While I respect Lee Kuan Yew for his intellect, leadership and astute management of Singapore into what the Island State is today, a 1st World nation of immense wealth, I don’t his egotism.
I was also very much disappointed to discover in his autobiography his coo-ing over an honours award (The Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George) by the Queen of Britain. My esteem of him immediately took a dive on learning that this near superman could/would even be thrilled by a mere meaningless trinket handed down to a former colonial by a foreign monarchy.
So … he is not the complete super great man after all.
LKY, the egoist he is, regaled us via the New York Times on how different things might have been if “the Tunku had kept us together”, referring to the expulsion of Singapore from Malaysia – yup, ‘twas expulsion and not separation - Malaysiakini Terence Netto agreed on this fact in his article Two different versions of Singapore's expulsion.
LKY pontificated: “Well, first I regret having been turfed out of Malaysia. I think if the Tunku had kept us together, what we did in Singapore, had Malaysia accepted a multiracial base for their society, much of what we’ve achieved in Singapore would be achieved in Malaysia. But not as much because it’s a much broader base. We would have improved inter-racial relations and an improved holistic situation.”
“Now we have a very polarised Malaysia, Malays, Chinese and Indians in separate schools, living separate lives and not really getting on with one another. You read them. That’s bad for us as close neighbours.”
While there’s much truth in what he said in the second paragraph, I doubt keeping Singapore in Malaysia would have the outcome LKY claimed in the first paragraph, but then it’s his usual ego talking.
There was a different and perfectly good reason for Tunku Abdul Rahman to expel Singapore from the Malaysian union just a mere two years after its formation, a merger which led to both Konfrontasi with Indonesia and an acrimonious relationship with the Philippines. The former wanted the entire Kalimantan Island, while the latter wanted Sabah.
The truth of the root cause for Singapore’s expulsion was in fact LKY the politician. There’s never any doubt LKY was super intelligent, a double starred first class honours from Cambridge. But one can only be too clever by half in a Malayan environment because the style of his assertive and aggressive politicking didn’t go down well with Malay culture and its more genteel style of politics. Tunku was also aware of his covert (though well-known) intention to replace MCA in the Perikatan (the BN’s predecessor coalition).
The Malay right wingers were getting so heated up with LKY that Tunku thought a cooling period, via a ‘temporary’ expulsion of Singapore, would be good for everyone.
Tunku imagined that Singapore outside of Malaysia would be so helpless alone by itself that LKY would come crawling back, begging to be let in again, though this time on Tunku’s terms. That was Tunku's plan.
When LKY had no further choice but to accept the expulsion he actually broke down during a televised press conference, stating emotionally:
"For me, it is a moment of anguish. All my life, my whole adult life, I ... I believed in Malaysian merger and unity of the two territories. You know that we, as a people are connected by geography, economics, by ties of kinship ... It broke everything we stood for ....... "
But LKY, despite his initial consternation over the expulsion, did not fall to pieces. Au contraire, he must be admired for his resolve to stay out, stay steadfast, strategize and systematically develop Singapore into a prosperous nation.
To be frank, if LKY (and Singapore) was allowed to remain in Malaysia, May 13 would have happened much much earlier.
But it must be said that Penangites (then mostly Chinese) didn’t take well to him. He must have imagined he could win over the predominantly Chinese Island State in his 1964 campaign but in many ways, he was a lot like Anwar Ibrahim, an interesting political curiosity but not well trusted. His PAP campaign turned out to be a flop in Penang.
Actually LKY wasn’t all that popular in Singapore too because prior to Malaysia, he was outflanked and would have been outvoted by the pro-communist Barisan Socialis.
We are told that 35 of the 51 branches of PAP and 19 of its 23 organising secretaries went over to the Barisan Sosialis. His government lost a couple of by-elections to the Barisan Sosialis, and was near to monumental defeat.
LKY quickly seized on Tunku's concept of merger for Singapore, Malaya, Sabah and Sarawak as a successful campaign to remove British colonialism (a popular factor with Singaporeans), and with that, to defeat the Barisan Socialis.
In other words it was the concept of Malaysia which saved him from being trounced by the pro-communist party, and possibly being reduced into a political nobody. What a frightening thought for Malaysia if the communists had taken hold of Singapore, when there was a pro communist Indonesia under madman Soekarno.
To be continued ...