967. Right up to the last day, people formed long queues outside registration offices to certify that they belong to Singapore. The cards made us “officially” Singaporean, but the formation of orderly queues is one of many small things that unofficially make us, us.