Statement on the occasion of Lee Kuan Yew’s death on 23 March 2015
By Dr Poh Soo Kai, former Assistant Secretary-General of Barisan Sosialis and political prisoner under Operation Coldstore from 1963-1973 and 1976-1982.
To me, Lee Kuan Yew - prime minister of Singapore from 1959 till 1990 - is best characterized as a political pimp. In a press release when I was first freed from prison at the end of 1973, I had called him a political pimp. So I was rearrested in 1976.
What is a political pimp? Simply put: a political pimp is one who prostitutes his own people, selling out their well-being, for the interest of his political masters; in the process, he benefits himself, his family and cronies. Is that not a fitting characterization of the man?
It may be inconceivable to the young in Singapore today that the people of Singapore had lived under British colonial oppression. How is that translated in real life? The British had a monopoly over Singapore's economy, not to mention that there was no elected local representative in the political institutions. Racial discrimination existed in the civil service in favour of Europeans. British officials of British business houses were prohibited from marrying local women, but not from keeping them as mistresses. Did the British build schools for our children? Was there democracy and respect for the human rights of local Singaporeans? Was there a free press? etc. Therefore, in those days of the early 1950s these were very real issues to the ordinary Singapore people, chafing under the yoke of British colonialism.
Few recall the genesis of Lee Kuan Yew that he had begun in the early 1950s by masquerading as an anti British colonialist - the one shouting the loudest anti colonial diatribe. Below is an example where not only did he mouth anti-colonial slogans but even became racist against the ‘white man’. In the Legislative Assembly Debate of 6 June 1956, Lee said the following:
"They (the British) are looking for a stooge group to sign an agreement with them. The duty here of all anti-colonial parties is to see that no stooge group is formed to sign this agreement. I think we shall succeed because when you rub an Asian down to rock bottom, he gathers together and says, "Down with the white man." He said that for hundreds of years and it takes a long time to get these things out of the system, particularly when the white man is still here. That is the challenge. We must redouble our efforts. We must build up a movement, non-Communist basically, with a chance, maybe for all times but anyway for some time, of running Malaya."
Yet behind the back of the people of Singapore, Lee was signalling to the British that it was just a facade to hoodwink his people. In 1956 when the left leadership in the PAP – Lim Chin Siong and others - was arrested by Lim Yew Hock, Lee made the cocktail rounds and praised Lim Yew Hock for his courage. The move was calculated to let British intelligence know that Britain could draw a clear line between his rhetoric designed to project the image of himself as an anti-colonial fighter for the consumption of the people of Singapore, and his real self. This was not lost to the British. Lee was making it known to the British that he was one of those whom the British could anoint as leaders in their ‘decolonization’ process.
Another instance came during the first Rendel Constitutional Talks in 1956. Lee Kuan Yew did not support David Marshall and Lim Chin Siong in their demand for self government for Singapore. And he was angry with Toh Chin Chye, the PAP chairman, when the latter issued a statement to say that Marshall was in line with the PAP’s stated policy. This of course was again noted by the British.
In early 1957 further discussions were held in Singapore, (in the context of moving towards self government under the Rendel Constitution), to prepare for a conference in London later that year where an agreement would be signed between the British and representatives from Singapore. Both the British and PAP did not want Lim Chin Siong and detained members of the PAP to stand in the 1959 general election. Lee proposed to the Colonial Office that a clause be inserted in the forthcoming agreement that detainees should be barred from standing in the 1959 election, as well as barred from the Parliament that issued from this election. However, Lee told the British that the proposal should be seen to come from them; they must bear the odium of that undemocratic practice which the UK parliament might not be too happy over - as detainees, unlike criminals, do have political rights. Lee, on the other hand, would attack the clause fiercely and blame the UK for such an undemocratic act of depriving the Singapore electorate of its right to elect Lim Chin Siong. And so it came to pass that Lim Chin Siong was barred from standing in the 1959 general election.
Lee even went to the extent, when he campaigned in the Tanjong Pagar by-election, to say that he would repeal the clause when voted in. He conveniently forgot this promise that he had no intention whatsoever to carry out. He sold out the people's interests to the colonial power and profited in the process. That is the man.
However, the path of a political pimp, wedged between British colonial interests and the people’s aspirations for democracy and independence, is not an enviable one. Shortly after the 1959 election victory, Lee’s image as an anti-colonial fighter was fading very fast among the people of Singapore as he did not seek the release of all political prisoners still languishing in detention even after he had assumed office. He had also un-democratically tightened regulations on trade union activities. Thus, by 1961, when Ong Eng Guan challenged Lee on a platform that was akin to the PAP’s, i.e., an anti colonial democratic platform in the Hong Lim by-election, Ong easily defeated Lee Kuan Yew’s PAP.
A political pimp’s next resort to save his neck would be to use more deceptive ploys. Before the polling day of the Anson by-election a month or so after the Hong Lim defeat, Lee Kuan Yew unfurled a scheme to the British colonialist in which he (Lee) would propose the release of all political prisoners to the people of Singapore in an attempt to recoup his standing among them as well as quell dissatisfaction in the ranks and ministers of PAP; but at the same time, he stressed to Lord Selkirk (the British High Commissioner), that the British should countermand this proposal!
This scheme failed due to British non-cooperation. The hardened British colonial power preferred to compel its political pimp to ‘come out of the cupboard’, forget all his talk of ‘fighting for the hearts and minds of the people’ but to go along with Britain and the Malayan Federation in a brutal mass arrest of his political opponents – which so came to pass with Operation Coldstore on February 2, 1963.
And likewise with merger in 1963, it was a desperate ploy of Lee to safeguard his political fortune after the defeats in the Hong Lim and Anson by-elections. The British were equally rattled by these electoral setbacks of Lee’s PAP: they realized that their military base in Singapore might be ineffective within a sea of hostile local population, hence endangering British strategic interests in the region. To the British colonial power, its military base in Singapore was non-negotiable. The British solution to this problem was to merge Singapore with Tunku’s Federation of Malaya.
Merger to Lee Kuan Yew was therefore a political life-buoy. He had absolutely no vision of how to foster one people from the two areas via merger - so desired by the people on both sides of the causeway. Lee even told the British that if he had no place in the political set-up after merger, then merger would not succeed.
Lee entered merger with the misplaced ambition to replace the MCA as UNMO’s Chinese partner - an idea that Tunku refused to entertain. Piqued, he wanted to show off to Tunku, the strength of the PAP among the Chinese population in Malaya. So, despite an implicit understanding not to take part, he immediately entered the general elections after merger. He suffered a resounding defeat. Lee then turned to play the racial card, disguised as Malaysian Malaysia, hoping to get the Chinese to support him. This raised the tension in the country and Tunku was faced with the choice of arresting him or letting Singapore go.
Lee’s opportunistic merger with the Federation has left lasting scars, affecting the brotherly feelings hitherto enjoyed by the people of the peninsula and the island. Among the leaders, Lee did not hesitate to refuse Mahathir’s request for a loan to tide over a rough time. However, he saw it fit to give a similar loan to Suharto.
Lee’s communal line to champion Chinese rights and education in Malaysia was only a camouflage. All pretences dropped when he was back in Singapore after separation in 1965. Showing his true colours, he suppressed Nantah - a historical symbol among the Chinese community who had courageously defended Chinese language and culture in Singapore. All that remained of the national language of Singapore was Majulah Singapura! English or more accurately, Singlish became the lingua franca of Singapore.
With independence and the departure of the British colonial masters from Singapore, you might be forgiven to think that the title of political pimp no longer applies to Lee Kuan Yew. In that you are mistaken as the pimp is always a pimp, selling out the interests of his people to, as he termed it, whoever wields the ‘heaviest gun’ in the world. And so in like fashion he went on to serve American interests against regional interests in the South China seas, albeit in a more subtle manner.
Today the people of Singapore are chafing under the lack of democracy in political and economic life that has gone on for more than 50 long years. The controlled Singapore press, (aided and abetted by certain Free World press) has sold the false consciousness to us that Singapore could not have achieved its high standard of material life had there been genuine democracy and respect for human rights. Would this not call into question how other Western democracies have achieved an even higher standard of living than ours?
Hence the need for Lee to terrorize his people with the Internal Security Act, from Operation Coldstore of 1963 to Operation Spectrum of 1987 - to make barren the political landscape of any opposition to him. This he justified through the communist and marxist bogeys and all sorts of name-calling of legitimate political opposition. Again, how are we to explain that Western democracies have achieved a higher standard of living and at the same time practise electoral democracies - their socialist, communist and even outright fascist parties can take part in the polls?
Therefore the question to ask is why does Lee Kuan Yew have to resort to committing crimes against humanity in his large-scale and systematic persecution of all political opposition? Why did he shred every democratic and human rights principle to remain in power? Precisely because in the final analysis, such a dishonorable course benefits the political pimp, his family and cronies to the destitution of the people.
The PAP has ruled with an iron fist for 50 years. Today, it unabashedly pays its ministers and judges the highest salaries in the world - justifying this policy as reflecting meritocracy since the salaries are pegged to the GDP.
We all know that Singapore is a tax shelter to the 1% super rich of this world who can park their money in Singapore to avoid paying income taxes in their home countries. Their money goes to inflate Singapore’s GDP.
We also know that foreign direct investments (FDI) are enticed to Singapore, for its TUC controlled and docile labour force, among other attractive attributes that Singapore offers. What this translates in real life for Singaporeans and their families, is that the bread earner may be unfairly paid or over-exploited, with the attendant consequences on the children and other dependents. This FDI also goes into the GDP’s reckoning.
This is all very sophisticated in comparison to, for example, the blatant corruption of Madam Suharto, known as Indonesia’s Madam Ten Percent, before Lee’s bosom friend, the dictator and human rights violator President Suharto, fell from power!
This obscene gap between the rich top 1% Singaporeans and the bottom 99% ordinary Singaporeans, results in the latter feeling insecure and marginalized: they worry about the value of their HDB flats and most importantly, if they would be able to live off their CPF when they retire, for all around Singapore, they can see the less fortunate of the pioneer generation, gathering card boxes, selling tissue packets, and offering to carry passengers’ heavy luggage with their feeble strength.
The opaqueness in the operations and structure of a large sector of the Singapore economy as denoted by government investment corporations (GICs), - for example, what is the pay structure of their board and directors - have not helped to abate Singaporean’s fear that their CPF may be dipped into for other purposes.
The transparency or lack thereof in the business world of Singapore summons to mind, Tan Liang Hong’s ‘fatal’ brush with the Lee family in the Hotel Properties Limited (HPL) episode that sparked off a political storm in Singapore in 1996. The Stock Exchange of Singapore (SES) censured Hotel Property Ltd, a publicly listed property development company, for not seeking shareholders' approval for the sale of some of its condominium developments, notably Nassim Jade, at a discount price. Tan subsequently fled Singapore.
Knowing the truth of our history and economy will set us free from the legacies of the political pimp Lee Kuan Yew, so that we can move on to fulfill our aspiration for a HUMANE SOCIETY, where all Singaporeans can live together in dignity and solidarity.