This article is submitted by “H.T.A”
Recently, The Online Citizen spoke with Dr. Thum Ping Tjin, an academic teaching History at the University of Oxford, on the topics of “The 1963 Merger” and “The Operation Cold Store”.
With due respect to Dr. Thum, I am of the opinion that points raised by the learned doctor were biased.
During the interview, Dr Thum mentioned that after the PAP won the 1959 General Election, it did not release the political detainees arrested in the 1956 scoop by Lim Yew Hock’s government.
Historically speaking, after having won the 1959 General Election, Lee Kuan Yew and his colleagues told the British Government that they would not take office and form the government unless the British released the political detainees. This put tremendous pressures on the British Government. Because of this, Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, Devan Nair, S Woodhull, James Puthucheary, Tan Chong King, Chan Say Jame and Chan Chiew Thor were released on 4th June 1959 after they signed a declaration to fight with the PAP against communism and to uphold the non-communistic ways of the PAP. Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan and S Woodhull were even made political secretaries. In poetic misfortune, of the 8 who signed the endorsement, only Devan Nair kept his word.
Why were these detainees detained in the first place?
Dr Thum claims they were fighting for the civil rights for Singaporeans – of which I will not disagree.
From day one into the political battlefield, they had worked non-stop to incite riots, strikes, and labor unrests, wrecking havoc for the colonial government. They infiltrated schools. They setup militant unions for political gain. Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan set up Singapore Factory and Shop Workers’ Union (SFSWU) and other unions of the Middle Road Trade Union Group.
They were involved either directly or indirectly, in the Hock Lee Bus Riots, Singapore Harbour Board 67-day Strike, The Singapore Traction Company 146-day strike and the Chinese Middle School Riots in 1956 (to name a few, Singapore saw hundreds of strikes a year). All these were schemed to literally strike the British to their limits and eventually, out of Singapore.
The ends were noble – push the colonialists out for Singaporeans, but what of the means? How many jobs were lost? How many families plunged into poverty?
As for whether Lim Chin Siong was a communist, the letter he wrote to Lee Siew Choh from his prison cell in 1967 to tell Lee Siew Choh that “he had completely lost confidence in the international communist movement” reveals much.
In all fairness, right up to the 1959 General Elections, Lim Chin Siong and company could be perceived as anti-colonialists. In this respect, they were little different from Lee Kuan Yew and his comrades, only more militant. But after 1961, their true colors showed when they went on to form Barisan Sosialis and Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU) to continue inciting riots, strikes, and labor unrests. In fact, not too long ago, one of them, Wong Soon Fong, a Barisan MP in the 1963 Parliament, who fled to Thailand to join his communist comrades, came clean and admitted to be a communist.
Dr Thum also accused the PAP of using Merger as handicap because it did not do well during 2 years of government. Not true. Attaining independence through reunification with Malaya was on the PAP agenda when it campaigned the 1959 General Election.
The good doctor then accused the PAP of many mistakes in the first 2 years of government. By that, the doc is also accusing Singaporeans of stupidity – stupidity in voting in inept leaders to run the country decade after decade. Houses, jobs, infrastructure, thriving businesses – could you honestly say they did a lousy job, with a straight face?
Recall the big fire in Bukit Ho Swee in 1961? This fire rendered 30,000 people homeless when their squatters were raged. HDB, which was formed only in February the preceding year, raced to build 1-room flats, each equipped with a toilet and kitchen, to house these 30,000 people in a record 18 months. And this was with 1961 technology.
Tell me this was a “mistake of the PAP”.
Lee Kuan Yew did not run a one-man operation. He couldn’t have. With him were great minds like Goh Keng Swee, Rajaratham, Devan Nair, Ong Pang Boon, Lim Kim San, Hon Sui Sen etc. Their “ineffectiveness” caused them to win the 1963 General Elections, taking 37 out of the 51 seats (13 went to Barisan Sosialis and 1 went to Ong Eng Guan)? And they went on to win all the 58 seats in the 1968 General Election.
Who was ineffective? On that note, what happened to Lim Yew Hock’s government?
The 1961 By-Election
The PAP lost Hong Lim and Anson in the by-elections in 1961. This was brought about by PAP’s “progressive left-wing”. Instead of supporting their own candidates Jek Yeun Thong (Hong Lim) and Che Awang (Anson), they supported Ong Eng Guan (Hong Lim) and David Marshall (Anson). This was despite their utter dislike for David Marshall.
The PAP left-wing were displeased with the government’s refusal to abolish ISA, refusal to back down on the Merger and refusal to release the remaining hundreds of detainees moved them to retaliation and switched support to Ong Eng Guan (United Progressive Party) and David Marshall (Worker’s Party).
Here is something Dr Thum did not mention: After the 1961 be-elections, something else happened which resulted in the sacking of the 13 “progressive left wing” PAP members.
To assume responsibility for the 1961 by-elections defeats, Lee Kuan Yew tendered his resignation to Toh Chin Chye which Toh Chin Chye rejected.
Following which Lee Kuan Yew then tabled a vote of confidence for the Government in the Assembly. The votes were split and stood at 25-25. It was Madam Sahorah binti Ahmat, the Assembly woman for Paya Lebar whom famously had to be ferried from the hospital in an ambulance and stretchered to City Hall, who cast the decisive vote for the Government. With the vote of confidence for the Government cast and won, Lee Kuan Yew proceeded to expel the 13 PAP assemblymen who abstained or voted against the Government.
These 13 men went on to form the Barisan Sosialis with Dr Lee Siew Choh and Lim Chin Siong. They also formed the Singapore Association of Trade Unions (SATU), the militant labour organization. SATU aggressively caused labour unrest for the next 2 years.
In the interim, G Kandasamy, the secretary general of the Singapore Trades Union Congress (STUC) urged the Government to dissolve STUC as the main officials were no longer there. Devan Nair then started the National Trades Union Congress (NTUC) together with Che Awang as the Chairman of NTUC and G Kandasamy as the Deputy Secretary-General. Devan Nair assumed the role of Secretary-General.
Towards the end of the interview, Dr Thum threw a question to The Online Citizen: if the Federation’s and PAP’s reason for merger and creation of Malaysia was to neutralise Singapore’s political opposition, then once the opposition was gone, what was the rationale for both parties to stay together?
The doc was trying to imply that the reason for both Malaya and the PAP to go for the merger was to rid o Singapore of political opposition. Not only is this inefficient, it is also an absurd accusation.
The Tunku was in charge of the Internal Security Council then. If he had wanted to neutralize the progressive left-wing, he could have easily passed an order to arrest all the communists in Singapore. It would be like slicing butter with a hot knife.
Truth be told Lee Kuan Yew and his colleagues were making successful inroads into the Malaysian political arena and were posing serious contentions to the UMNO. With Devan Nair winning the electoral contest in Bangsar (he stayed on as MP even after the 1965 separation and returned to Singapore in 1969 to head NTUC) and the PAP allocated 55 seats in the Parliament which made it the biggest opposition party, UMNO viewed the PAP as a serious threat.
Furthermore, Tunku never really liked having the Chinese majority from Singapore in his Malaysia.
There are many grounds that I do not agree with Dr. Thum but for me, a walk back into history always presents us 2 tales – one by the victors and the other by the vanquished.
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