Rebutting Burhan Gafoor – Part 5

This is part 5 of the rebuttal to Singapore High Commissioner to Australia Mr Burhan Gafoor’s “Response to Poh Soo Kai’s allegations”.

Mr Gafoor said:

Dr Poh now says that Singapore’s separation from Malaysia in 1965 proved that Barisan’s position on merger in 1961-62 was correct. This is yet another reversal of position. In 1965, following separation, the Barisan had condemned Singapore’s independence, characterising it as “phony” … They never believed that Singapore should be independent of Malaysia and had opposed merger in 1963 merely for tactical reasons …

No reversal from Dr Poh

Before that, Dr Poh said:

The 1963 merger was a wrong decision. The disastrous outcome was foreseen by the opposition Barisan Sosialis. We wanted reunification with Malaya, but NOT on the terms that Lee obtained. Those simply could not work.

Contrary to what Mr Gafoor said, Dr Poh didn’t make any reversal at all. Barisan’s foreseeing of the disastrous merger with Malaysia under unfair terms by the PAP was recorded in black and white for posterity:

Mr Lim Chin Siong, secretary-general of the Barisan Sosialis, has personally pledged to Tengku Abdul Rahman his party’s support of the merger and Malaysia principles …

Mr. Lim told a press conference today: “I was prompted to write to the Tengku, for, like the Tengku, we are deeply concerned with the dangerous drift towards communalism in our political situation …

“Our policy has always been to achieve a permanent basis for unity.

“It is for this reason that we have opposed the PAP’s constitutional proposal. We believe that it would be disastrous to national unity.”

[The Straits Times, 30 March 1962, Page 16, Mystery letter: It was from Lim]

No Barisan reversal in 1965 vis-à-vis 1961/62

Mr Gafoor cannot say that there had been a Barisan reversal in 1965 vis-à-vis 1961/62 since Barisan had already started to support merger sometime between 1961 and 1962. Mr Gafoor should not twist Barisan’s opposition to unfair terms of the merger as opposition to genuine merger. Barisan supported, not opposed genuine merger with Malaya:

Mr. Bani declared: “We have stated in the past very clearly that we want merger. We have stated that we want complete merger.

“We have stated that we want a merger which is genuine and which can bring about genuine national unity.

“We have also stated that in our view merger arrangements which will create different classes of citizens will only further disunity among our people, which will deny the people of Singapore a common political life with their brothers and sisters in the Federation, will not constitute genuine merger, will not bring about genuine national unity.”

The Prime Minister had described the Government’s offer as realistic alternatives. The Barisan Sosialis disputed this because the people should not be compelled to choose one of these alternatives simply because the PAP considered them realistic.

And he asserted: “When the PAP say that these alternatives are realistic, what they do in fact mean is that these are terms which are acceptable to the Government of the Federation of Malaya.

“Surely what the Federation Government is prepared to accept is not necessarily good for Singapore, is not necessarily fair for the people of Singapore.

“We refuse to accept a position where merger terms for Singapore are dictated by a handful of people in the Federation.

“The fate of the people of Singapore should not be made to depend on the charity of the few men who hold power in their hands in the Federation.”

Merger was inevitable but if the terms obtainable now were not satisfactory, then we will have to wait, Mr. Bani declared.

[The Straits Times, 12 July 1962, Page 5, Referendum: Bid to pose 4th question defeated]

… The chairman of the party, Dr. Lee Siew Choh, read out the letter, and the Tengku’s reply – neither proved to be a political bombshell – following taunts from the (PAP) Government benches regarding its contents …

The Barisan Sosialis letter, signed by the party’s Secretary-General, Mr. Lim Chin Siong …

… Mr. Lim told reporters: “It has never been my intention to make political capital out of my correspondence with the Tengku. “Unfortunately, the desperate PAP leaders have again seen fit to distort my correspondence with the Tengku. “In order to expose the lies of these political bankrupts. I regret that I had to reveal the text of the letters.” …

Dear Tengku.

We gladly welcome your desire to see the creation of one country sharing a common feeling, outlook and destiny. We wish to assure you that in this desire for national unity, we are completely with you.

Like you, we also want to see that nothing will come about that may cause any disruption to the present harmony existing among the people of our country.

We feel that much of the unhappy feelings about Singapore have arisen from a lack of opportunities for apparently divergent views to be adequately discussed so that a happy and lasting solution could be obtained for the benefit of all our people.

And we feel that a free and frank exchange of views and discussion between us can contribute a great deal towards national unity.

[The Straits Times, 12 July 1962, Page 1, wrote to TENGKU]

Fundamental issues with merger should not be ignored

Mr Gafoor should not ignore fundamental issues pointed out by Barisan that weren’t resolved prior to our hasty merger with Malaya that ultimately resulted in our expulsion from Malaysia in 1965.

… The Barisan Sosialis today charged that the People’s Action Party was now “more keen in appeasing the communal prejudices of the Federation Government than of advancing the interests of the people it pretended to represent.”

… the Barisan Sosialis said that the P.A.P. was more keen on arguing why the people of Singapore should be given only second-rate citizenship status in Malaysia, and not equal Federal citizenship like the people in the other 14 States of Malaysia.

The Barisan statement said the P.A.P. had failed to reply to the “important” question of why, of all the 15 States in the proposed Malaysia, Singapore should be the only State where the people would not possess equal Federal citizenship status.

It said that the P.A.P. had again attempted to confuse the people that automatic conversion of Singapore citizenship to Federal citizenship on merger would mean the disenfranchisement of 340,000 Singapore citizens.

It charged that this was “a falsehood and a deliberate distortion of the factual position.”

The statement said that automatic Federal citizenship status for Singapore citizens simply meant that every one of the 624,000 persons who had been considered worthy to be citizens of Singapore automatically should be considered worthy to be citizens of the Federation on merger.

“This is the only sane and honest way to safeguard the interests of the people of Singapore.” it said.

[The Straits Times, 14 February 1962, Page 18, Citizenship: Barisan again attacks the P.A.P.]

The Barisan Sosialis today claimed that the Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew’s pledge on citizenship yesterday was “virtually an admission” that there was in fact no equality for Singapore citizens under the proposed merger and Malaysia arrangements …

The Barisan in its statement said: “If it were really true that the Federal Government is willing to grant absolute equality to Singapore citizens, why won’t it simply grant us all Federal citizenship just as it is prepared to grant to all the citizens of the Borneo territories?

“Surely that will be the most reassuring way to make us all equal in status with Federal citizens?

“Why then this insistence on a complicated arrangement of two types of citizenship?”

“If we are really meant to be equal, why not have just one common citizenship for all the people and be done with it?”

[The Straits Times, 5 June 1962, Page 16, Why not common citizenship for all? asks Barisan]

The Barisan Sosialis chairman, Dr. Lee Siew Choh, said today that the Referendum Bill, if it became law, would ask the people of Singapore to choose between two types of merger, both of which were unacceptable to the majority of the people.

… Dr. Lee charged that the “referendum plot” was devised by the People’s Action Party because it knew its merger proposals would be rejected by the people.

He said that realising its proposals would be rejected in a one-question referendum, the PAP added a worse proposal – the Penang or Malacca type of merger – and distorted it as the Barisan Sosialis stand.

Dr. Lee said: “Thus, the PAP hope the people will be driven to a position where they will have to support the PAP. Of course, to make doubly sure the notorious undemocratic and unheard-of-in-world-history blank paper clause is put in to prevent the people from even throwing in a blank vote when faced with two unacceptable alternatives.”

He dismissed the Penang-Malacca-type of merger as a distortion of the Barisan stand and as “a fiction of the imaginative minds of the P.A.P. leaders.”

[The Straits Times, 18 June 1962, Page 6, Both alternatives in referendum not acceptable: Dr. Lee]

Not true Barisan never believed that Singapore should be independent

Mr Gafoor was also wrong to say that Barisan never believed that Singapore should be independent of Malaysia. Barisan and those who would eventually become Barisan leaders have been asking for independence in 1957, since 1959 and in 1961.

Lee stated later in his memoirs that Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan and Woodhull had been “stirring up demands for an independent Singapore without a merger” from the time of their release from detention in Jun 1959.

[The University Socialist Club and the Contest for Malaya: Tangled Strands of Modernity, Edgar Liao and Cheng Tju Lim and Guo Quan Seng, page 173]

At the Anson by-election on 15 July, Lim Chin Siong and seven other left-wing PAP assemblymen withheld support from the government’s candidate and instead backed David Marshall … who stood for immediate independence.

[Malaysia, A. J. Stockwell, page 145]

What did the pro-communists want Lee to fight for in London? It was immediate independence. This was their goal, and the reason why Lim Chin Siong had supported Marshall all the way in the failed negotiations of the previous year.

[Singapore: The Unexpected Nation, Edwin Lee, page 141]

Thus, while it can be said that Barisan updated its position between 1961 and 1962 in response to the inevitability of merger, it cannot be said that Barisan reversed its position in 1965 vis-à-vis 1961-62 since Barisan’s position had been consistent from 1961-62 to 1965.

There was basis to Singapore’s phony independence

Mr Gafoor should acknowledge that Barisan’s characterization of Singapore’s independence in 1965 as phony wasn’t without basis. Singapore was so weak then militarily that even Third World countries questioned Dr Toh Chin Chye whether Singapore could be independent. Rajaratnam had to admit that Singapore’s defense remained the concern of big powers as Singapore was dependent on, not independent of, big powers for defense. The severe constriction of space for foreign affairs that involved Malaysia, the refusal of the Malaysian 4th brigade to leave Singapore, the large British military presence in Singapore, all these pointed to a lack of real independence or a sense of phoniness to our independence in 1965.

Yet he (Lee Kuan Yew) was still empty-handed in 1965: the small Singapore Armed Forces (SAF) consisted of two infantry battalions (1SIR and 2SIR) comprising approximately fifty officers, a thousand enlisted men, and fewer than two thousand rifles. A few days after the separation from Malaysia, Lee lamented that Singapore “would be finished” if, for example, Indonesia decided to invade the island with only a tenth of its force … Toh Chin Chye … reported that even ministers from relatively small African countries asked him, “How could you be an independent country – no Army, no Navy and no Air Force?”

When the British government decided in 1968 to speed up the retreat of its forces east of the Suez Canal, Singapore was left virtually defenseless … In January 1969, Lee admitted that Singapore might need to employ mercenaries to defend itself. And S. Rajaratnam … publicly admitted that the defense of Singapore had to “remain the concern of big powers.”

Malaysian politicians mercilessly exploited the military vulnerability of Singapore between 1965 and 1969. In 1965, they prohibited Singapore from trading with Indonesia … In 1966 … Lee watched helplessly as the Malaysian government “resettled” the Sarawak Chinese community … accusing it of cooperating with the predominantly Chinese Clandestine Communist organization (CCO). The Sarawak United People’s Party, traditionally an ally of Lee’s People’s Action Party (PAP), asked him to protest the Malaysian decisions, but he was too weak to defend even his own island, Singapore.

Lee remained silent on the issue of the Sarawak Chinese community, mainly because he did not wish to provide Malaysian leaders with a pretext to invade Singapore. Fears about such impending invasion ran high in Singapore between 1965 and 1969 …

Malaysian politicians also manipulated their military forces in Singapore, as well as the separation agreement, in order to limit Singapore’s efforts to build its own credible defense force … They argued that Lee did not need to build a strong defense force, since Malaysia was responsible for the defense of Singapore. Naturally, Lee resented such an interpretation of the separation treaty, but being militarily “empty-handed,” …

Between 1965 and 1967, Malaysia refused to evacuate its Fourth Brigade and one of its infantry regiments from Singapore. Justifying such unusual behavior, its leaders argued that the separation agreement allowed them to maintain “bases and facilities” in Singapore for military purposes. The presence of these forces led to a full-scale diplomatic crisis between the two countries when, in February 1966, the 2SIR (2nd Singaporean Infantry Regiment) returned home from a long arduous mission in Sabah, only to find its camp occupied by the Malaysian Fourth Brigade. The Fourth Brigade also refused to hand back military signal and transport equipment vital to the new SAF …

The buildup of the SAF was further complicated because much of its manpower nucleus consisted of officers and soldiers who had been serving in the Malaysian defense forces at the time of separation. For their part, Singaporean manpower planners were delighted to release back to Malaysia several hundred Malaysian citizens serving in 1SIR and 2SIR. The Malaysians, however, were less eager to release Singaporean officers and soldiers back to Singapore … Lim Kim San … admitted in December 1968 that his ministry did not even know exactly how many Singaporeans were serving in the Malaysian defense forces as of August 9, 1965 (Singapore’s first Independence Day).

[A Question of Loyalty: Military Manpower Policy in Multiethnic States, Alon Peled, page 100-102]

They (Barisan) also referred to the presence of British bases and about 55,000 “occupation troops”, the presence of Malaysian units, the Pulau Senang barter trade “fiasco,” the Camp Temasek incident, and the “flare-up of tempers in Kuala Lumpur” when Indonesia wanted to recognise Singapore …

The statements also pledged to fight for “a genuinely independent, democratic united Malaya.”
In winding up the conference, Dr. Lee claimed that Malaya, including Singapore, was at present a police state.

[The Straits Times, 8 October 1966, Page 1, Barisan MPs quit]

Dr Lee said: “It is all a phoney and a humbug. There is no real independence.

“All the powers are not in the hands of the Singapore Government. For example, on foreign affairs matters, they have to get the approval from the Central Government before they can do anything.”

The Barisan leader also criticised the manner in which Singapore came out of Malaysia.

“Which leader of the people negotiates for his country’s independence in secret?” he asked.

“Mr. Lee Kuan Yew did it because he knows that it is not real independence …”

[The Straits Times, 16 August 1965, Page 4, Independence? It’s phoney—Dr. Lee]

Dr Lim Hock Siew’s explanation of phony independence

According to Dr Lim Hock Siew’s oral history record, there was indeed a theoretical basis to Dr Lee Siew Choh’s phony independence although Dr Lim disagreed that it should have been made into a campaign matter. He also confirmed that the majority of ISA detainees weren’t happy with the constant harping on phony independence.

Lim (interviewer): What was the general attitude of the detainees towards the Barisan’s stand to call [it a] phoney independence?

LHS: Firstly there was no consultation with the detainees inside the prison on this issue. There was no possibility of a consultation anyway. And that stand was taken by Dr Lee Siew Choh, and others in the Barisan Sosialis, who [were] outside prison. The majority of the detainees inside prison of course were not happy with this stand. The question of whether a country is independent or not has to be viewed from several planes, of course from the viewpoint of socialists, we do not consider a state to be genuinely independent unless the people of that state has gained economic independence because that is the basis of political independence. Unless you are economically self-reliant, you cannot be politically self-reliant. But that is going into theories of political economy. From the viewpoint of international politics, especially international law, a state is independent if it is recognised by other countries. And has gained admission to the United Nations. And under those criteria there was no doubt Singapore was independent from the viewpoint of international law.

Many of us in prison strongly felt that it was certainly not wise for the Barisan Sosialis to constantly harp on the slogan of phoney independence. For that would be to indulge in academic politics and it would most likely create confusion rather than conviction amongst the public and also even among many of our followers. It is a different matter if you talk about what is real independence, with our own cadres, so that our own cadres knew what to struggle for. But to talk about such things to a general population it would lead only to confusion. And it would also divert attention from issues which are more tangible to the people. So from that point of view many of us were very unhappy about the Barisan Sosialis leaders constantly harping on Singapore’s independence at that time being a phoney independence. Although in theory, in political theory we do not disagree with that because I have already stated, independence from a socialist viewpoint means total economic independence – together with a freedom of our people from domination from all foreign military forces. And at that time there were a lot of foreign military forces stationed within Singapore, and obviously from that point of view, it was not genuine independence. But again this point led to a lot of happiness among the detainees within prison. There was I remember continuous debate on this issue for a long time to come.

Lim (interviewer): Was there any consensus among the detainees?

LHS: There was no organized debate in that sense although later on more to avert or to avoid open antagonism with the Barisan Sosialis’ stand outside prison, most of the detainees did not take any opposing views.

Lim (Interviewer): So in other words on the Barisan’s phoney independence stance, there were two …

LHS: Yes, both within prison and outside prison.

Lim (interviewer): Among the detainees there were some who supported and some against.

LHS: Well, nobody opposed the socialist viewpoint that Singapore was not genuinely independent. On that score, from that angle there was no disagreement. The whole disagreement is whether we should harp on this as a main propaganda line against the PAP.

Lim (Interviewer): Was this feeling communicated to Barisan’s leaders through relatives?

LHS: Not that I know of, but I believe the Barisan Socialist leaders outside must have been aware of this. Because there was also disagreement among the Barisan Sosialis cadres outside prison and I later on came to hear that there was also intense debate on this issue outside prison. How the debate proceeded I was not aware of.

[Oral history of Dr Lim Hock Siew, Nation Archives of Singapore, Accession number: 000214, Project Title: Political History in Singapore 1945-1965]

Significant disagreement within Barisan on phony independence

Mr Gafoor should also note the intense internal disagreements within Barisan to Dr Lee Siew Choh’s phony independence and how the majority of Barisan were against Dr Lee in rejecting phony independence.

Two more Barisan Sosialis MPs, Mr. Kow Kee Seng (Paya Lebar) and Mr. Chio Cheng Thun (Chua Chu Kang), broke away from their party today.

The break was announced in hand-written Press statements in Chinese, which strongly denounced Dr. Lee Siew Choh, the Barisan Sosialis chairman, and his policies.

Their move, following closely upon Mr. Lim Huan Boon’s resignation from Parliament and leadership of the Barisan Opposition, have brought the party’s internal dissentions further into the open.

Both Mr. Kow and Mr. Chio are strongly backed by at least 22 of the party’s 30 supporting unions.
Their statement today voiced some of the arguments already advanced by these unions against Dr. Lee’s policies.

It was a fallacy, they said, to think that Singapore’s independence was “phoney”.
Independence must be accepted as an accomplished fact, and re-unification between Singapore and

Malaya must be the long-term objective of every political party in the country.

Both … urged that political detainees be released as soon as possible “for the good name of Singapore’s independence and for the unity of the people.”

… Since Dr. Lee’s return to the Barisan Sosialis, unity in the party has been sabotaged … Is there any wonder that the party has committed so many mistakes and come to the mistaken conclusion that Singapore’s independence is phoney …

[The Straits Times, 8 January 1966, Page 9, Two more MPs quit Barisan]

The former Barisan Sosialis Opposition leader in Parliament, Mr. Lim Huan Boon, said …”I cannot in good conscience draw $500 a month for not doing what my voters elected me to do.” He was convinced that the present Barisan Sosialis boycott of Parliament was basically wrong. “By boycotting Parliament, we have broken faith with not only the democratic system but with the people who elected us,” … He said that many Barisan Sosialis rank and file supporters did not accept the “ridiculous thesis” that Singapore’s independence was “phoney”.

[The Straits Times, 6 January 1966, Page 6, ‘Conscience won’t let me draw $500 a month’]

Dr Lee of course retorted to these Barisan breakaways in a way that further reinforced the notion of phony independence.

“Surely by asking the PAP to make independence more perfect, both of them are contradicting themselves because it clearly shows the independence we have now to be phoney.”

[The Straits Times, 11 January 1966, Page 20, Barisan expels 2 ‘stab in back’ MPs]

It would thus be more accurate for Mr Gafoor to speak of Dr Lee Siew Choh harping on phony independence rather than Barisan harping on phony independence.

Parliament boycott wasn’t communist struggle but protest against death of democracy

Mr Gafoor wrote:

… Barisan … also withdrew from the Parliament of independent Singapore, declaring its preference to carry out “extra-parliamentary struggle”. The Barisan in effect reverted to the CPM’s original and real position … that “extra-parliamentary struggle” was superior to constitutional politics. The reality is that the CPM and the Barisan had all along acted, in Chin Peng’s words, “in the best interests of our Party” … And they never believed that they should restrict themselves to constitutional means to attain their political ends.

Mr Gafoor should note the true and valid reasons for Barisan’s withdrawal from parliament. Barisan MP Mr Chia Thye Poh was on record to say that Singapore parliamentary democracy had been dead while Dr Lim Hock Siew further explained that there was hardly any parliament then with just one Assembly meeting in the whole of 1965 or 1964. Why take issue with Barisan boycotting parliament when parliament was already dead then?

Mr Chia Thye Poh told reporters: I have just tendered our resignations from the House. We cannot remain in Parliament because parliamentary democracy is dead … What is the use of saying in Parliament when the PAP stop us from speaking? What is the use of going in Parliament when there is no democracy? There will only be democracy when the PAP hold general elections under the eight conditions we have made.

The eight conditions include unconditional release of all political detainees, revision of “undemocratic” election laws and revocation of “all undemocratic” laws.

[The Straits Times, 9 October 1966, Page 1, The B-I-G Barisan flop]

Lim (Interviewer): Then in November ’65, Barisan called for a boycott of parliament. How did you react to it?

LHS: It was I think in mid-November when we read in the papers of the Barisan Sosialis calling for a boycott of Parliament of all its 13 assemblymen. Again we were not given prior notice of this decision. And in prison, most of the detainees were also quite confused about the objectives of this dramatic move. The Barisan Sosialis statement I remember was published quite fully in the Chinese newspapers, but not in The Straits Times. From what was reported in the Chinese newspapers, we gathered that the boycott was to protest against the lack of democratic freedom in parliament and also within Singapore. The party gave I think about nine of ten conditions under which they would be prepared to go back to parliament. Those conditions include the immediate and unconditional release of all political detainees; the restoration of all political rights of those who have been released; the allowance of those who have already been banished to return back to the country; the gaining of full press freedom; the fundamental rights of public assembly, association, and freedom of expression and so on. Because at that time there was a total ban of public rallies, public assemblies and public meetings. It also revealed that throughout the period when Singapore was in Malaysia there were hardly any meetings called of the parliament, of the Assembly. In fact it revealed that in the whole of 1965, or ’64 there was only one meeting called in the Assembly, and that was to pass the budget, the state budget and that was rushed through within a few hours. After which the Assembly closed shop again and for all intents and purposes there was no Assembly in Singapore.

This statement highlighted the total suppression of the democratic rights of those assemblymen. And highlighted the fact that the parliament was reduced to meaningless shambles and that any further continuation of the Barisan Sosialis assemblymen’s participation in that parliament would merely enhance the prestige of a meaningless parliament. To that extent, everybody agreed that there should be something dramatic done to highlight this lack of democratic freedom in this country. But the disagreement arose from how long this boycott was to take place, and the circumstances that this boycott was to end. There was a lack of knowledge on the real aims of this campaign. Was it merely to highlight the lack of democracy within the country or was it a decision by the party to totally forgo this participation in elections, and participation in parliamentary politics. On this we were not clear because there was no communication between the leaders outside and the political detainees inside prison.

So most of us decided we should keep an open mind and to see how the situation developed. In fact we inside did not know that appalling extent to which the PAP had suppressed the rights of assemblymen in Parliament. And we did not realize that throughout one whole year there was only one meeting of the Assembly and only for a few hours merely to rush through a budget and the statement also pointed out that on such an important issue as a separation of Singapore from Malaysia, the assemblymen were not even consulted, the matter was not even debated in Parliament. That Lee Kuan Yew merely decided it on his own. An arbitrary decision by a group of political leaders without consultation with the elected members on such a important issue had reduced Parliament to a mockery. That was a very important point, because you would recall when PAP wanted to foist its phoney merger onto Singapore he had to stage a mock referendum, a sham referendum to give the impression that the people was consulted. But on this equally important issue of taking away Singapore from Malaysia, nobody was consulted – not even Parliament. So this was an insult to the Assembly in Singapore.

So on all these points, unfortunately, the Straits Times just completely refused to publish. The Straits Times publication of the Barisan statement was very brief. And had the Barisan Sosialis went out of its way to campaign along these points in order to focus public attention on the lack of democratic freedom in this country that has forced it to boycott a meaningless Parliament, then it would have been a very effective propaganda campaign against the PAP. But because of the apparent lack of explanation of the aims of this campaign among the leaders outside prison, there was I believe utter confusion and also disunity among the ranks of Barisan Sosialis leaders on this issue. And that made it extremely difficult for the Barisan Sosialis leaders to carry out any effective campaign along those lines.

[Oral history of Dr Lim Hock Siew, Nation Archives of Singapore, Accession number: 000214, Project Title: Political History in Singapore 1945-1965]

Nothing communist about Barisan’s extra-parliamentary struggle

Mr Gafoor should note that Barisan’s extra-parliamentary struggle was nothing more than rallies and house to house campaigns that were nothing extraordinary. All political parties do that, including PAP so there should be nothing particularly communist about it.

Their boycott of the House – from the very first meeting of the new session on Dec. 8 last year – was in protest against the “undemocratic acts” of the Government.

Party representatives will … hand over the letters of resignation. Immediately after that, police permits would be sought for rallies and house-to-house campaigns to explain the reason for the boycott of Parliament and the resignations.

The party chairmain, Dr Lee Siew Choh, indicated today that this would be the party’s new strategy – to continue its struggle outside the Parliament.

He told a press conference at Barisan headquarters that the decision to ask all the MPs to resign was taken about a fortnight ago …

Dr Lee claimed that the move would “expose the People’s Action Party and Singapore’s phoney independence.” …

Asked what he had to say about Government charges that his party was pro-Communist, Dr. Lee said that it it was really so, then the party could be taken to court.

The ruling PAP had killed Parliamentary democracy, he said …

The statements also indicated that in house-to-house campaigns, Barisan cadres would touch on work permits, changing of identity-cards, licensing of hawkers and taxis, increased school fees for children of non-citizens, quotas and tariffs, and changes to the Industrial Relations Ordinance.

[The Straits Times, 8 October 1966, Page 1, Barisan MPs quit]

Mr Gafoor should not be too quick to attribute Barisan’s actions as being for the best interests of the Communist Party of Malaya when even the Tunku admitted then that Lim Chin Siong and the Barisan weren’t communists:

Receipt of Mr. Lim’s letter was announced by the Tengku … The Tengku … said that he would not describe the letter as “having come from a Communist.”

The Prime Minister had also added: “I don’t think they are Communists but we know who they are.”

[The Straits Times, 30 March 1962, Page 16, Mystery letter: It was from Lim]

Don’t blame Barisan for PAP’s abuse of constitutional politics

Mr Gafoor cannot blame Barisan preferring extra-parliamentary struggle over constitutional politics when constitutional politics had been so severely abused by PAP for so long that it no longer served any purpose other than to confirm its uselessness. Mr Gafoor should be most aware of vile PAP tactics like delaying opposition candidates until it was too late for them to file their nomination papers that continue to happen till this day.

… On 22 April 1963, the party and its supporters marched on City Hall to protest their comrades’ detentions. A confrontation with the police ensued, following which 12 more Barisan leaders were arrested. Their court cases began in early August and ended on the 29th, just a few days before Lee announced snap elections. Remembered Dr Lee Siew Choh (who was one of those arrested): ‘And, almost immediately … General Election! You see, we were completely occupied with the trial!’

The Plebian, Barisan’s newsletter, called these elections ‘the most unfair and undemocratic in the history of Singapore’. The party again had trouble obtaining police permits for its rallies; on nomination day 17 potential Barisan candidates were held for questioning by Special Branch until it was too late for them to file their nomination papers (which then, as now, they had to do in person); three days earlier, three of the largest unions loyal to the Barisan had their bank accounts frozen to prevent their funds being used for political purposes. Finally, on the eve of the vote, Goh played on electoral anxieties once more by claiming that a Barisan victory would mean Malaysian troops in Singapore the following day.

[Singapore a biography, Mark Ravinder Frost and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, page 408]

So, during the first 12 months of the PAP’s battle for merger the authorities revoked the license of the Barisan’s printer (meaning the party had to go out and buy its own press to publish campaign literature), denied it permits for mass rallies (or demanded they be held away from conspicuous central locations), and purged its supporters from the public sector. Singapore was not a place where you held down a government job while being known to have sympathies for the opposition …

[Singapore a biography, Mark Ravinder Frost and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, page 399]

Evident also was Lee’s determination to move quickly to consolidate his position … Singapore’s own state elections were carefully staged on 21 September, their snap timing allowing only the barest minimum period (just over four days) for the opposition Barisan to conduct their campaign. They were additionally handicapped by the fact that many of their key leaders were still in detention following Cold Store, or preparing their cases before coming to trial, while the party had great problems securing sites for rallies, conducting canvassing and printing election literature in view of the tight restrictions imposed by the authorities. Most crucially the government dominated the mass media outlets, and with the inauguration of Malaysia taking place five days before polling, could campaign on the fulfillment of their earlier goal of bringing about ‘independence through merger’.

[Conflict and confrontation in South East Asia 1961-196, Matthew Jones, page 201]

For back in September 1961, the PAP had unleashed another crucial weapon in its struggle: the Prime Minister on Radio Singapore – or as the Barisan preferred to call it: ‘Radio PAP’.

[Singapore a biography, Mark Ravinder Frost and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, page 400]

Barisan leaders were invited to join 12 subsequent radio forums to put their case across but refused. Lim and Woodhull demanded equal airtime to Lee for 12 talks of their own but were denied. In his memoirs, Lee wrote of when Puthucheary arrived in his office and asked for an autographed copy of the talks. Lee asked him if he would participate in the proposed forums. Puthucheary reportedly shook his head and said: ‘After you have set up the stage props, I would not stand a chance’.

[Singapore a biography, Mark Ravinder Frost and Yu-Mei Balasingamchow, page 401-402]


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