Sunday, September 06, 2009

What the left-wing stood for : Dr Poh Soo Kai

In a belated email reply to my questions about his views on the publication of Men In White, ex-political detainee Dr Poh Soo Kai has confirmed that he was never approached by any of its authors.

In 1954, along with other founding members of the PAP, Dr Poh had attended that historic meeting at the basement of Harry Lee Kuan Yew's house on Oxley Road to discuss the PAP constitution. When asked why he joined Lee at that time, he wrote, "you should read the original credo of the party at its founding."

On 2nd of February 1963, the former Assistant Secretary-General of the Barisan Sosialis was arrested and detained under Operation Coldstore. He was released unconditionally at the end of 1972 but re-arrested four years later. After spending a total of 16 years under detention without trial, he was finally released in August of 1982. Now 77, Dr Poh currently resides in Singapore.

In reply to my question on why he and other left-wing members broke from the PAP in 1961, he wrote :

I am of opinion you have framed it incorrectly. The conventional view is that the left wing of the PAP took the initiative to break with the party. (Thus your question why did left-wing split from the PAP to form the Barisan Sosialis.) There has been no convincing evidence to support this view.

The left-wing leadership had campaigned on a genuine anti-colonial, democratic platform. They had called for an end to arbitrary arrest and continued detention, an end to the restrictions on freedom and for observation of human rights, and an end to the obstructions put in the way of trade union unification.

It had invited the government to :

- Release immediately all political detainees;
- Assist in the speedy unification of the trade union movement;
- Grant the right of citizenship and franchise to all those loyal to the anti-colonial struggle;
- And to allow freedom of the press, speech and assembly and organisation.

Of note is that they regarded themselves as part of the PAP. There was no talk of a structural split. Harry Lee had threatened to resign if he lost Anson. The unionists said that was his business. A tougher tone than the statement before Hong Lim by-election.

The PAP leadership before the 1957 annual genaral meeting had decided to discard its powerful left wing. The issue was how, when and the consequences. Consequences both from the Singapore electorate and the Tungku who would much like to replace him.

By 1961 secret negotiations for merger and "the grand design" were well underway between Harry, Tungku and the Colonial masters. The PAP leadership grasped the safety line of merger initiated by the British. He decided to discard his powerful left wing, but the fight was now shifted from release of detainees, freedom, etc to that of merger. The initiative for the split thus was from the PAP leadership, not from the left-wing.

Poh Soo Kai

Review of Our Thoughts Are Free
Vistas of detention... voices of freedom

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