Rebutting Burhan Gafoor – Part 4

This is part 4 of the rebuttal to Singapore High Commissioner to Australia Mr Burhan Gafoor’s “Response to Poh Soo Kai’s allegations”.

Lee Kuan Yew’s Battle for Merger – stale, circumstantial, nothing definite

Mr Gafoor wrote:

Mr Lee Kuan Yew, in his Battle for Merger radio broadcasts in 1961, exposed the communists’ objective and strategy. He explained that the communists and the Barisan opposed merger because they wanted to establish control over Singapore so they could subsequently subvert and take over Malaya. The radio talks won over public opinion in favour of merger on the terms proposed by the Government.

However, this was what UK Deputy Commissioner to Singapore Philip Moore had to say about Lee Kuan Yew’s Battle for Merger:

But unless one was prepared to accept uncritically the evidence supplied by Lee Kuan Yew in his “Battle for Merger”, there was nothing very definite to go on apart from circumstantial evidence and stale security records.

[CO 1030/1160, P B C Moore to W I J Wallace, 7 Dec 1962]

Thus, UK Deputy Commissioner thought nothing about Lee Kuan Yew’s Battle for Merger. Mr Gafoor omitted this crucial piece of evidence from the UK Deputy Commissioner’s report while quoting profusely from other parts in the same paragraph. Thus, despite waxing lyrical about the need for holistic reading of all evidences and the inclusion of ‘incriminating’ evidence, it was Mr Gafoor who conveniently omitted evidences when they are in contradiction to what he had to say.

False referendum

Mr Gafoor wrote:

In the referendum in Sep 1962, the specific merger terms were put to the electorate. 71% of the voters opted for the PAP’s merger proposal while the Barisan, which called for blank votes to be cast in protest, got only 25%.

Mr Gafoor should realize that Singapore’s 1962 referendum was a false referendum that didn’t even allow for the people to vote “No” to merger as even blank votes were counted as “Yes”. How many of the 71% would have voted “No” if given the choice, no one will ever know. Even British Deputy Commissioner Philip Moore, someone whom Mr Gafoor is so fond of quoting from, felt that the PAP was being unscrupulous and undemocratic and that the referendum merely reflected PAP’s inability to get a genuine popular vote from the people.

When the referendum bill was introduced into the Singapore assembly in March 1962, the revelation that it gave voters only a choice between three different forms of merger, rather than including any option to reject merger completely, provoked yet more controversy, as did Lee’s announcement that blank ballots would be counted as votes in favour of the White Paper terms. British officials felt that the referendum was clearly being organized in an unscrupulous manner so that Lee could not lose.

Meanwhile, Lee’s referendum bill as finally forced through the Assembly, but its clause on blank ballots triggered the resignation of another PAP backbencher, finally depriving the Singapore Government of a majority …

By the middle of July 1962, Philip Moore, Selkirk’s deputy in Singapore, was reporting that ‘ … everyone realizes that the undemocratic features of the Bill are a reflection of the Government’s inability to get a genuine popular vote in favour of its White Paper proposals’. Only the rapid progress in the formation of Malaysia, it was becoming more and more apparent, would give PAP its crucial safety net.

[Conflict and confrontation in South East Asia 1961-196, Matthew Jones, page 78]

Mr Gafoor wrote:

There were trade-offs in the negotiations with Malaya for merger, as in any negotiation between states and territories. The terms and conditions settled upon were the best that the Singapore government could obtain under the circumstances. They allowed Singapore to retain control over areas that were key to Singaporeans such as education and labour.

Unlike what Mr Gafoor said, the terms and conditions for merger were hardly in the best interests of Singapore. Not only would Singapore have been under represented in the federal assembly, we also had to pay dearly for the merger.

The terms had immediately sparked controversy in that by allocating Singapore 15 seats out of 159 in the new projected federal assembly, they did not provide for proportionate representation. They also described all 624,000 Singapore citizens as becoming ‘nationals’ of the new Malaysian federation, leaving ambiguity over whether they would be accorded the same rights (including voting powers) as other ‘federal’ citizens; a residence requirement and Malay language test would be needed before many of the foreign-born Chinese in Singapore could be classed as full Malaysian citizens.

[Conflict and confrontation in South East Asia 1961-196, Matthew Jones, page 77]

Singapore agreed that 40 per cent of its income revenue would go towards Pan-Malaysia expenditures, subject to periodic review. Furthermore, Singapore would provide a loan of $150 million to the Borneo territories on very generous terms …

[Conflict and confrontation in South East Asia 1961-196, Matthew Jones, page 165]

Mr Gafoor should also note that the merger was essentially a swap of British overlordship for Malaysian overlordship with no improvement whatsoever to Singapore’s independence.

No armed struggle by Barisan

Mr Gafoor wrote:

The issue of armed struggle was discussed at length at a Barisan HQ meeting attended by about 40 cadres, including members of the Central Executive Committee as well as branch representatives, on 23 Sep 1962. Summing up the views expressed, Barisan Central Executive Committee member Chok Kok Thong urged his colleagues to “themselves determine the form their struggle should take: ‘basically armed struggle is the highest form of struggle’ but whether it should be adopted or not would depend on ‘the entire international situation’…”. Chok Kok Thong added:“…no one could say that the revolution was complete if it took the form of an armed struggle or incomplete if the peaceful and constitutional methods were used. …Experience elsewhere showed that there was no country in the world which had ‘attained a thorough success in revolution through constitutional processes’, and that throughout South East Asia, including Malaya, the ‘ruling classes would not lightly hand over political power to the leftists’”.

[Mr Gafoor’s reference: CO 1030/1160, Report on Barisan Sosialis meeting of 23 Sep 1962]

Mr Gafoor omitted the following evidences provided by Dr Thum Pin Tjin in his Asia Research Institute Working Paper Series No. 211 – The Fundamental Issue is Anti-colonialism, Not Merger’: Singapore’s “Progressive Left”, Operation Coldstore, and the Creation of Malaysia:

Lim urged his colleagues to recognize that their political struggle was ‘a longer term struggle,’ and ‘we can only beat the current government when the general election comes.’

[林清祥与他的时代, page 145-146]

The party agreed that their only option was to keep using peaceful constitutional processes with the aim of winning elections to the Federal parliament and building a multiracial progressive coalition.

[CO 1030/1160, Report on Barisan Sosialis meeting of 30 Sept 1962]

Thus, Mr Gafoor only referred to the ‘incriminating’ Barisan meeting of 23 Sept 1962 found in UK Deputy Commissioner’s report but did not refer to the exculpatory Barisan meeting the following week on 30 Sept 1962 in the same report. It is Mr Gafoor himself who was guilty of the selective quoting that he complained about. Chok Kok Thong’s ‘incriminating’ words on 23 Sept 1962 should have been more than exculpated by Lim Chin Siong’s words on 30 Sept 1962.

Mr Gafoor wrote:

The Barisan’s support for the armed Brunei revolt in Dec 1962, and their close association with the rebel leaders, showed that they were ready, when the opportunity arose, to use violent unconstitutional means to overthrow the government.

The Internal Security Council of Singapore (ISC), comprising representatives of the governments of the United Kingdom, Singapore and the Federation of Malaya, therefore approved Operation Coldstore in Feb 1963, as a pre-emptive move against the communists and their supporters.

Mr Gafoor omitted the story that followed which was the failure of the British and the PAP to find incriminating evidence of Barisan involvement in the Brunei revolt. In other words, Operation Cold Store was sanctioned on the premise of false charges.

Operation Cold Store detained 113 left-wing political leaders and trade unionists, including Lim. Subsequent British investigations found little evidence of Barisan involvement in the Brunei plot, but the detentions decimated the left.

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

Two months after the arrests, however, Sellkirk was disappointed that no new evidence was forthcoming on the connection between the Barisan and the Brunei Revolt, with the only “embarrassing” new point suggesting that the party had been resisting Azahari’s overtures to give more militant support to the rebels. What emerges from these various sources is a solidifying picture of difficult but ultimately unsatisfactory agreements on the arrests …

[The University Socialist Club and the Contest for Malaya: Tangled Strands of Modernity, Edgar Liao and Cheng Tju Lim and Guo Quan Seng, page 198]

Immediately following the arrests, the Internal Security Council announced that Special Branch had uncovered a plot to make Singapore a ‘Communist Cuba’ – full details would follow. But despite weeks of interrogations, strong evidence to substantiate this claim failed to materialise. Toh Chin Chye later described the political detainees who remained in prison after 1959 as ‘a sacrifice to Merger’ …

[Singapore A Biography, Mark Ravinder Frost and Yu-Mei Balasinghamchow, page 406]

Part 1 of this rebuttal has already explained that Operation Cold Store was already a done deal between Lee Kuan Yew, the Tunku and the British long before the ‘incriminating’ Barisan meeting of 23 Sept 1962 and the Dec 1962 Brunei revolt which were merely pretexts to make Operation Cold Store look good for the three co-conspirators.


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