David Marshall and Failure from Independence
David Marshall led the first Merdaka Mission to open negotiations with the British for Independence of Singapore. Constitutional discussions began in London in April 1956. On board, representing the PAP, were Lim Chin Siong and Lee Kuan Yew.
The mission returned in failure and their demands for independence were refused. The British felt that the Labour Front government was too weak and the Communist elements in Singapore too powerful. If there was to be independence, the British fears needed to be calmed. David Marshall resigned and Lim Yew Hock took over as Chief Minister. He had two objectives. Firstly, he had to prove to the British that Singapore was able to resist Communism. Secondly, he wanted to purge the trade unions, schools and political parties of pro-Communist and Left Wing Leaders who were beginning to threaten the rule of the moderate politicians such as himself and LKY. Thus began a series of arrests under the Public Security Ordinance. Lim Chin Siong, Devan Nair and Fong Swee Suan were some of the prominent politicians being detained. (This issue will be dealt with in further details under Lim Chin Siong and Devan Nair at Part III)
It was Lim Yew Hock who took both blame and credit for the waves of Internal Security arrest. But the PAP was undoubtedly the main beneficiary of his tough regime. Lim Yew Hock arrested five Left Wing PAP members, newly elected onto the partyÂ’s Central Executive Committee (CEC) in August 1957, delivering the PAP from what was effectively a Left Wing Coup. Shortly after, PAP introduced the Â“cadres systemÂ” (to be elaborated under Dr Toh Chin Chye section at Part II), which prevented any further Left Wing infiltration into the partyÂ’s inner core.Independence from the British
The next Constitutional Mission to London in April 1958 was a success. Under the State of Singapore Act in August 1958, the colony became a self-governing state. Elections for the new 51 member Legislative Assembly were scheduled for May 1959. Lim Yew Hock was given a heroÂ’s welcome on his return and a noisy motorcade from Kallang Airport.
The Dilemma and Shrewdness of LKY
In the run-up to 1959 elections, the PAP was in a dilemma. The Party was to be led into the elections by LKY and his Right Wong colleagues. But they needed the Left Wing leaders, who were in prison to attract the following of the masses.
Â“It was at that point that Kuan Yew played his political cards superbly,Â” remembers Devan Nair. Â“It was masterly. He is politically very, very shrewd. He came to the jail and told us, look, IÂ’m not gong to stand for elections unless I am satisfied that you are really committed to the ideal of a free, democratic, socialist and non-communist Malaya. And you are committed to the policies of the PAP. So Chin Siong, Woodhull, Fong and so on, gave verbal assurances. We knew that if the PAP didnÂ’t form the next government we would continue to be in the jug (aka jail). But if the PAP did win, in 1959 and if PAP formed the next government, then we would be released and we could start our union work again.Â”
Â“But Kuan Yew was too smart. He said, Â“No, put it down in writing.Â” And I (Devan Nair) told them, Â“Yes, if we are sincere, we ought to put it down in writing.Â” And the more important of which was The Ends and Means of Malayan SocialismÂ”, said Devan. They all signed and committed themselves to the PAP. This enabled LKY to run for office on a platform which demanded their immediate release. The trade unions mobilized their mass muscles, putting the PAP into power by a landslide. The PAP formed the government with LKY as the Prime Minister.
Lim Chin Siong and his colleagues, released from jail amidst a flurry of doves, were tucked into obscurity as Political Secretaries in the Ministries.Cracks and Split in PAP
As the PAP government settled into power, the uneasy union between the Left and Right continued. The first sign of trouble was Devan NairÂ’s resignation from the Education Ministry. Â“I went to Kuan Yew and told him, Â“Look, I meant every word of The Ends and Means of Malayan Socialism. But I am afraid that my friends are not sincere. I donÂ’t want to be caught in a situation where IÂ’ll be fighting with my friends. So I want to leave. IÂ’m resigning.Â” He went to St AndrewÂ’s School where he became a teacher there instead.
The next crack came when one of the most powerful members in PAP, Ong Eng Guan, the Minister of National Development and one of the three representatives on the Internal Security Council, published an attack on PAP. He accused the party leadership of being Â“undemocraticÂ” and Â“dictatorialÂ”. The Party responded by sacking him from the PAP and stripped of his seat in Hong Lim and all his other positions.
He defiantly stood as an Independent in the Hong Lim by-elections and gave the PAP candidate, Jek Yuen Thong, a sound beating. Ong was fluent in dialect and Mandarin; a rarity amongst the English educated. Despite the PAP sending the charismatic Lim Chin Siong to speak at the mass rally at Hong Lim, Ong Eng Guan still won.
This is not the end of the crisis for PAP. On June 1961, Lim Chin Siong wrote to Dr Toh, demanding the release of their Left Wing political colleagues. PAP could not agree to this with their prior agreements with the British. The beginning of the split between Left and Right was the Anson By-elections on July 1961. The Left demanded Â“internal democracy in the PAPÂ” and the release of all political prisoners from detention. They were refused. The Left then threw their support to the rival candidate, David Marshall and he won.
The final split came just few days later in the Legislative Assembly. Thirteen Left Wing PAP Assemblymen abstained from voting with the party line. They were dismissed from the PAP. In August 1961, they formed a rival party, the Barisan Sosialis, led by Dr Lee Siew Choh and Lim Chin Siong. They took 35 branch committees, 19 of the 23 organizing secretaries and an estimated 80 percent of the membership. PAP under LKY was a mere shell, according to Dr Lee.