ad info

 web features
 magazine archive
 customer service
  east asia
  southeast asia
  south asia
  central asia

Web-only Exclusives
November 30, 2000

From Our Correspondent: Hirohito and the War
A conversation with biographer Herbert Bix

From Our Correspondent: A Rough Road Ahead
Bad news for the Philippines - and some others

From Our Correspondent: Making Enemies
Indonesia needs friends. So why is it picking fights?

Asiaweek Time Asia Now Asiaweek story


A Statesman's Write of Passage

Page 2

Political allies

A stormy courtship

Bitter run-up


Like many students who went to Britain after the war, Lee became politicized and anti-colonial on his return. Along with then journalist S. Rajaratnam and two friends from his London days - Goh Keng Swee and Toh Chin Chye - he formed the core of what was to be the ruling People's Action Party. But Lee knew they needed to gather wider support. Among the potential partners he sized up were Lim Chin Siong, Fong Swee Suan, leftist labor organizers who joined the PAP, and David Marshall, who went on to become Singapore's first chief minister.

I had made contact with the activists in the Chinese-educated working-class world and was excited at the prospect of exploring it for recruits to our cause of a democratic, non-communist, socialist Malaya. Lim and Fong looked the right type: well-mannered, earnest and sincere in demeanor, simple in their clothes, Fong to the point of shabbiness. Keenness and dedication were written in every line of their faces and in every gesture. They were in marked contrast to the shallow characters whom colleagues and I had earlier met at David Marshall's flat, when he and [Lim] Yew Hock of the Labor Party were discussing the formation of a political grouping that would later emerge as the Labor Front. That had been part of our probing; we wanted to assess what they were capable of. But we found it difficult to take Marshall seriously. A mercurial, flamboyant Sephardic Jew, he was then the leading criminal lawyer in Singapore, but when he made what he considered a sound proposal, we often could not help laughing at him.

We knew he was a prima donna who loved to be center-stage and would be uncontrollable. On one occasion, he was so furious when we laughed at him at the wrong moment that he flounced out of the room in a tantrum, and then out of his own flat altogether. We found ourselves left with his friends and a lot of food and drink. We ate, drank, exchanged pleasantries, thanked the maid, and left.

Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan were the exact opposite of Marshall and company, and I liked what I saw.

I explained to them my plans for forming a party to represent the workers and the dispossessed, especially the Chinese-educated, not in order to win the coming election, but to gain a significant number of seats so as to show up the rottenness of the system and the present political parties, and to build for the next round.


With the help of the unions and the Chinese-educated, the PAP won three seats when the British allowed Singapore's first elections in 1955. Capitalizing on a radical image, the PAP swept into power four years later. Lee became prime minister. But he believed the future lay with Malaya, and continued to press for "independence through merger" despite rejection by Malaya's prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Finally - to keep my hopes alive, I thought - the British encouraged me to put up a bigger formula, a grand design for a federation that would include not only Singapore but also their three dependencies in Borneo (North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak), so that the ethnic arithmetic would not upset the Malay electoral majority.

Out of the blue, on May 27, 1961, the Tunku when speaking to the Foreign Correspondents' Association of Southeast Asia in Singapore, said: "Sooner or later Malaya should have an understanding with Britain and the peoples of Singapore, North Borneo, Brunei and Sarawak . . . It is inevitable that we should look ahead to this objective and think of a plan whereby these territories could be brought closer together in political and economic cooperation."

He said it was the natural tendency of the Chinese in Singapore to try and make the island "a little China." It would be a good thing for all concerned if the people of Singapore and the Federation could decide to make Malaya what it was - our one and only home. This was a bombshell. There had been no earlier indication of any change in his consistent stand that Malaya could not take Singapore in.


My handicap in dealing with the Tunku was that while I wanted merger, he did not. I had listed the weaknesses of Singapore without it in order to persuade our people to accept it. He took that to be the total truth and became extremely difficult, since he felt that we had everything to gain and he was taking on a multitude of problems. The result was an unequal bargaining position.

He sent down his two top MCA Chinese [partners in Malaya's ruling Alliance], the anti-PAP leaders who had organized the Chinese Chamber of Commerce and the Chinese community in Malaya for him, and whom he now wanted to do the same for him in Singapore.

T.H. Tan was a former editor-in-chief of the Singapore Standard. Khaw Kai Boh was a former director of Special Branch in Singapore.

The Tunku had appointed both of them senators in the federal Parliament and made Khaw a minister. They were gross, looked the fat-cat thugs that they were, and had no success with our Chinese merchant community, who had not been accustomed to having to pay for their business licenses, as in Malaya.

The two senators believed that the Alliance would stand a better chance of winning the next election if Kuala Lumpur had control of our finances, and therefore accused me publicly of wanting to keep Singapore's surplus revenue in order to use it to harm the federal government and bring it down. Their ideas dovetailed with the ambitions of [Malayan finance minister] Tan Siew Sin, who told the press that he had to take over tax collection in Singapore on the principle that federal taxes should be collected by federal departments and the revenue regarded as federal. He now wanted 60% of Singapore's total revenue.

I believed then that the Tunku never told Tan Siew Sin that he was willing to let Singapore have maximum control of its finances in return for minimum Singapore participation in federal politics. Tan would not otherwise have demanded maximum control over our finances, because the more control the government in Kuala Lumpur exercised over them, the more it must expect Singapore to participate in the politics of Malaysia in order to influence its policies towards Singapore. This was a fundamental problem that was never resolved before or after Singapore joined Malaysia. The Tunku left it to fester.

Page 1 In the beginning...Competing in college...Under Japanese rule

Page 3 Dealing with the Tunku...An uneasy marriage...PAP enters the fray

Page 4 UMNO's role in race riots...Breaking up...Gathering opposition...The last straw

Page 5 Divorce by stealth...Suddenly, independence...Difficult to fix...No more bullying

This edition's table of contents | Asiaweek home



U.S. secretary of state says China should be 'tolerant'

Philippine government denies Estrada's claim to presidency

Faith, madness, magic mix at sacred Hindu festival

Land mine explosion kills 11 Sri Lankan soldiers

Japan claims StarLink found in U.S. corn sample

Thai party announces first coalition partner


COVER: President Joseph Estrada gives in to the chanting crowds on the streets of Manila and agrees to make room for his Vice President

THAILAND: Twin teenage warriors turn themselves in to Bangkok officials

CHINA: Despite official vilification, hip Chinese dig Lamaist culture

PHOTO ESSAY: Estrada Calls Snap Election

WEB-ONLY INTERVIEW: Jimmy Lai on feeling lucky -- and why he's committed to the island state


COVER: The DoCoMo generation - Japan's leading mobile phone company goes global

Bandwidth Boom: Racing to wire - how underseas cable systems may yet fall short

TAIWAN: Party intrigues add to Chen Shui-bian's woes

JAPAN: Japan's ruling party crushes a rebel at a cost

SINGAPORE: Singaporeans need to have more babies. But success breeds selfishness

Launch CNN's Desktop Ticker and get the latest news, delivered right on your desktop!

Today on CNN

Back to the top   © 2000 Asiaweek. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines.