MEMOIRS OF LEE KWAN YEW A Statesman’s Write of Passage Page 5
Divorce by stealth
Difficult to fix
No more bullying
DIVORCE BY STEALTH Keng Swee urged that the separation be presented to the British as a fait accompli when parliament reassembled on August 9. The necessary constitutional amendments must first be made granting Singapore independence, with all three readings taking place on that day. Ismail readily agreed to this. Razak was greatly amused and said that perhaps PAP tactics were the best. Ismail said two documents needed to be drawn up: an amendment to the constitution making the secession of Singapore possible, and an act giving Singapore independence under that amendment. In the interests of security, civil servants should not be brought in to prepare these, and he asked if we could do the work. Ismail and Razak must have thought through the necessary constitutional procedures. Keng Swee said Eddie [Barker] (Singapore’s minister for law) would try to produce a draft for them in a week to 10 days, and that was agreed. Keng Swee impressed upon both of them the imperative need for secrecy.
It was like any other Monday morning in Singapore until the music stopped. At 10 a.m., the pop tunes on the radio were cut off abruptly. Stunned listeners heard the announcer solemnly read out a proclamation – 90 words that changed the lives of the people of Singapore and Malaysia:
“Whereas it is the inalienable right of a people to be free and independent, I, Lee Kuan Yew, Prime Minister of Singapore, do hereby proclaim and declare on behalf of the people and the government of Singapore that as from today, the ninth day of August in the year one thousand nine hundred and sixty-five, Singapore shall be forever a sovereign, democratic and independent nation, founded upon the principles of liberty and justice and ever seeking the welfare and happiness of her people in a more just and equal society.”
Separation! What I had fought so hard to achieve was now being dissolved. Why? And why so suddenly? It was only two years since the island of Singapore had become part of the new Federation of Malaysia.
At 10 a.m. the same day, in the Malaysian capital, Kuala Lumpur, the Tunku explained to Parliament: “In the end we find that there are only two courses open to us: to take repressive measures against the Singapore government or their leaders for the behavior of some of their leaders, and the course of action we are taking now, to sever with the state government of Singapore that has ceased to give a measure of loyalty to the central government.”
The House listened in utter silence. The Tunku was speaking at the first reading of a resolution moved by deputy prime minister Tun Razak, to pass the Constitution of Malaysia (Singapore Amendment) Bill, 1965, immediately.
Under Malay-Muslim custom, a husband, but not the wife, can declare “Talak” (I divorce thee) and the woman is divorced. They can reconcile and he can remarry her, but not after he has said “Talak” three times. The three readings in the two chambers of parliament were the three talaks with which Malaysia divorced Singapore. The partners – predominantly Malay in Malaya, predominantly Chinese in Singapore – had not been compatible. Their union had been marred by increasing conjugal strife over whether the new Federation should be a truly multiracial society, or one dominated by the Malays.
DIFFICULT TO FIX
What were the real reasons for the Tunku, Razak and lsmail to want Singapore out of Malaysia? They must have concluded that if they allowed us to exercise our constitutional rights, they were bound to lose in the long run. The Malaysian Solidarity Convention would have rallied the non-Malays and, most dangerous of all, eventually made inroads into the Malay ground on the peninsula. The attitudes and policies of the PAP had already won the unswerving loyalty of our Malay leaders in Singapore; they never wavered even under the stress of the race riots in 1964, nor did they respond to appeals to race, religion or culture, or to the usual blandishments offered to draw them back into the UMNO fold.
This was the nub of the matter. The PAP leaders were not like the politicians in Malaya. Singapore ministers were not pleasure-loving nor did they seek to enrich themselves. UMNO had developed to a fine art the practice of accommodating Chinese or Indian ministers in Malaya who proved troublesome, and had, within a few years, extended its practice to Sabah and Sarawak. Razak once offered Keng Swee 5,000 acres of the best quality rubber land, to be planted with seedlings of the best high-yielding strains from the Rubber Research Institute. With an embarrassed laugh, Keng Swee protested that he would not know what to do with it and ducked the inducement.
Nor was it easy to compromise us. Keng Swee and I once accompanied the Tunku and Tan Siew Sin to a “mess” in Kuala Lumpur run by wealthy Chinese merchants. These “messes” were men’s clubs where excellent food was provided by the best restaurants, where members and their friends could gamble at mahjong or poker, and where attractive call girls and even starlets were available. We had a good meal and when they played poker afterwards, I joined in. But as soon as the girls arrived, Keng Swee and I pleaded pressing engagements and made ourselves scarce. We could not afford to give hostages to fortune. If we had stayed, we would thereafter have been open to pressure from the Malaysian leaders. They considered us difficult, almost as dangerous and elusive to handle as the communists, and much too ideological. Worse, we always acted constitutionally and hence were difficult to fix.
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A Statesman’s Write of Passage