Lee’s one sided broadcasts lack legitimacy

I refer to the 10 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “Gruelling series of broadcasts”.

It’s bewildering Lee Kuan Yew felt that the Chinese educated were unsure of communist defeat in 1961 when the state of emergency had already been lifted a year before in 1960 with the successful defeat of the communists by the British a few years earlier.

The British fight against the communists was successful. While the state of emergency lasted until 1960, the insurgency was put down earlier, giving birth to the Malay Federation as an independent state on August 31, 1957.

In Singapore, most of the effects of the state of emergency were political. The declaration of emergency permitted considerable restrictions on political freedoms, including detention without charges or trial, deportation of noncitizens, and restrictions on meetings, rallies, strikes, organizations, etc. The anticommunist focus stifled all left-leaning politics and left space only for conservative political organizations.

[The History of Singapore, Jean Abshire, page 114]

The British responded by appointing Sir Gerald Templer as high commissioner and commander-in-chief in February 1952. Using near dictatorial powers, Templer broke the military power of the communists in two years, and by 1955, they were no longer a serious threat to the British. This allowed for independence … and the proclamation of the Federation of Malaya in 1957.

[Historical Dictionary of Singapore, Justin Corfield, page 167]

The British was still in charge of defense then so it was the British who were fighting the communists, not the PAP. As usual, Lee likes to take credit for what others do. British fighting the communists becomes PAP fighting the communists.

Also, the fighting had been confined to the Malay Peninsula and never touched Singapore. Since the communists didn’t touch Singapore, how could the PAP had been fighting the communists?

The fighting on the Malay Peninsula against the “communist terrorists,” as they were known, never touched Singapore directly …

[The History of Singapore, Jean Abshire, page 113]

For most of the Malayan Emergency, no “fighting” occurred in Singapore, although there were constant labor disruptions with strikes and demonstrations …

[Historical Dictionary of Singapore, Justin Corfield, page 167]

Lee’s admission that no one at that time had any idea that independent Singapore could survive on its own, puts paid to a number of boasts about Lee being predisposed of the unconventional wisdom of MNC led export industrialization that led to Singapore’s post independence prosperity.

Lee was wrong to label the group that the large swathe of Chinese educated believed in as communists or radicals when they were merely Left leaning nationalists and patriots. British Commissioner Lord Selkirk thought so too.

Recent research shows that Lord Selkirk, the British Commissioner in Singapore, and his deputy Philip Moore believed that the Barisan intended to work within constitutional means. For a time, explaining that the left were a political rather than a security problem, Selkirk and Moore warded off Lee’s calls for mass arrests …

[Paths Not Taken: Political Pluralism in Post-war Singapore, Michael D. Barr and Carl A. Trocki, page 218]

Contrary to Lee’s one sided wishful thinking that the Leftists feared merger with Malaya, the contemporary view then was that merger with Malaya would have given the Barisan and the Leftists a much greater platform on which to establish political hegemony.

… Australian High Commissioner to Kuala Lumpur, noted Malayan fears that “if a wealthy Singapore [were] able to control its Federal revenues, it [would] be able to use them to exert political influence in the rest of Malaysia. This would give opportunities for the ruling party in Singapore (possibly in the future the Barisan Sosialis Party) to expand into politics on a Malaysian-wide basis.” Lord Selkirk and Geofroy Tory shared similar views …

[Creating “Greater Malaysia”: Decolonization and the Politics of Merger, Tai Yong Tan, page 128]

Lee’s one-sided exposition counts for nothing more than proselytism. Without giving his rivals a fair chance at explaining themselves over the radio, his one sided accusations lacked legitimacy.

If Lee was confident that he struck a chord with the layman and that his revelations had the desired impact, surely he wouldn’t have needed to rig the 1963 referendum such that there were no “No” options and even blank votes were counted as “Yes”? What proportion of the 71% would have voted not to join Malaysia if they had been allowed to, we will never know.

Straits Times, Gruelling series of broadcasts, 10 Oct 2014

IN A new message on the genesis of the series of 12 radio talks to convince Singaporeans to back the idea of a merger with Malaya, former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew shared the backdrop against which the broadcasts were made.

In 1961, the possibility that merger with Malaya would happen was remote. The majority of the Chinese-educated population in Singapore were unsure that the People’s Action Party (PAP) government would prevail over the communists.

“The idea of a sovereign, independent Singapore that could survive on its own was not yet something that had widespread currency,” he said in a message in the reprinted edition of The Battle For Merger.

“Until 1961, the goal of merger seemed remote. It is difficult to convey now how much the political winds at the time seemed to be blowing to the left,” he said.

“Sitting on the fence, large swathes of the Chinese-educated ground had little confidence in the long-term prospects of the moderate socialist PAP, thinking that the communists and radical left would be the ultimate winners. For their part, the communists knew full well that merger with Malaya would deal a fatal blow to their chances of capturing Singapore politically.

“PAP leaders saw first-hand the anti-merger agitation stirred up by the communists and their trade union proxies, following the pro-communists’ break with the PAP in July 1961.”

Mr Lee and colleagues in the PAP felt something had to be done to persuade the people that there was a viable alternative: a non-communist, democratic socialist PAP in charge of a Singapore that was part of Malaysia.

“We had to expose the communist manoeuvrings and show what they were up to in reality. Some effort was needed to convince the people where the long-term political tide was heading.”

With no TV, much less the Internet, the most effective medium to reach the public was radio.

To concentrate on crafting his first eight speeches away from the heightened political scene in Singapore, Mr Lee holed up at Cluny Lodge, a government bungalow in Cameron Highlands with his family. As he spoke, his personal assistant recorded his notes.

Back in Singapore, Mr Lee received help with the translation and diction of his Mandarin broadcasts from Mr Jek Yeun Thong, who held various posts during his years in Cabinet.

Mr Lee’s series of talks were given on a gruelling schedule: three times a week, and over the space of less than a month.

He delivered each talk in three languages on the same evening, within three hours: in Mandarin first, then English and Malay. The talks were also re-broadcast in Tamil, Hokkien and Cantonese.

Mr Lee wrote his last four speeches between recording sessions. “In between broadcasts, I was spent. I recovered my energy by sleeping on the studio floor in between the recordings,” he said.

The broadcasts, delivered calmly with minimum jargon and in plain language for “the layman of the 1960s”, struck a chord.

“In exposing the communists, I chose to reveal facts that were not previously known and show their behind-the-scenes machinations. This held the interest of the audience, as did my practice of ending each broadcast with a cliffhanger, giving a hint of what I would disclose in the next episode.”

These and other revelations had the desired impact. In the 1962 referendum on merger, 71 per cent of Singaporeans voted in favour of union with Malaya.


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