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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 3

Dealing with the Tunku

An uneasy marriage

PAP enters the fray


To negotiate with the Tunku required a special temperament. He did not like to sit down and join issue face-to-face after having read his files. He preferred to leave all tedious details to his deputy, Razak [Tun Abdul Razak Hussein] - a capable, hardworking and meticulous man - and to confine himself to making the big decisions and settling the direction of events. Every time we ran into a roadblock with Malayan officials over some matter and could not get the relevant minister or Razak to overrule them, I had to go to the Tunku.

This meant getting a word in between long sessions of desultory talk about the world, social gossip and lunches for which he often personally cooked the roast mutton or roast beef - he enjoyed cooking and was good at it.

After lunch, he would invariably take a nap, and with time on my hands I would go off to the Royal Selangor Golf Club practice tee to hit 100 to 200 balls while I waited for him to get up. At about 4:30 we would play nine holes of golf; and in between shots or before dinner, when he was in the right mood, I would put the question to him.

In this way, one item might involve four days of eating, drinking, golfing and going with him to dinner parties or weddings.

He possessed an equable temperament, and almost always appeared serene and tranquil; but he could become quite agitated when he sensed danger. He told me that he would never allow anyone to hustle him into a decision, because when he was not calm and relaxed he could make bad mistakes. If he were pressed, he would postpone making up his mind. But I soon learnt that once he had done so, he never looked back.


Malaysia, incorporating Malaya, Singapore, Sabah and Sarawak, was formed on September 16, 1963. It was born into a hostile environment. Merger was opposed not only by the Barisan Socialis, formed by the left which split from the PAP, but also by Sukarno's Indonesia as extending neo-colonial influence. Moreover, the partners in the Malaysian union did not trust each other. Lee's government felt Kuala Lumpur was out to undermine its electoral base, while Malaya's leaders accused the PAPof meddling in federal politics. It was against this backdrop that Singapore held its general elections in 1963.

The Barisan put up posters of their detained leaders, especially of Lim Chin Siong, to arouse the faithful and win the sympathy vote. Once the campaign got going, their supporters went all out to muster votes and their underground organizations and united-front groups sprang to life to throw in everything they could mobilize. They held large rallies at which they poured forth a stream of vituperation against me and - what was new - spewed out hatred against the right-wing reactionaries, namely the Tunku and the feudal Malays. Four days before polling, [Barisan chairman] Dr. Lee Siew Choh reiterated his opposition to Malaysia and took the side of the Indonesians against the Tunku. This made our earlier warning that a vote for the Barisan was a vote for Sukarno even more credible.

As expected, the election was a fight between the Barisan and the PAP. My eve-of-poll broadcast nevertheless concentrated on getting the Alliance out of the way to minimize splitting the non-communist vote. The MCA knew by now that they could not win, and preferred to have the Barisan win so that Kuala Lumpur could suspend the state constitution, institute direct rule, and take over lock, stock and barrel - a simple if naive solution to a most complex problem. The Singapore government would have control of a budget half that of the center, and a radio and television station more powerful than that of Kuala Lumpur. In the hands of communists with links to the Indonesian Communist Party, it would bring calamity upon Malaysia. The constitutional safeguards we had agreed upon would work only if the PAP were in power.

The votes were counted on September 21, and it proved an exciting night, for in many constituencies the results were very close.

It became obvious that the PAP was not going to be routed, that the massive crowds at Barisan rallies had not reflected true popular support. We won 37 seats, the Barisan 13 and Ong Eng Guan's UPP one. As one of them was to admit later, the Barisan were completely stunned.

The Tunku's dream of having an SPA-UMNO-MCA-MIC Alliance in control of Singapore also vanished [a forerunner of the Malaysia's ruling National Front, the Alliance was a coaliton of mainly race-based parties]. All 42 of their candidates were eliminated. I was right in not agreeing to a complete clean-up of the communist open-front leaders, otherwise the Alliance might have won enough seats to remain a potential force. But the most devastating blow for the Tunku was that the PAP had defeated UMNO in all three of its overwhelmingly Malay constituencies, which he had specially come down to Singapore to address on the eve of the election. Faced with the choice of a weak Alliance, a strong Barisan and a credible PAP, the Malays in the southern islands, Kampong Kembangan and Geylang Serai, had voted for the PAP.

Little knowing that this was the prelude to a bitter campaign of hate, which would come to a head in Malay-Chinese riots, I had blithely told the crowd at a rally in Fullerton Square that time would heal hurt feelings.

I was sure Singapore would then hum with industrial activity and be the prosperous hub of Malaysia. I promised that the government would cooperate with the center on a fair and equal basis, not as servant with master.

I was still talking in terms of UMNO and the PAP fighting our common enemies, the MCP [Malayan Communist Party] with their united front supporters and Sukarno's Indonesia, which was under communist influence. I did not know that the Tunku's lieutenants, like Albar [UMNO secretary general Syed Jaafar Albar], thought differently.


Our economic development could not be held hostage to the political prejudices of Tan Siew Sin, the Malaysian finance minister. I wanted the [PAP propaganda] committee to consider "the desirability of the PAP intervening in the forthcoming election in Malaysia" by fielding some token candidates. They were to make a decision only after my return.

However, when I was away in Africa, Raja, Chin Chye and [Ong] Pang Boon - three Singapore ministers brought up in Malaya - persuaded the PAP central executive committee to contest the Malaysian general election. The day after my return, the newspapers reported that the election would be held in April [1964]. Chin Chye immediately announced that the PAP would field a small number of candidates. He added that it had no intention of fighting the central government or UMNO, and the PAP's purpose was to cooperate with them to make Malaysia succeed.

Keng Swee was absolutely against any token participation; he believed it would sour relations between Kuala Lumpur and Singapore and jeopardize his plans for our industrialization within the Federation. I also had my reservations, but since the Tunku had breached his verbal undertaking to me not to participate in Singapore's elections, I felt no longer bound by my return undertaking and went with the decision of the central executive committee.

[The Tunku] rejected as sophistry our stand that a few token candidates would be pitted, not against UMNO, but against the MCA. The PAP was trying to supplant the MCA and align itself with UMNO, he said, "but we don't want them." I knew that, but I believed he could be made to change his mind when he saw that it was the PAP not the MCA, that had the support of the urban voters. I said that the present Malay leadership of the Tunku and UMNO was vital to Malaysia, but the MCA was replaceable. Popular antipathy towards it in the towns had reached such proportions that the (Malayan) Socialist Front, despite its obvious communist links, might make gains in some constituencies where there was no other way to register a protest vote against it.

In a month of campaigning, I motored up and down Malaya to the towns where we had candidates - Penang, Kuala Lumpur, Seremban, Malacca and Kluang - and everywhere we held rallies, huge crowds turned up. They wanted to see and hear us. They gave me a big cheer each time.

The election results, announced in the early morning of April 26, came as a shock. By 4 a.m., the Alliance had won 89 out of 104 seats, doing better than in the previous election. Every Alliance cabinet minister had been returned with a bigger majority. The PAP had won only one seat.

Our token participation did not give people a good reason to switch from the MCA to the PAP. They wanted to retain links with the UMNO-led government that was in charge of issuing the licenses they needed. The way to make a dent and change their voting habits would have been to field a large enough contingent to be credible, to make it worth their while to back us in the expectation that we would be strong enough to cut a deal with UMNO. We did not understand the power equation that was uppermost in the minds of the urban voters of Malaya, 75% of whom were Chinese or Indian and only 25% Malay.

UMNO was elated by victory, the MCA was relieved, and trouble was in store for the PAP. To show the displeasure of the Alliance with our party, the Speaker - probably after consulting the Tunku, for he was an UMNO MP - moved the five PAP ministerial members representing Singapore in the federal Parliament, who had previously been seated on the government side, over to the opposition benches to join the seven others already there.

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

Page 2 Political Allies...A Stormy Courtship...Bitter Run-up

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

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