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This story was printed from channelnewsasia.com
Reprinted book illuminates past struggle with communists over Singapore's future
By Olivia Siong, POSTED: 09 Oct 2014, 21:32hrs
The Battle for Merger contains 12 radio talks given by Mr Lee Kuan Yew in 1961, which sought to expose the communist threat and their intent in opposing Singapore's merger with Malaya.
SINGAPORE: The story about merger with Malaya in 1963 and Singapore's ejection from Malaysia in 1965 is well-known. But the battle against the communist threat in the years before that may be less familiar, and it is this story that Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew says is worth retelling.
To do so, a reprint of the book The Battle for Merger was launched on Thursday (Oct 9). It provides an account of the past struggle between the communists and non-communists over the future of Singapore. Originally published in 1962, it contains 12 radio talks given by Mr Lee in 1961 which sought to expose the communist threat and their intent on opposing merger at the time.
The immediate context - a referendum for merger that his People's Action Party (PAP) Government was planning to hold in 1962. Independence through merger with Malaya had been the goal of the PAP from the start.
"Soon you will have to decide on your future. In the next few months, we shall settle the constitutional arrangements for merger," said Mr Lee at the time. "In this series of broadcasts, I hope to tell you what merger means, why it is good for all of us, why it is coming, and why some people are deliberately creating trouble and difficulty over merger to prevent it from taking place."
The first of these talks happened on a Wednesday evening in Sep 1961. Just a month earlier, East Germany had begun constructing the Berlin Wall, to prevent defections from the communist bloc. The wall would soon become the symbol of the Cold War. While the radio talks were about merger, the key focus was to expose the communists - who they were, how they operated, what their aims were, and their intent to prevent the merger.
The PAP had earlier co-opted pro-communist leaders - such as Lim Chin Siong and Fong Swee Suan - in an anti-colonial front, to bridge the gap with the Chinese-educated public. But this was not to last and the pro-communists split with the party in 1961.
"We have fallen out because we disagree on our next objective. We want merger and independence. The Communists do not," said Mr Lee. "They have a vested interest in continuing the anti-colonial struggle so that under cover of anti-colonialism they can advance Communism. They want the anti-colonial struggle to go on and on, meanwhile using Singapore as a base from which to undermine Malaya."
At a time when there was no television, not to mention the Internet or social media, radio was seen as the most effective medium to reach the people. In less than a month, Mr Lee made 12 radio broadcasts in a row, all within days of each other. On the same evening, each broadcast was made in three languages - English, Malay and Chinese - making it 36 broadcasts in all.
The talks drew from Mr Lee's real-life encounters - from the tensions of working together with the communists in an anti-colonial front, to secret meetings with a communist envoy from the underground. Each talk ended with a cliff hanger to keep listeners interested.
Mr Lim Eng Chuan, who was a primary school student at the time of the broadcasts, recalled: "Even at that age, I could see that the communist threat was very real." Another who remembers the radio talks is Mr Patrick Ng. "I found Mr Lee Kuan Yew a very effective orator. He has great oratorical skills. So I was deeply impressed by him and I listened attentively to every one of his talks. I was deeply impressed when Mr Lee was so passionate in his delivery, carrying the people along with his message that referendum for merger with Malaya is a necessity."
Associate Professor Albert Lau, who wrote the historical context for the re-print, noted how the radio talks were significant in shaping Singapore's history. "The series of talks provoked a very strong reaction from the Communist open front leaders. It's a fair indicator of how successful or effective the talks were. One Barisan Socialis leader even asked Mr Lee to autograph a copy of the Battle for Merger when it was published and told Mr Lee that what he revealed about the communists and their tactics actually sunk in."
The speeches have been described by Mr Lee as a key reason why the referendum for merger in 1962 went decisively in the PAP's favour, with the party's proposal winning 71 per cent of the vote.
In a message for the re-print, Mr Lee wrote that the book would have achieved something if the younger generation reads and understands what was at stake. He also called on the younger generation to speak to the remaining members of the pioneer generation who lived through those times before it is too late, to get a better appreciation of the past.