Merger and Malaysia (1961)

Tan Jing Quee

Originally published in FAJAR: ORGAN OF THE UNIVERSITY SOCIALIST CLUB 1961, volume 3, number 8.

Transcribed by Karen Goh

The statement by Tengku Abdul Rahman, Prime Minister of the Federation of Malaya, on 16th October in the Federal Parliament during the debate on the “merger” proposals and the subsequent turn of events had thrown into bold relief the motivations long ago suspected of those who are now negotiating for a “merger”. The Federation Parliament had given its “mandate” to the Tengku for carrying out the proposals. In Singapore, the White Paper for “merger” has been published, and the Singapore Legislative is likely to endorse the Government’s “plan”. The way is thus clear, as far as the two governments are concerned, for the arrangement. The British has also given the green light to the proposals.

From the whole series of events we can gleam certain definite conclusions:

(1) That the Prime Minister of the Federation does not want a real re-unification between the two territories, in the sense of complete merger with Singapore entering into the Federation as the 12th constituent state. The Tengku has stated this in clear, categorical terms:

“But one thing is certain, and that is that we cannot take Singapore with us in complete merger without a great deal of unhappiness and trouble and so we must find a middle course” (Straits Times, 17/10/61).

(2) That the Tengku favours some sort of constitutional arrangement in a larger Federation of Malaysia, in which Singapore is to be reduced to a mere “partner”:

“What I have in mind is to call such an association or Federation of states the Federation of Malaysia, i.e. all the Federation of Malaya states, the Borneo territories and the Sates of the Federation of Malaya, join in together as a Federation of Malaysia and Singapore is joined in partnership on a footing something like that which exists between the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.” (Straits Times 17/10/61).

(3) That the real reason which motivates this move was not a genuine desire for reunification, but to control Singapore’s internal security, and from this to deny Singapore’s citizens the same rights and privileges as other Federal citizens.

Singapore is being treated as a “problem child” (Straits Times 17/11/61, Tengku’s speech). The White Paper, which sets out the heads of agreement for a “merger” speaks of “Equal duties and responsibilities under the Constitution of the larger Federations, “but “Singapore citizens will continue to enjoy their State rights and privileges within Singapore.”

Firstly, on entry into the proposed “merger” Singapore citizens will be asked to shoulder the duties and responsibilities of Federal citizens, but they would have no corresponding rights. They “will continue to enjoy their State rights and privileges within Singapore.” This is untrue. Many of the existing rights which Singapore citizens enjoy, e.g. finance, broadcasting, press and publication, will be placed on the Federal or Concurrent lists (which give the Federal Government the overriding authority). And even those so-called “autonomy” of labour and education are subject to the overall supervisions of “internal security.”Are not the examples of Lim Lian Geok and Said Zahari blatant admissions enough to the mockery of such “autonomy”?

Why does the Tengku reject a re-unification?

To understand this, we must view the curious volte-face on the part of those who had always been antagonistic even at the very mention of “merger.” Had this development been a genuine change of attitude, and is based on a sincere desire to reunify our territories and our people, it would have been widely acclaimed. But the basic motivation is to mount up anti-communist hysteria with the purpose to rush through a freak arrangement whereby socialist strength would be excluded from the constitutional arena in the larger Federation. The way to achieve this is to restrict the democratic rights of the people of Singapore so that they may not be in a position to exert an influence on political trends in the Federation. The Federal Government at the same time can utilities its control over “internal security” to curb tendencies (in the name of anti-communism) which may be detrimental to their interest.

This present “change” in attitude, is merely an admission of the growing threat of Singapore towards the future of the Alliance and not a threat to the security of the Federation, In the first place, how could Singapore be a security risk to the Federation? Why should Singapore seek to be hostile towards our very relatives?

Tengku’s words as regards the apparent change in attitude are revealing and self-explanatory.

“The division of the two territories might be all right at a moment when Singapore was still under the control of Great Britain, as the security of the islands was in the hands of the UK Government, in other words, in safe hands …”

The intention is thus clear: as long as security is in “safe hands” all would be well, but the moment the people west the internal security into their own hands, we must do something about it.

A way must be found, a “middle course” as the Tengku himself puts in. In this he was aided by the “Socialist” PAP. In fact it was the PAP who first made the approach:

“… the Prime Minister of Singapore felt rather concerned and approached me with some of his problems and difficulties. We made a careful study of the situation and came to the conclusion that the only salvation for Singapore would be in some form of closer economic and constitutional association with the Federation.”

So a freak arrangement was effected.

Why did the PAP fear real re-unification?

The political fortune of the PAP is hinged on anti-colonialism. That was the prime purpose for its formation, and the basic reason for its growth. But once the PAP leadership seeks to ignore the anti- colonial struggle when the task is still incomplete, the leadership of the people went out from its hands. The Hong Lim and Anson by-elections further sealed its fate. From then on its future lies in proscribing the growth of the left which forms the most base of the party. The way out for the PAP is thus not the anti-colonial struggle, but the suppression of the left wing. The PAP as such has no fear of the right – its truculent arrogance against the right in Singapore is well-known. Their concept of a “pan-Malayan base for the socialist movement” in actual fact boils down to the total expulsion of the left which gives it its strength and popularity. Thus we are the alliance with the Right in Malaya, and the fear of the left.

Changes in the objective conditions within the region as a whole have also a part to play in the scheme of things. In this context, the interplay of foreign interests must not be ruled out. British interests within this region are well known. But in recent years, with their decline of British colonialism, American capital in collaboration with German and Japanese capital, are making great headway in undermining traditional British interests within the region.

The developments of objective conditions — the rising mood of anti-colonialism, spell danger to these various interests. In the Borneo territories, it is apparent that the anti-colonisation struggle is gaining momentum. The signs of these are obvious: the traditional British colonial policies of “concessions” by stages, the intensified whipping up of the “communist” bogey. In Laos, a neutralist government is in the helm, and this appears to be totally unacceptable to the East. A vituperative campaign is now being waged through Radio Bangkok against Laos. The rising “trouble” in South Vietnam, where Ngoh Dinh Diem rules with an iron hand and American aid is hardly welcome prospect. The visit of General Taylor to the region was followed up by promise of more aid to check “communist subversion, and aggression.” Further south of Malaya, the Republic of Indonesia is fighting to regain her lost territory, West Irian.

The West viewed all these developments — “trouble spots” as they are called in the Pentagon’s military jargon — with great apprehension. America, in particular has assumed for itself the role of the “champion of freedom” for this region. They schemed to involve whatever countries who would listen to them into the cold war through membership of SEATO, etc. The cardinal feature of the American foreign policy is revolved round “anti-communism”. No one can seriously quarrel with her if she restricts her fanaticism to her own shores and does not attempt to export this fanaticism to other countries. The fact that she cannot do so is precisely because of the economic stakes involved, in the world order which she represents.

Ostensibly, the Federation is not in SEATO, although the Tengku himself is personally well-disposed towards it. He had publicly stated this more than once. The fact that he takes into consideration the feelings of the people towards this is praise-worthy. It is also a clear indication that the people wish to remain non-aligned in this cold war conflict. In actual practice however, Alliance policy has tended towards involvement in the cold war. “We are with the West”, “We belong to the Free World” — the Tengku had said this on several occasions. Urgent trips to theatres of “War” and promises of “moral and material aid” are hardly gestures of a neutralist country.

Merger and Malaysia: a brief overview:

In view of the actual practice of the Alliance’s foreign policy, in the context of these carious developments, not only in Singapore and the Federation, but also within the whole region, the Tengku was forced to make a reassessment of the whole situation.

It must be pointed out that from the very beginning when this “change” of attitude takes place, the two separate issues of merger and Malaysia were never kept distinctly apart. The intention was obviously to cloud the real motivations behind the scheme. The overwhelming desire of our people for real reunification was capitalized upon in order to push forward a freak arrangement.

In the editorial in June-July issue (Vol 3 No. 4) called “Trap of Super Merger” FAJAR had set out to postulate, as a first hypothesis, the probable intentions underlying the sudden reversal of the Alliance’s attitude towards the whole question of reunification. The whole approach was to prolong colonial domination within the “whole” region.

“Merger” (“the right kind”) was not longer objectionable, indeed desirable. Long, involved arguments were propounded as to the desirability of merger. Attempts were made to put up an economic case for merger, Singapore cannot survive without merger, Our unemployment problem will worse unless we merge. Industrialization is not feasible in the limited market we have, and we have no raw materials. We depend on the Federation even on our water supply.

On the political front, the spectre of a Communist Singapore was played up — a Singapore hostile to the Federation — Israel in the East, Little China, and now West Irian. If we do not merge, either Singapore or the Federation will be conquered, Racial strife will be the order of the day.

All these arguments were propounded, and they are still being propounded, with the prime purpose to support the general thesis that the left is anti- merger, and to push through a freak arrangement in the name of “merger.”

The left had never at any time been anti-merger, Right from the time of the division, the left had always fought for the realization of reunification. It was the right wing which had been anti-merger, because reunification was opposed to their interests. There is then no need for a fool-proof case to be put up against the left. The fact that the arguments are being put forth, with such compelling and inflated earnestness presupposes certain things. Might it not the prelude to a freak arrangement to be passed off as merger? In actual fact, the economic care for merger is not as rosy as the PAP would have it. The Federation has its own problems, and merger will not usher in an economic paradise. The political case for argument is based principally on the use of threats. The underlying assumption is of a hostile Singapore. Why should Singapore seek to be hostile one does not know? Why should she have to be hostile for, when especially many of the people across the causeway are our relatives?

The Real Nature of Merger and Malaysia.

It is clear that this sudden “enthusiasm” for merger is not based on a genuine desire for reunification but on finding ways and means to contain the growth of the progressive forces in Singapore, and to deny the people their basic democratic rights. This finds manifestation in the concrete form of the proposed “merger.

Under the proposed arrangement, Singapore is to give up everything she now enjoys, except for labour and education. External defence, internal security, and external affairs, will also go to the Federal Government. There would be two separate citizenships, namely Singapore citizens and Federal citizens. A Singapore citizen who enters into the Federation will be to all intents and purposes an alien. The distinction between the two citizenships will be extended to discriminations in various spheres of activities, e.g. employment opportunities, business undertakings, Since not all Singapore citizens are eligible for Federal citizenship, Singapore’s representation in Parliament would be 15 seats, taking into consideration as well the “autonomy” on labour and education.

Under this arrangement, the first essential of a real reunification is absent: namely political integration. Singapore is to remain a separate political entity from the mainland, with the right solely to send a stipulated number of representatives to the Federal Parliament. Her citizens cannot partake of the normal activities of the country on the same level as Federal Government which finds expression in the ultimate control of “internal security.”

Under Malaysia, this arrangement between the Singapore and the Federation will still apply. The three Borneo states will enter as constituent states to the Federation. Singapore is to enter merely as a “partner.”

One probable fear of the people as regards the Malaysia plan is the likely involvement of the whole area into the cold war. Alliance’s foreign policy has tended to make this more than just a mere possibility. In recent years, Alliance policy on this score had tended to isolate Malaya from the main stream of Asian thinking. Our geographical and political reality remind us that our rightful place belongs to Afro-Asia — with Indonesia, Burma, India, and the newly independent African countries likely Ghanna, Guinea and other countries like Algeria which are struggling to achieve freedom. We are united as President Sukarno said in Bandung in 1955 by the “common destestation of colonialism and racialism.”

This present move will strike at the very root of our associations with these countries, if its basic motivation is involvement in the cold war. It may antagonize our nearest neighbor, Indonesia, We remember too well the period of the Sumatran Revolt when a hostile Singapore gave sanctuary to the rebel leaders. A larger territorial unit, advancing in a different direction, may pose a greater threat to the Indonesian people.

Such a development is against the interests of our peoples who do not seek to involve ourselves into the cold war struggle, and who wish to remain friendly and united with our African and Asian neighbours.

The Tengku said that he wanted to bring freedom to the Borneo territories. This is a laudable aim. If the Tengku is really sincere on this score, he should support the movement for self determination and then let the people decide whether they would like to come in or not.

What should be our attitude?

We should always fight for the realization of a genuine merger, because that is the long standing desires of our people, and also because it is in the long term interests of the people, but we should be wary of any attempt to deny us our democratic rights and to be used as a pawn to fight against our neighbours. In any arrangement for real reunification, it is therefore essential that the colonial power be totally excluded from the decision. The people must make the last decision. It the arrangements we seek are not based on temporary expediency, or depending on the reasonableness” of certain political leaders, then we should have no feat to refer the matter to the people. We should seek to expose any false scheme to be passed off as “merger” — and at the same time, pressed forward to set the basic conditions for a real reunification. These revolve round the question of the eradication of colonialism. The greater the measure of freedom we enjoy, the greater is the colonial influence isolated from the decision. The greater is the likelihood for a real reunification based on equality, progress and democracy.