Arrests of left-wing forces a condition for Singapore becoming part of Malaysia in 1963, says historian

6 October, 2019

Photo: ‘National flags hung as part of SG50 celebrations’ from SRN’s SG Photobank

In the second session of the Singapore Bicentennial Conference held on 1 October, with the theme of ‘Separations & Connections’, Professor Tan Tai Yong (NUS Department of History) spoke about Singapore’s merger and subsequent separation with Malaysia as an example of contesting visions and ideas in its history. Furthermore, he added that merger with Malaysia would not have happened without the arrest of left-wing forces in Singapore in 1963.

The decision towards merger was rooted in debates about the political future of Singapore – whether it should lean towards communism or socialism, or be open to embracing Malaysian identity and connections with the rest of the world. Nevertheless, Prof Tan stated that the move demonstrated a confluence of different interests – Lee Kuan Yew’s interests in defeating the Barisan Sosialis, and Tunku Abdul Rahman’s and British leaders’ interests in containing the spread of communism. Subsequently, the Tunku made the arrests of left-wing forces in Singapore a “non-negotiable” condition of merger.

When asked about whether Singapore should do more to acknowledge the legacy of left-wing politics, Prof Tan said that as historians continue to revise history with new materials and interpretations, a more nuanced approach to history will surface.

Read the article here.