Up North, UMNO Inches Towards More Malay and Muslim Dominance

Anwar is out of the picture, PAS is at a crossroads post-Nik Aziz, and the Malaysian opposition alliance looks lost. UMNO on the other hand might gain from PAS’ crisis between the ulama and the professionals. If members of PAS’ ulama defect to UMNO, it would leave a PAS Lite with no religious credibility for the rural folk while strengthening UMNO’s Muslim pull. What it means is minorities are going to get more marginalised in Malaysia with a weakened Pakatan and a vindictive “Apa lagi Cina mau” UMNO post-2013. Racial politics are going to get more acute.

Riding a tiger: A floundering government indulges calls to toughen Islamic law
The Economist

SEVERING a thief’s hand is the work of seconds, but a campaign to introduce strict Islamic punishments in Kelantan, a state in northern Malaysia, has ground on for 50 years. It could now be reaching a climax. In March state politicians in Kelantan’s capital, Kota Bharu, took a big step towards forcing a vote in the federal parliament that they hope will lead to local judges being allowed to sentence miscreants to whipping, amputations and even death by stoning.

It is hard to imagine hudud, corporal and capital punishments laid down in traditional Islamic law, actually being implemented in Kelantan. But the renewed discussion is harming Malaysia’s reputation as a bastion of moderate Islam. It is worrying Malaysia’s ethnic Chinese and Indians, who make up more than one-third of the population, not to mention a great many ethnic-Malay Muslims. It risks tearing apart the country’s opposition coalition. And it should concern America, which has made Malaysia a key ally.

For decades Malaysia has allowed Islamic courts to operate in parallel with secular ones, handing down rulings on civil matters to Muslims. Federal law limits the sentences such courts may deliver to three years in jail, a moderate fine or six strokes of the cane. But that is not enough for some members of the Pan-Malaysian Islamic Party (PAS), which has run Kelantan since 1990. At the very least they want fiercer lashings—up to 100 strokes for drinkers and adulterers. But they are also pushing for courts to have the power to order adulterers to be stoned to death. They want national lawmakers to vote on the issue. A private-members’ bill may force them to do so in May.

This is an old debate. What distinguishes the latest row is the ambiguous position of Malaysia’s ruling party, the United Malays National Organisation (UMNO). It has governed the country in coalition since independence but nearly lost at the most recent general election (the opposition won the popular vote but not a majority of seats, thanks to gerrymandering). UMNO has long opposed hudud, but behind the scenes it has lately been encouraging PAS, even though that party forms part of the opposition. Najib Razak, UMNO’s leader and Malaysia’s prime minister, has yet to clarify his stance. If a vote goes ahead he may tell his MPs to decide as they wish.

The UMNO leadership has reason to appear sympathetic to PAS’s hudud demands. It will exacerbate divisions in the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, a fractious alliance that binds PAS with two larger and more mainstream parties: the People’s Justice Party, a liberal, multi-ethnic outfit, and the Democratic Action Party, a secular, ethnic-Chinese one. Both complain that PAS is reneging on an earlier promise to suspend its quest for hudud. Meanwhile, the jailing in February of Pakatan’s charismatic leader, Anwar Ibrahim, on a sodomy charge looks politically motivated. Spinning out a debate about Islamic punishments is one way to widen rifts in Pakatan, which is struggling without Mr Anwar.

The second reason is the terrible performance of UMNO’s coalition at the 2013 election, the result of big defections of ethnic-Chinese and ethnic-Indian voters. It has convinced UMNO to refurbish its former identity as a fierce defender of ethnic Malays and of Islam, the religion to which all Malays are assumed to adhere. The party looks ever less inclined to rein in Malay supremacists and Islamist firebrands incubating on its fringes. Creeping social conservatism has brought more frequent rows over such shockers as pop concerts and dog-petting events.

Compounding all this is the relentless use of the Sedition Act, a vague and noxious law left over from the British colonial era, to harry growing numbers of activists and opposition leaders. Mr Najib’s supporters paint him as a reformer restraining his party’s authoritarian impulses. Yet last year he reversed a promise to do away with the Sedition Act and instead vowed to strengthen it with clauses prohibiting speech that denigrates Islam and other religions. This week five members of a news website were arrested for reports on opposition to hudud.

These dark clouds explain why Malaysia’s ethnic-Chinese and Indian citizens—and many moderate Muslims—are not reassured that hudud is promoted by its advocates only in the conservative north. Some clashes caused by Malaysia’s existing dual-track legal system are still unresolved, such as who should rule in divorces and custody battles when only one spouse is Muslim. Meanwhile, introducing stricter punishments for a particular ethnicity is unlikely to improve Malaysia’s already fraught racial politics.

It remains uncertain whether Parliament will vote on the bills that PAS has introduced. The government could decide its interests are best served by stringing out the public debate. Certainly, the chances of PAS gaining the simple parliamentary majority needed to implement hudud—not to mention the two-thirds majority needed to change the constitution, which many experts reckon would be necessary—seem small. PAS may end up asking Parliament to sanction a greatly diluted version of the judicial code that it appears to want.

The longest-lasting consequence of the controversy may be to encourage a redrawing of the two coalitions which will do battle at the next general election. PAS is itself torn by squabbling between liberal and conservative factions over the direction the party should take. Some speculate that the hardliners hope the latest push for hudud will cut short the bickering by encouraging PAS’s coalition partners to kick it out of Pakatan. On March 24th the Democratic Action Party warned that it was no longer willing to work with the PAS leader, Hadi Awang. Tensions within PAS will come to a head in a party leadership election in June. Analysts warn that without a compromise the party could split.

Some observers maintain that a split might be a big step towards reinvigorating Malaysia’s opposition. Shorn of their more extreme colleagues, PAS moderates could recommit themselves to a coalition that could survive even without Mr Anwar. But hiving off a rump of disaffected Islamist politicians could also bring UMNO closer to forming a majoritarian government comprised of ethnic Malays. It could then rule with a deaf ear to the interests of the country’s minorities. That would be a victory so far as UMNO strategists are concerned. But many Malaysians, moderate Malay Muslims among them, would find it a harsh punishment indeed.

Lee Kuan Yew is Mortal and Machiavellian

Lee Kuan Yew’s contribution as a leader of a good team in cleverly steering Singapore to development and prosperity in the difficult early years is without dispute. It was life and death then in post-independence Singapore when Malaysia and Indonesia loomed as big neighbours, the British withdrew their military and the economy that supported it and there was urgent need to create employment, housing, education etc. Singapore’s survival was at stake.

However, he did not do it alone and had help from the other Old Guards, and engineered history made him out to be a larger than life heroic philosopher king. This is not to dampen or cheapen his achievements and vision for Singapore but the tide of tributes to him since his death is uncomfortably almost deification. The more Singaporeans place him on the pedestal, the more it seems as if Singapore can be knocked down when he is gone and not around to give Singapore guidance. That is not the case as the former PM already charted out succession plans, whether it won public support wholeheartedly or not. The decline in the PAP’s popularity since the 1990s is telling.

Lee Kuan Yew is mortal, not a god. He and his team made mistakes. He and his team also made political enemies, especially since the first PM of Singapore was Machiavellian in politics, albeit as a trained and sharp lawyer, everything was done by law when he cornered his opponents in a cul de sac with knuckle dusters. Already some of those who wrongly or rightly disliked his political high-handedness have voiced out their views. As mourning wanes, and the papers, TV and radio deify Lee Kuan Yew to a point of nauseating overkill, we can expect more fair and unfair criticisms of Lee Kuan Yew to fester.

The Guardian view on Lee Kuan Yew: a new generation should build on his successes, not rest on them

Singapore’s founding father Lee Kuan Yew is being mourned within his country and beyond its shores. In three decades as prime minister he oversaw the separation from Malaysia in 1965 and the transformation of Singapore into a business and financial powerhouse. When his son Lee Hsien Loong took on the top job and appointed him “minister mentor”, it acknowledged rather than bestowed his enduring influence.

Mr Lee’s wide-ranging connections and blunt advice – he astutely balanced the major powers – won him respect in both Beijing and Washington. In the region, Singapore sparked talk of “Asian values”, with other leaders envying not just its wealth, stability, efficiency and cleanliness, but also its tight controls and its culture of obedience. Its success was welcomed as proof that a vibrant economy and sustained development could – or would only – thrive under authoritarian government. Mr Lee once warned that democracy’s exuberance “leads to undisciplined and disorderly conditions which are inimical to development”.

Voting in Singapore is compulsory. The People’s Action Party always wins. Only a handful of opposition MPs have hurdled the obstacles to win election. There is strict regulation of the media, public speech and assembly. Defamation cases have brought domestic opponents to bankruptcy and proved costly for overseas media; the government says high penalties are needed to ensure politicians’ reputations are protected against mud-slinging. Corporal and capital punishment remain, as do detentions without trial under the Internal Security Act. In the past, Mr Lee used the law enthusiastically against those he judged “extremists”.

Many in Singapore, remembering their impoverished youth, accept all this as the cost of order and their nation’s hard-won prosperity. Others suggest the iron grip has never been necessary. And a younger generation take yesterday’s achievements as read and want more. That is not churlishness or ingratitude, but a mark of the country’s real progress.

The last parliamentary elections in 2011 marked the PAP’s worst performance since independence, though it still gained 60% of the vote and all but six of the 87 seats. Lee Hsien Loong acknowledged that was a watershed, promising to listen to voters. The government has since recalibrated its tone and expanded welfare. Yet the gulf between rich and poor remains vast and has become a key source of discontent, along with the cost of living and immigration. Controls on internet news sites have tightened.

This year’s 50th anniversary of independence should bring renewed focus on the challenges ahead, as well as acknowledging those met and mastered. Change is overdue. A growing number of Singaporeans chafe at Lee-style paternalism and seek to assert their rights. Perhaps the country could one day be the model for a new set of Asian values: social and political liberalisation, rather than cash and control, with freedom and equality celebrated alongside stability.

Nationalism, Racism and the Right

The dilemma for Hollande. To be more Right to win nationalist votes, and the National Front would be even more Right to win back those votes.

The rising menace of France’s National Front


Two months after millions of French people mounted a mass demonstration of national unity in horrified reaction to the Charlie Hebdo and kosher supermarket terrorist killings in Paris, the dangerous, divisive National Front (FN) party is once more riding high.

The anti-European Union (EU), anti-immigrant FN, excluded from the January march, is set to win the biggest share of the vote in regional elections this month, revealed polls that show it taking a third of votes in the first round. An increasingly confident Marine Le Pen, the party’s charismatic leader, declared to the Financial Times last week: “It is the Front’s moment.”

President Francois Hollande, his approval ratings again sliding after a post-Charlie boost, is braced for a stinging defeat for his ruling Socialist Party. The centre-right UMP, once more led by former President Nicolas Sarkozy, has signally failed to provide coherent opposition to a weak government.

Even with a strong showing in this month’s poll, the FN will still have only marginal representation in Parliament and local government. But Ms Le Pen has her sights firmly fixed on the presidential election in 2017. After winning almost 18 per cent of the first-round vote in 2012, polls now show her poised to reach the second round next time, as her father Jean-Marie achieved in 2002. The difference is that, while he was trounced in the run-off by Mr Jacques Chirac, it is no longer unimaginable that Ms Le Pen could win. At least one poll has shown her beating Mr Hollande in a second-round face-off.

A Le Pen presidency is still an outside bet. The French centre would rally against her. A nascent economic recovery could soften FN support. But, as the far-left Syriza party showed in Greece, radical movements in Europe are capable of riding to power on a deep disaffection with the political mainstream.

There should be no illusion that a Le Pen victory in 2017 would be a disaster for France and for Europe. France is not Greece. It is Europe’s second- largest economy and, with the United Kingdom, its top military power. The arrival in the Elysee Palace of a leader committed to dismantling the single currency, erecting protectionist barriers and unstitching key tenets of Western security policy — Ms Le Pen has backed Russia on Ukraine — would reverberate across the continent and beyond. To say nothing of the risk to the already fragile social fabric in France of the FN’s overtly anti-immigrant policies.

Nor should Ms Le Pen be underestimated. Unlike her father, she is deadly serious about building a party of government, working assiduously to broaden its appeal.

She has shifted the FN away from the crude anti-Semitism that characterised it under her father (though a deep vein of racism and Islamophobia persists within its ranks). She has shed the anti-state stance of the old FN, embracing traditional French republican and secular values. Her anti-austerity economic policies — to protect welfare, raise wages and pensions, cut utility prices and control consumer lending rates — strike a populist appeal, especially on the left.

Faced with this, the Socialist and UMP response has been dismal, both parties consumed by infighting. Mr Hollande’s espousal of much-needed structural reforms came late and was undermined by his earlier unpopular resort to tax increases. Mr Sarkozy persists in adopting hardline positions intended to lure voters away from Ms Le Pen, but which tend, instead, to lend her legitimacy. Never has the need been greater for France’s mainstream leaders to offer a clear message that can rally the millions who came out onto the streets in January. THE FINANCIAL TIMES

The Charlie Hebdo Attacks and the Sign of Things to Come

Militants charmed by the romanticised narrative of violence in Syria and Iraq in the name of Islam would be here to stay. The Sydney cafe hostage crisis was a questionable case whether the guy was really a jihad militant. The recent Paris shootings however confirmed that Al Qaeda militants might conduct senseless killings also in their home country. Particularly if they went overseas to gain military training or experience, and returned home. In the case of the Kouachi brothers, it was Yemen and they said they attacked in the name of Al Qaeda Yemen. What was also frightening was the use of big impact big drama small team tactics like in Mumbai. The Paris trio attacked at different locations at different times and were mobile. If they were better armed and had more militants, the death toll would have been catastrophic.

French intelligence and police would be questioned for their failure to prevent the attack as it should be. They stated in their defence already that they watched the brothers and as nothing happened, they moved on. The delicate dilemma in the surveillance society in protecting the public from terrorists and protecting the public from the state itself. Murphy’s Law happened. Such crisis however strengthened the public’s resolve and resilience, although the Right wing would want to capitalise this and flame anti-Muslim anger and xenophobia. The solidarity among Muslims and non-Muslims with the inspiring human angle stories of those who survived the attacks, rallied France together, made the French stronger. Nevertheless, while France stands together in grief and renewed strength, the Paris attacks would also inspire further copycat terrorism. They always do.

Charlie Hebdo Paris shootings: Heroism and hatred
By Robert Mendick, Nicola Harley, and Harriet Alexander in Paris10:00PM GMT 10 Jan 2015

The remarkable acts of selfless courage shown by victims of the Paris attacks are emerging, as a shocked France began to come to terms with three days of terror.

With a million people, among them world leaders, expected at a unity rally in Paris on Sunday, survivors described how victims attempted to fight back against the fanatics holding them hostage at gunpoint.

One hostage died after bravely grabbing a gun discarded by the terrorist Amedy Coulibaly — only for the weapon to jam. Coulibaly, who had stormed a Jewish supermarket in eastern Paris, murdered his captive in cold blood.
But the lives of many other hostages in the Hyper Cacher supermarket were saved after they were led to safety by a Muslim shopworker from Mali who guided them to a cold storeroom in the basement of the shop and locked them in.

Among the survivors were Sarah Bitton, a young Belgian mother and her 11-month-old baby, whose tears of joy at being rescued were broadcast around the world.

Mrs Bitton, 20, hid with her daughter for around four hours in a dark refrigerated room using her jacket to protect the child from hypothermia. Subsequent hospital checks showed both survived without harm.

Meanwhile, Michel Catalano has told how he confronted Saïd and Chérif Kouachi, the brothers who had murdered staff at Charlie Hebdo magazine, at his printworks in Dammartin-en-Goële.

Mr Catalano hid one of his employees, Lilian Lepère, saving his life in the process, before calmly making coffee for the brothers, who had chosen his factory for their final stand. From his hiding place in a cardboard box, Mr Lepère was able to relay vital information to police about their whereabouts in the building.

The three terrorists, who had plotted the attacks over the course of at least a year, all died in Friday’s shootouts, but the wife of Coulibaly remains on the run.

Hayat Boumeddiene is now one of the world’s most wanted women. Chilling photographs of her wearing a burka and posing with a crossbow were published.
Boumeddiene is wanted for plotting the attacks amid claims that she and Chérif Kouachi’s wife made 500 phone calls to each other over the course of the year.

The latest reports suggested that she may have fled to Syria at the beginning of the January, days before the carnage, scotching earlier claims that she had been inside the supermarket with Coulibaly and had somehow escaped in the chaos that ensued following his shooting.

The tales of heroism emerged in the aftermath of the twin sieges, which ended in a hail of bullets on Friday evening. Paris remains on high security alert four days after the killing spree began with the murderous assault on the Charlie Hebdo offices on Wednesday.

A survivor of the supermarket siege told the French magazine Le Point how a hostage had tried to tackle Coulibaly, 32, by grabbing a weapon discarded on a counter.
The eyewitness — known only as Mickael B — said: “One of the customers tried to grab one of his guns which he’d left on the counter.

“It wasn’t working. The terrorist had put it there because it had blocked after the first shots. He turned and shot at the customer who died on the spot.”

Other hostages were saved by the quick thinking of Lassana Bathily, 24, a Muslim supermarket worker from Mali, who heard the first shots fired by Coulibaly.

Mr Bathily ushered frightened customers to a basement and hid them in cold storage units. Mr Bathily told the Parisien newspaper: “When they ran down, I opened the door [of the cold store]. There are several people who have come to me. I turned off the light, I turned off the freezer. I closed the door, I told them stay calm here, I’m going out.”

Mr Bathily then escaped from the building in a service lift and was able to brief police on Coulibaly’s movements and the location of the hostages, among them three toddlers.
Mr Catalano told how he ordered his employee to hide from the Kouachi brothers as they approached his building.

He said: “I knew that the two of us couldn’t hide so I went back towards them and I must admit that I thought at that point that was the end, that was the end of it.”

Incredibly, two hours after making the terrorists coffee, Mr Catalano was allowed to leave while Mr Lepère, his colleague, kept police informed from his hiding place.

Questions over French intelligence continued to rage with claims that the Kouachi brothers had been “intensively watched” for five years until the surveillance was ended in July last year.
The telephone, internet and physical surveillance was stepped up at the end of 2011, when Saïd Kouachi returned from a trip to Yemen, where he met Anwar al-Awlaki, a local al-Qaeda leader.
“But between that date and the summer of 2014, nothing suggested any connection with a radical Islamist movement – neither on the phone nor on the internet,” said a judicial source. “Given the absence of these elements, the surveillance was stopped in order to refocus on other individuals who at that moment presented a higher risk.”

The family of a Muslim police officer shot dead by the Kouachi brothers as they fled the Charlie Hebdo offices described them as “madmen” with “no religion”.
Malik Merabet said the death of his brother Ahmed Merabet was a “waste” and pleaded for unity, saying Islam must not be conflated with extremism.

During an emotional news conference, Mr Merabet said: “I am addressing myself to all racists — the Islamophobes and the anti-Semites: you must not mix up extremism with Muslims.
“The madmen have no colour nor religion. Stop… having wars or burning mosques or burning synagogues because you are attacking people. My brother was Muslim and he was killed by two terrorists, by two false Muslims.”
Up to 700,000 people rallied across France in support of those killed last week. Sunday’s unity rally in Paris may see numbers far exceeding that.

Merger Stories

The government wants to remind us of our roots and fight for independence from 59, to 63 to 65. A story which is challenged now by revisionists, which is part and parcel of how history is told and re-told, unpackaged and packaged. History is the story of the winners, but revisionism importantly allows the story of the losers to be heard, at least in the case of Singapore’s path to independence where communists are described as anti-colonialists. A true description. However, revisionism comes close to fiction when there is denial of the communist unrest in Singapore’s pre and post independence years. The Barisan Sosialis, a key protagonist, is arguably communist or at least communist-leaning and the scapegoat of communist unrest. There was the Vietnam War in the neighbourhood and the Emergency still echoed in the political consciousnesses. The Cold War raged on and from many accounts, it was a close call for the world during the Cuban Missile Crisis in 62.


The Battle for Merger shows will and spirit of pioneers

It is important for Singaporeans to remember and understand the battle between the communists and non-communists in Singapore in the early 1960s, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean. At the heart of the battle were two contrasting views on how society should be ordered and governed, he said yesterday at the launch of the reprint of The Battle for Merger — a series of radio broadcasts by then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in 1961. Mr Teo said the events vividly described in the book showed the will and spirit of pioneer leaders such as Mr Lee in confronting difficult challenges and making critical choices for Singapore’s future. This, and the fact that some revisionist writers have tried to recast the role played by the communists and their supporters on the merger issue, is why this crucial turning point in Singapore’s history continues to be relevant today, he added. The following is the speech by Mr Teo, who is also Coordinating Minister for National Security.

I am pleased to be here today to launch the reprint of The Battle for Merger, which comprises a series of radio broadcasts by Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 1961. I am lucky to own a copy of the original publication printed in 1962. It belonged to my father. I remember hearing these radio broadcasts as a child.

Though I was too young then to understand them, I could sense the magnitude and gravity of the events that were swirling around us. But Singaporeans of my father’s generation and those just a little older than me will certainly remember those tumultuous days and Mr Lee’s radio broadcasts.

It was a time when momentous decisions had to be made for Singapore. A wrong decision would have been calamitous and Singapore today might still be trying to shake off the dire effects. Mr Lee’s broadcasts electrified the population and were crucial in making Singaporeans understand what the battle was about and persuading them to support the merger with Malaysia.

The Battle for Merger

Some may wonder: Why should The Battle for Merger be reprinted now? In 2015, we will celebrate Singapore’s 50th anniversary. This is a significant milestone, especially when we consider our precarious and tumultuous beginnings. While we became an independent nation only in 1965, our road to independence had begun earlier, with our attempt to forge a shared destiny with the then Federation of Malaya. Our hard-fought attempt to gain independence by merging with Malaya was, in fact, a battle for the future of Singapore. On the surface, it was a battle for merger.

But this was only on the surface. Below the surface was another deeper, more momentous, more dangerous battle — that between the communists and non-communists in Singapore.

At the heart of this battle were two contrasting visions on how society should be ordered and how we should govern ourselves. It was not simply a fight to get rid of British colonial rule; rather, the communists and their allies had a larger agenda. Their objective was to impose a communist regime in Malaya and Singapore through all means, including subversion, and ultimately, armed revolution. They never gave up on this larger agenda. This was why the communists continued to pose a security threat to us long after both Malaya and Singapore had gained independence in 1957 and 1965, respectively, and even after all British forces had left in 1971. In one incident in June 1974, the inspector-general of police in Malaysia was gunned down in broad daylight by a communist hit squad.

The events vividly described in The Battle for Merger bear testament to the resourcefulness, will and spirit of pioneer Singaporeans led by Mr Lee Kuan Yew and his colleagues in the government and the People’s Action Party (PAP). Our pioneers were confronted with difficult challenges and dilemmas and had to make critical choices for not only themselves, but future generations of Singaporeans. This is why, despite the vast changes that have taken place in the world and in Singapore over the past 50 years, this crucial turning point in our history continues to be relevant to us today.


What was Singapore like in 1961, when Mr Lee made these radio broadcasts? What was the broader strategic environment? The Cold War between communism and the free world was at its height. The Berlin Wall, which for decades signified the divide between the two contending sides, had just been built. In fact, construction had started on Aug 13 that year, exactly a month before the first of Mr Lee’s broadcasts on Sept 13. Proxy wars and ideological battles were being fought in many countries. South-east Asia was a hot spot. Malaya and Singapore were not spared. There were grave security concerns over the growing communist influence in Malaya and Singapore.

In the 1950s and early 1960s, communism was in the ascendant in Singapore. The Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) had waged a violent armed insurgency since 1948 and fomented urban strife in its attempt to establish a communist Malaya (which included Singapore). The CPM targeted those who opposed them, including civilians, and security and police personnel. In Singapore, between 1950 and 1955, the CPM hit squads carried out at least 19 known murders, as well as numerous acid attacks, arson and other acts of violence. When the CPM’s violent, armed guerrilla war and their intimidation of the civilian population failed to turn Singapore and Malaya “red”, the communists switched strategy to place more emphasis on subversive Communist United Front (CUF) tactics instead. Through the CUF, the CPM intended to first drive out the British from Singapore and then topple the Malayan government. From 1954 to 1963, the CPM penetrated student bodies, labour unions, political parties and cultural and rural organisations in Singapore to spread its ideology and influence, attract supporters and mobilise activists to mount a campaign to destabilise and take over Singapore.

The CUF organisations instigated unrest and dissatisfaction among the population by exploiting unhappiness over socio-economic issues and particular government policies. Singapore went through a period of great upheaval and civil unrest. Protests, sit-ins, strikes and demonstrations were frequent. The trade unions and student bodies were the front organisations for these confrontations. But they were controlled and manipulated from behind the scenes by communist hands.

Some of these events resulted in the deaths of innocent Singaporeans and security personnel. The result — which was intended — was tension, anxiety and instability in Singapore.

Why did the CPM and its pro-communist allies operating in the CUF organisations decide to oppose merger?

When Mr Lee and his colleagues in the PAP were elected to form the government in June 1959, it was on a pro-merger platform. Merger was also supported by the communists and pro-communists who, at the time, were in the PAP. Other political parties also had similar pro-merger agendas. Merger was deemed essential for Singapore’s economic survival. People travelled across the Causeway frequently and co-mingled freely. Even the CPM considered Singapore a part of Malaya — there was no “Communist Party of Singapore” because, in its eyes, Singapore was an integral part of Malaya. There was only the Singapore Town Committee of the CPM.

Yet, when the PAP announced its support for merger and the concept of Malaysia to attain full independence from the British, the communists and pro-communists opposed it and tried to capture the PAP and the Singapore government in July 1961 . Merger was against the communists’ interests for two reasons. First, it would result in the quick end of British rule in Singapore and make it harder for the CUF to disguise its agenda to establish a communist regime as an anti-colonial struggle. Second, the CPM expected the anti-communist Federation Government to clamp down on them as internal security would come under the Central Government in Kuala Lumpur once merger was achieved.

The CPM never believed Singapore should be independent of Malaya. Indeed, much later, when Singapore separated from Malaysia in August 1965, the CPM denounced Singapore’s independence as “phoney”. The Barisan Sosialis took the same line when it decided to boycott and later withdraw from Parliament and take to the streets instead. But in 1961, the communists wanted to capture power in a self-governing Singapore and use that as a base to subvert the Federation and, in due course, establish communist rule over the entire Malayan peninsula.

As Mr Lee said in his preface, The Battle for Merger broadcasts were pivotal in lifting the curtain on the communists and exposing their hidden manoeuvrings. It was necessary for Mr Lee to make public the communist threat and reveal key CPM personalities, as well as how the communists operated, including their objectives and methods. Singaporeans, whether they were for or against merger, needed to know the real communist agenda in order to make their choice.

This was why Mr Lee decided to speak to Singaporeans directly on the matter. He gave three talks a week, each delivered in English, Mandarin and Malay, totalling 36 broadcasts in less than a month. This gruelling effort left him thoroughly exhausted. But he got his message across. The talks played a vital part in defeating the anti-merger campaign of the communists and pro-communists. In the referendum on merger held in September 1962, 71 per cent supported the PAP’s position while 25 per cent cast blank votes as advocated by the anti-merger group.

Though public support for merger was unequivocal in 1962 and Singapore joined the Federation of Malaysia on Sept 16, 1963, the differences in views between the Singaporean and Malaysian governments on how a multiracial, multi-religious nation should govern itself caused the merger to fail.

In 1965, when independence was thrust upon Singapore, we were struggling with poor economic prospects, fraught communal relations and a continuing communist threat. The Cold War raged on and the Vietnam War was intensifying. The Gulf of Tonkin incident, which led the United States to engage in Vietnam, had occurred in 1964. The Cultural Revolution, which brought turmoil to China for a decade, started the next year, in 1966.

Even after independence, the communists persisted in their violent attempts to destabilise Singapore. The CPM revived its armed struggle in the 1960s and 1970s. In 1970, a seven-year-old girl was killed by a booby-trapped bomb planted by a CPM unit in Changi. In 1974, three communists were on their way to plant home-made bombs in Telok Kurau when one bomb exploded prematurely in Katong, killing two of the bombers. The third bomber was injured, but escaped and eventually fled to Johor with the help of CPM supporters. The following year, in 1975, the security authorities recovered in Loyang and Tampines two caches of 298 hand grenades accumulated by another CPM unit that had carried out vicious attacks in Singapore in the 1950s. Indeed, the voice of Malayan revolution, the CPM radio station, was broadcasting up until 1981, preaching the revolution of communism. Several Singaporeans worked at this radio station.

The spectre of communism receded only after the People’s Republic of China abandoned its support for the CPM in the 1980s. The CPM finally ceased hostilities and signed peace agreements in Hat Yai with the Malaysian government and the Thai authorities. The date, Dec 2, 1989, when the CPM finally laid down its arms, was barely a month after the Berlin Wall was breached on Nov 9, 1989 — the same Berlin Wall that was the symbol of the Cold War and whose construction began in 1961, only a month before the first Battle for Merger broadcast.


Today, the events surrounding the merger are no longer at the forefront of the minds of Singaporeans. For the older ones, the tumultuous years described in The Battle for Merger are a receding, distant memory. The younger ones, especially those born after 1965, would have no personal memory of these events. They would know of these years through only history books or from their parents or grandparents.

The Battle for Merger provides a powerful contemporaneous account of the events at that time. It captures the flavour and intensity of the exchanges, the battle for the hearts and minds of Singaporeans over the merger and, more fundamentally, the fierce struggle between the communists and the non-communists over the future of Singapore.

As we approach our 50th year of independence, some revisionist writers have attempted to recast the role played by the communists and their supporters on the merger issue. They portray the fight as merely a peaceful and democratic disagreement over the type of merger. They ignore the more fundamental agenda of the communists to seize power by subversion and armed revolution. The CPM’s armed struggle and the CUF’s efforts to destabilise Singapore before, during and after the battle for merger have been well documented by various academics and writers, including top leaders of the CPM such as Chin Peng and Fong Chong Pik.

These multiple sources support the argument that Mr Lee made in The Battle for Merger more than five decades ago: Namely, that there was a communist conspiracy to take power being played out over the merger issue, which he felt compelled to expose in his broadcasts. The re-publication of the book will provide a reality check to the revisionist views. I hope it will awaken interest among younger Singaporeans in the events of this crucial period in our history, educate them on what actually happened, what the battle was about and why it was so crucial that the right side won.

Indeed, one might ask: What if the communists and their pro-communist CUF allies had won and Singapore had fallen under communist rule in the 1960s? We would have gone on a completely different path. Where would we be today?

Singapore would probably not have survived, as a small communist outcast in South-east Asia, as the Cold War raged in the 1960s, 1970s and 1980s. Even if Singapore had survived, life would have been harsh and miserable. We need only look at the communist world since the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the countries that continue to subscribe to communism today. The more successful ones have made major adaptations in recent decades and adopted drastic reforms and policies to make themselves more competitive and enable the standard of living of their citizens to catch up with free market economies.

The 1960s were tumultuous times. We should respect the personal conviction and determination of those who held different views then and fought on the side of the communists. As Mr Lee said in his broadcast: “They are not crooks or opportunists. These are men with great resolve, dedicated to the communist revolution and the establishment of the communist state, believing that it is the best thing in the world for mankind.”

But we should, even more, acknowledge and give our respect and appreciation to the Singaporeans who had the courage and wisdom to reject the CPM’s ideology and tactics, including its violent methods, and those of its pro-communist supporters — Singaporeans who rallied to support the non-communist cause under the leadership of Mr Lee, who fortunately, mustered a majority to defeat the communist side in a democratic contest.

Among those who have contributed to building our nation are some who initially joined or supported the communists. It took special courage for them to turn away from the communist cause after recognising its serious flaws and inadequacies. They made a brave choice in the face of intimidation and threats to their lives and families. They had the courage to acknowledge that the path advocated by the CPM was the wrong one and to join the majority of Singaporeans who had made that critical choice for a non-communist, democratic, peaceful and constructive path forward.

There were others, including several senior CPM figures, who had fled Singapore in the 1950s and 1960s but returned home with their families after the CPM laid down its arms in 1989. They made no pretence about their past activities and beliefs and were reconciled to the fact that theirs was not a cause shared by the majority of Singaporeans. They had seen the road that communism had travelled and admitted that it had failed. After providing an account of their communist activities to the security authorities, they and their families settled back in Singapore as loyal citizens and contributed to our country’s progress.

But it was a close call. Then, as now, Singapore had little room to manoeuvre. The wrong decision, and it would have gone the other way and Singapore would have turned out very differently.

Our pioneers’ spirit and their determination to rise above the hardships of the moment, including the dire threat of communism, and focus on making Singapore a better country for the next generation is an inspiration for all Singaporeans. This spirit, epitomised in The Battle for Merger, is a precious heritage that we all, as Singaporeans, should honour, recognise and emulate.

To Singapore, With Love, And Denials

It’s a documentary on people who fled or left Singapore for political reasons, so naturally they would have a different story to tell from the government e.g. they were innocent, they were maligned. If they were supposedly guilty, of course they would say they were innocent instead. Similarly on the government’s side, if they were innocent, of course the government would say they were guilty to bury the past. As in most truths, it is about shades of truths and untruths between the opposing versions .

Yaacob has thrown the gauntlet down that those interviewed lied about their communist past. The argument is going to degrade into a “I say one thing and you say another thing” dualism.

Nevertheless, any history follower would know that communism was a global revolutionary movement in that Cold War period. Stories to forget communism existed is outright denialism and outrageous despite what some academics want to market now with “progressive left” whitewashing. Those who fled Singapore had a reason to flee. Them saying that they were political activists who feared arrest might not be far from the truth if we see that communism at worst or leftist politics at best was a political opposition to the PAP’s brand of authoritarian anti-Red democracy.

The broader issue is not whether they were communists, which is quite clear and it lies in just a matter of degree of their Redness, but why there is still censorship, despite the government’s denial.

To Singapore, With Love ‘contains untruths about history’: Dr Yaacob

Tan Pin Pin’s film allowed some Communist Party of Malaya and Communist United Front sympathisers to re-cast their past actions as the expression of a “peaceful and democratic difference of ideology and views”, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim said.

SINGAPORE: Tan Pin Pin’s To Singapore, With Love is not a historical documentary presenting a factual account, Minister for Communications and Information Yaacob Ibrahim told Parliament on Tuesday (Oct 7). The film’s “one-sided portrayals” are designed to “evoke feelings of sympathy and support for individuals” who in reality chose to leave Singapore and remain in self-exile, he added.

Dr Yaacob said the film gives a misleading account of these individuals’ past, and makes no attempt to present an objective account of the violent Communist insurrection that they had participated in and have not renounced.

“The film To Singapore, With Love contains untruths and deception about this history. Therefore it received an appropriate classification which disallowed it for public viewing,” the minister said in response to questions posed by various MPs, including MP for Chua Chu Kang GRC Zaqy Mohamad, MP for Tampines GRC Baey Yam Keng and Nominated Member of Parliament Kuik Shiao-Yin.

“To allow the public screening of a film that obfuscates and whitewashes an armed insurrection by an illegal organisation, and violent and subversive acts directed at Singaporeans, would effectively mean condoning the use of violence and subversion in Singapore, and thus harm our national security.

“It would also be a gross injustice to the men and women who braved violence and intimidation to stand up to the Communists, especially those who lost their lives in the fight to preserve Singapore’s security and stability, and secure a democratic, non-Communist Singapore.”

Dr Yaacob said from 1948, the Communist Party of Malaya waged a campaign using violence and subversion for over four decades, to install a communist regime in Malaysia and Singapore. Over 8,000 civilians and security personnel were killed or wounded during the insurgency. Communist hit squads also assassinated Singaporeans in broad daylight.

He said the party’s aims, violent means, organisation and membership are well-established historical facts, and had been written about extensively. The film received a “Not Allowed for All Ratings” (NAR) classification by the Media Development Authority in September, which means the film is not for exhibition or distribution in Singapore.


Dr Yaacob also pointed out that those featured in the film had deflected or omitted mentions of their past actions.

For example, Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) member He Jin – also known as Lim Kim Chuan, who served in the China-based propaganda radio station the Voice of Malayan Revolution (VMR) – deflected questions about the communists using violence against Singapore. Instead, He spoke of the CPM’s involvement in fighting the Japanese during World War II.

Two more CPM members featured in the film – Tan Hee Kim and wife Yap Wan Ping – claimed they only joined the CPM after they decided to leave Singapore. In reality, they were already active CPM members before they left, the minister said.

As for Ho Juan Thai, who was also in the film, he had admitted in an open letter in 1982 that he had amended the expiry date of his Singapore passport. He also committed Exit Permit offences when he left Singapore illegally, Dr Yaacob said.

Tan Wah Piow also left Singapore through illegal channels to evade National Service enlistment and travelled to the United Kingdom on his expired passport with a forged extension endorsement, he added.

“Both Ho and Tan can return to Singapore, although they cannot expect to be granted immunity if they are found to have flouted the law. Members will agree that nobody can expect to be placed above the law,” Dr Yaacob stated.


Dr Yaacob also said the NAR classification does not prohibit the private screening of a film. For instance, tertiary institutions can request for approval to screen NAR-classified films to students, subject to the consent of the film-maker. MDA had recently agreed to a request from Yale-NUS College to screen Ms Tan’s film as part of a course on documentaries about conflicts, he said.

“In an academic setting, there are avenues for different views to be heard or presented, and we trust that tertiary institutions will present an objective and balanced account of events to be examined critically by students,” he said.

The minister also said MDA had explained the rationale for the NAR classification to the applicant, in this case NUS Museum, which had submitted To Singapore, With Love for classification.

“MDA does meet with film-makers who want to understand more about classifications while they are developing their films, or the rationale for a classification after a film has been classified,” said Dr Yaacob.

“It is then up to the film-maker to decide whether he or she wants to re-work or edit the film and, if so, submit a fresh application to MDA for classification.”

Ms Tan had said on her Facebook page on Oct 2 that she had resubmitted her documentary to the MDA’s Films Appeal Committee on Sep 30.

Hong Kong from Another Lens

I said earlier that Hong Kong had no universal suffrage before 1997 anyway, and The Guardian commentary gave a deeper insight into the Hong Kong protest psyche, different from the typical pro-West view on the democracy movement in Hong Kong now. The writer, Martin Jacques, is a seasoned China expert who takes a more layered view of the events in Hong Kong. He makes a persuasive point that Hong Kong’s crisis is not about universal suffrage per se as it was never a real problem before, but of changing demographics and frustrations with Beijing. A Beijing that allowed Chinese cities like Shenzhen and Shanghai to take over slowly the former British colony’s lead in port and financial services, and more Chinese workers and tourists flooding Hong Kong and causing the inevitable social tension.

The Guardian’s commentary by Martin Jacques is even more enriching when compared side by side with another commentary in The Guardian which is more pro-protest, pro-revolution, and common among Western reporting of the Umbrella Revolution. The truth is rarely pure and never simple.


China is Hong Kong’s future – not its enemy
Martin Jacques
The Guardian, Tuesday 30 September 2014 19.45 BST

The upheaval sweeping Hong Kong is more complicated than on the surface it might appear. Protests have erupted over direct elections to be held in three years’ time; democracy activists claim that China’s plans will allow it to screen out the candidates it doesn’t want.

It should be remembered, however, that for 155 years until its handover to China in 1997, Hong Kong was a British colony, forcibly taken from China at the end of the first opium war. All its 28 subsequent governors were appointed by the British government. Although Hong Kong came, over time, to enjoy the rule of law and the right to protest, under the British it never enjoyed even a semblance of democracy. It was ruled from 6,000 miles away in London. The idea of any kind of democracy was first introduced by the Chinese government. In 1990 the latter adopted the Basic Law, which included the commitment that in 2017 the territory’s chief executive would be elected by universal suffrage; it also spelt out that the nomination of candidates would be a matter for a nominating committee.

This proposal should be seen in the context of what was a highly innovative – and, to westerners, completely unfamiliar – constitutional approach by the Chinese. The idea of “one country, two systems” under which Hong Kong would maintain its distinctive legal and political system for 50 years. Hong Kong would, in these respects, remain singularly different from the rest of China, while at the same time being subject to Chinese sovereignty. In contrast, the western view has always embraced the principle of “one country, one system” – as, for example, in German unification. But China is more a civilisation-state than a nation-state: historically it would have been impossible to hold together such a vast country without allowing much greater flexibility. Its thinking – “one civilisation, many systems” – was shaped by its very different history.

In the 17 years since the handover, China has, whatever the gainsayers might suggest, overwhelmingly honoured its commitment to the principle of one country, two systems. The legal system remains based on English law, the rule of law prevails, and the right to demonstrate, as we have seen so vividly in recent days, is still very much intact. The Chinese meant what they offered. Indeed, it can reasonably be argued that they went to extremes in their desire to be unobtrusive: sotto voce might be an apt way of describing China’s approach to Hong Kong. At the time of the handover, and in the three years I lived in Hong Kong from 1998, it was difficult to identify any visible signs of Chinese rule: I recall seeing just one Chinese flag.

Notwithstanding this, Hong Kong – and its relationship with China – was in fact changing rapidly. Herein lies a fundamental reason for the present unrest: the growing sense of dislocation among a section of Hong Kong’s population. During the 20 years or so prior to the handover, the territory enjoyed its golden era – not because of the British but because of the Chinese. In 1978 Deng Xiaoping embarked on his reform programme, and China began to grow rapidly. It was still, however, a relatively closed society. Hong Kong was the beneficiary – it became the entry point to China, and as a result attracted scores of multinational companies and banks that wanted to gain access to the Chinese market. Hong Kong got rich because of China. It also fed an attitude of hubris and arrogance. The Hong Kong Chinese came to enjoy a much higher standard of living than the mainlanders. They looked down on the latter as poor, ignorant and uncouth peasants, as greatly their inferior. They preferred – up to a point – to identify with westerners rather than mainlanders, not because of democracy (the British had never allowed them any) but primarily because of money and the status that went with it.

Much has changed since 1997. The Chinese economy has grown many times, the standard of living of the Chinese likewise. If you want to access the Chinese market nowadays, why move to Hong Kong when you can go straight to Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Chengdu and a host of other major cities? Hong Kong has lost its role as the gateway to China. Where previously Hong Kong was China’s unrivalled financial centre, now it is increasingly dwarfed by Shanghai. Until recently, Hong Kong was by far China’s largest port: now it has been surpassed by Shanghai and Shenzhen, and Guangzhou will shortly overtake it.

Two decades ago westerners comprised the bulk of Hong Kong’s tourists, today mainlanders account for the overwhelming majority, many of them rather more wealthy than most Hong Kong Chinese. Likewise, an increasing number of mainlanders have moved to the territory – which is a growing source of resentment. If China needed Hong Kong in an earlier period, this is no longer nearly as true as it was. On the contrary, without China, Hong Kong would be in deep trouble.

Understandably, many Hong Kong Chinese are struggling to come to terms with these new realities. They are experiencing a crisis of identity and a sense of displacement. They know their future is inextricably bound up with China but that is very different from embracing the fact. Yet there is no alternative: China is the future of Hong Kong.

All these issues, in a most complex way, are being played out in the present arguments over universal suffrage. Hong Kong is divided. About half the population support China’s proposals on universal suffrage, either because they think they are a step forward or because they take the pragmatic view that they will happen anyway. The other half is opposed. A relatively small minority of these have never really accepted Chinese sovereignty. Anson Chan, the former head of the civil service under Chris Patten, and Jimmy Lai, a prominent businessman, fall into this category, and so do some of the Democrats. Then there is a much larger group, among them many students, who oppose Beijing’s plans for more idealistic reasons.

One scenario can be immediately discounted. China will not accept the election of a chief executive hostile to Chinese rule. If the present unrest continues, then a conceivable backstop might be to continue indefinitely with the status quo, which, from the point of view of democratic change, both in Hong Kong and China, would be a retrograde step. More likely is that the Chinese government will persist with its proposals, perhaps with minor concessions, and anticipate that the opposition will slowly abate. This remains the most likely scenario.

An underlying weakness of Chinese rule has nevertheless been revealed by these events. One of the most striking features of Hong Kong remains the relative absence of a mainland political presence. The Chinese have persisted with what can best be described as a hands-off approach. Their relationship to the administration is either indirect or behind the scenes. Strange as it may seem, the Chinese are not involved in the cut and thrust of political argument. They will need to find more effective ways of making their views clear and arguing their case – not in Beijing but in Hong Kong.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 53 other followers

%d bloggers like this: