February 16, 2016
Rebels with a Cause
by Lim Teck Ghee
Lim Chin Joo (above) with his book, My Youth in Black and White （我的黑白青春）
An email account brings all sorts of letters, notes and news. Most items need a few seconds to glance through and even more quickly to forget. A few, however, stir the mind into deeper thought. One that arrived recently was a posting which contained an English translation of Lim Chin Siong’s ‘Q&A Posthumous Manuscript’. The original of this article is contained in the book by his brother Lim Chin Joo, My Youth in Black and White ( （我的黑白青春）.
Younger Malaysians are probably not familiar with the name–The Comet in the Sky–Lim Chin Siong. But to the pre- and post merdeka generation of activists and social reformers, Chin Siong was a much admired anti-colonial and nationalist leader of Malaya (which included Singapore during that period) who was punished for his refusal to recant his political ideology.
And what were his beliefs and values that landed him in prison for close to a decade? In his words:
I then realised that as a human being, one should not only live for oneself.If the country or nation and the people are yet to be free, an individual will not be free either. If a nation or the people wish to be free, the most oppressed and the most exploited must rise and be united, and struggle till the end…
I firmly feel that, no person in his right senses will reject the “realisation of a society where there is no exploitation and oppression of man by man, no poverty and illness; where everyone is equal, free and given the opportunity to give full play to his potential; from each according to his ability, and to each according to his needs”.
Chin Siong was initially incarcerated by Lim Yew Hock’s government from 1956-59 and then by his party colleague, Lee Kuan Yew, with whom he co-founded the Peoples Action Party (PAP) in 1954. His second prison spell from 1963-69 followed Singapore’s merger with Malaysia and the ensuing notorious Operation Cold Storage sweep which netted 120 political prisoners. These detainees held under the notorious Internal Security Act (ISA) were mainly opposition leaders from the Barisan Socialist, the opposition party that Chin Siong founded after he broke up with Kuan Yew and the PAP.
The man who according to David Marshall, Singapore’s pre-independence Chief Minister, was introduced to him by Lee Kuan Yew as “the future Prime Minister of Singapore” and “the finest Chinese orator in Singapore” left prison a broken man. Following release from prison, he went into political exile in London, and when he finally returned to Singapore a decade later, was prohibited from taking any further part in politics.
Lim Chin Siong died in 1996. Lee Kuan Yew in his political memoir book, “The Singapore Story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew” described his role in Singapore’s politics in the following way:
“I liked and respected him for his simple lifestyle and his selflessness. He did not seek financial gain or political glory. He was totally committed to the advancement of his cause…Because of the standards of dedication they set, we, the English-educated PAP leaders, had to set high standards of personal integrity and spartan lifestyles to withstand their political attacks. They were ruthless and thorough. We became as determined as they were in pursuing our political objectives.”–Lee Kuan Yew
Chin Siong was one of a handful of remarkable Singaporean and Malaysian leaders whose roles in the struggle for independence and the tumultuous years immediately after have suffered, or have been marginalized or obliterated, as a result of the dictum that it is victors who write the history fed to the masses.
But this dictum is no longer true especially since the advent of social media.
Another dissident anti PAP leader, Dr Lim Hock Siew’s story, parallels that of Chin Siong’s with the difference being that he is still alive and therefore able to share his uncompromising views on that period of history which has impacted the lives of Singaporeans and Malaysians.
“We considered politics a calling, a responsibility, and a privilege to serve our country, not a career …. Leaders should not be discovered by inviting and enticing them with high pay and high office”–Dr. Lim Hock Siew (pic above)
In 1963, Dr. Lim was arrested under Operation Cold Store and detained without trial for nearly 20 years before he was released in 1982. A Home Affairs Ministry statement on his release had said that he was arrested under the Internal Security Act for his involvement in Communist United Front (CUF) activities. But no evidence has ever emerged supporting that nebulous charge which would have been thrown out by any judicial process.
Hock Siew refused to agree to any conditions that would have granted him early release and ended up in the record book as the second longest-held political prisoner after his leftist colleague Chia Thye Poh (pic above), who served 23 years.
There are at least three key parts of an exclusive interview he provided in February, 2010 that all Malaysians – especially those in or intending to enter politics or engage in social activism in our part of the world – should have as compulsory reading.
The headings to the parts reproduced here are mine.
Coping with Incarceration
Asked how he coped with the long incarceration, he puts it down to an unshakeable conviction that his political stance is right.
‘We were the leaders of the main opposition party, supported by the workers in Singapore, and we cannot betray our supporters. So we stuck to the bitter end. It’s a matter of intellectual integrity.’
No to Two Classes of Citizenship
Although the leftists were committed to the ultimate goal of unification between the peninsula and the island, they argued that these terms for merger would make Singaporeans ‘second-class citizens’.
The main sticking point, as Dr Lim points out, was that there were ‘two sets of citizenship: one for Malaysians and one for Singaporeans. Singaporean citizens could not participate in Malaysian politics, much less be proportionally represented in the federation’.
Political Service as a Calling and Not as a Career
Hitting out at ministerial pay, noting that a symbolic amount of $10,000 or $20,000 a month would be enough, Dr Lim says that Barisan leaders were prepared to sacrifice their lives for their political beliefs. “We considered politics a calling, a responsibility, and a privilege to serve our country, not a career.”
He believes enough talented young people will come forward to serve the country. “Leaders should not be discovered by inviting and enticing them with high pay and high office… you harness the people, let them decide. They’ll do wonders.”