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No mystery to history: Lim Chin Siong and the Singapore general elections, 2015?

September 4, 2015

Lim Chin Siong’s name has popped up in the current hustings.

It was uttered by PAP secretary general Lee Hsien Loong no less, at the press conference held at the party headquarters on nomination day.

He castigated the Workers’ Party for sounding fierce, and making rousing speeches at election rallies, but in effect failing to raise issues in parliament.

The PAP secretary general waxed Dr Seuss (incidentally, whom Amos Yee waxes over):

Tiger in a Chamber
Mouse in the House

Throw in roosters (courtesy of the PAP party secretary general again, and the exquisite story-teller Chen Show Mao of the Workers’ Party) and lions (courtesy of Singfirst chairman Ang Yong Guan) and parliament seems like a veritable Bukit Chapalang (courtesy of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, Singapore’s greatest cartoon artist that never lived).

While minimyna enjoyed the clever allusions and repartees (not forgetting The Online Citizen’s ‘Crouching Unicorns, Hidden Roosters’ video commentary on the elections) it was what the PAP secretary general said following his ‘mouse in the house’ quip that made her sit up.

He said that the number of opposition members of parliament did not necessarily make for a better legislature, for that depended

… on the quality of the Opposition, citing the example of the only three PAP candidates — Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Goh Chew Chua and Mr Lim Chin Siong — elected in the 1955 General Election, but who managed to establish a reputation for themselves.
“In 1959, they swept the General Election and formed the Government. It’s the quality that counts, it’s not the numbers,” he said. [Today Online, ‘PM raps Opposition, calls it a mouse in the House’, 2 September 2015)

[The Straits Times report did not carry this part; Asiaone’s version reads:

Mr Lee, who is the ruling party’s secretary-general, pointed out that the PAP had only three members elected to the legislative assembly in the 1955 General Election: Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Lim Chin Siong and Mr Goh Chew Chua.
“They established such a reputation for themselves, especially Mr Lee Kuan Yew, that in 1959, they swept the general election and formed the Government,” he said.]

So what did the PAP secretary general mean to say when he included Lim Chin Siong alongside Lee Kuan Yew as one of the three quality elected members who between 1955 and 1959 built up such a reputation for themselves to be able to sweep the 1959 general elections?

To begin with, clarifications are in order, such being the reason for the existence of minimyna.

Lim Chin Siong did NOT stand in the 1959 general elections, contrary to the PAP secretary general’s statement. He was in prison, on the orders of the Lim Yew Hock government with the connivance of Lee Kuan Yew. That is what the ‘ [DON’T] Pah Mata’ speech was all about.

In fact, the British, Lee and Lim Yew Hock were so keen that Lim and the other political detainees should not take part in the election that they introduced Clause 30, where political detainees would be excluded from standing in the 1959 general election. This was unprecedented in the British colonies.

Lee Kuan Yew built his reputation from 1955 to 1959 as a champion of democracy. His most evocative speech of the period, oft cited by those who insist on reminding us of it goes ‘repression… is like making love—it is always easier the second time!…[W]ith constant repetition, you get more and more brazen in the attack.’

The PAP secretary general cited the sanctity of the hallowed institution as the reason why the Workers’ Party parliamentarians dared not pose as the Tigers that they promised the electorate.
But the Singapore parliament has never been an institution where in the course of debate, fallacies, insincerities and untruths’ have been exposed.

The proceedings in the legislature on the part of the ruling PAP were distinguished by relentless attacks of the Barisan representatives as communists and ignoring any of their arguments, and by the evading of direct replies.

David Marshall had pressed the PAP for a date of the Sembawang by-election, ministers simply kept saying that it would be held once the electoral rolls were ready, whereas the PAP was determined not to hold it, having lost in Hong Lim and Anson (May, July 1961 respectively).

Information and facts on the negotiations for the terms of merger with Malaysia, the most important issue for the country at the time, was absent.
Members who were elected to the legislature could be issued with arrests under the PPSO even before they were sworn in.

With the Barisan boycott of parliament in 1966  and general elections from 1968, the legislature featured only monologues.The one-party state indeed took this as a key ingredient in how it shaped Singapore into a ‘unicorn’.

But beyond taking issue with the PAP secretary general’s statement as a historian as she is wont to, minimyna thought of another response to it.

The PAP really does not know how to present its history except to ram it down the throats of the citizenry, which of course goes against claims to it being open, transparent, inclusive and so on, and embarrassing its high commissioners and ministers, members of the Media Development Authority and the National Arts Council when they have to stick by the story.

The policing of Singapore history became noticeably even more hardline in the last year: To Singapore, with Love was Not Allowed for Any Rating; the political tract, the Battle for Merger (1962) was re-issued as history, along with the installing of a marker to remember ‘Singapore’s struggle against communism’. The National Arts Council withdrawing its grant to Sonny Liew’s The Art of Charlie Chan Hock Chye, which it pronounced  ‘potentially undermines the security of the country’. This episode took place in June, only three months ago.

Perhaps the PAP secretary general’s statement should be a signal that Lim Chin Siong has become a model opposition parliamentarian.

This would not be a bad idea at all for the PAP to consider.

After all, Tan Kah Kee, Tan Lark Sye and Pan Shou who had been called communists and chauvinists in their lifetime are now extolled by the PAP government as model citizens.

The case of Lim Chin Siong might be a more tricky one, but all that is needed is wilfully planned media blitz, which simply ignores everything else, including what one’s party had said or done before, and call it history, or better still, heritage.

Rather than continue to fight the historical research and writings on Operation Coldstore that has emerged, it might be better for the PAP to co-opt Lim Chin Siong’s handsome forever-young image, reinforced just last week by the cover of the new edition of Comet in Our Sky: Lim Chin Siong in History, which it can be  hoped, would be what younger Singaporeans may find most appealing about him.

After all Lim Chin Siong was a founder-member of the PAP.

Image (2)And Dr Poh Soo Kai should then be aware that he’s certainly a candidate for co-option, so he might as well accept the inevitable and not bother to labour on writing his revisionist history.

After all, it was the Fajar trial of which Dr Poh was at the centre, which shot Lee Kuan Yew to fame.

Minimyna hit on this possibility when she tried to join the Dr Seuss bandwagon, and googled for words that rhymed with ‘history’.

Only one word did: ‘mystery’.

A list of about 200 cases where the two words were used to provide rhyme also popped up, almost all of them in pop songs.

This particular one happened to make so much sense.

Shopping (the Pet Shop Boys, released in 1987)

We’re buying and selling your history
How we go about it is no mystery
We check it with the city then change the law
Are you looking forward?
Now you want some more

We’re S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G
We’re shopping

It’s easy when you’ve got all the information
Inside help, no investigation
No questions in the house
no give and take
There’s a big bang in the city
We’re all on the make

We’re S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G
We’re shopping

Our gain is your loss
That’s the price you pay
I heard it in the House of Commons
Everything’s for sale

We’re S-H-O-P-P-I-N-G/ We’re shopping

For SG 50.


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