Monday, 22 December 2014

Singapore’s ‘Battle for Merger’ Revisited

Update 15 Jan 2015: The History Writes Itself: An annotated bibliography of Operation Coldstore

As the Singapore government reacts sharply to the research on Operation Coldstore, even claiming that historians are seeking to undermine its legitimacy, it is timely to take stock of the research. The scholarship is not new: its genealogy traces to British historians who wrote about Coldstore in the late 1990s within the frame of imperial history, and whose findings have been corroborated in subsequent work.

Operation Coldstore was a massive police action jointly organised by the British, Singapore and Malayan governments on 2 February 1963, which detained over a hundred, mostly left-wing leaders on charges of conspiracy to establish a communist state in Singapore. Coldstore was a defining moment in Singapore’s history – the arrests were an important pre-condition in the secret negotiations between the governments of Singapore, Malaya and Britain for the formation of Malaysia. The purge fatally weakened the left, which provided the main political opposition to the People’s Action Party (PAP) government under Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, and paved the way for the establishment of a one-party state.

Over the last decade, Coldstore has emerged as a public controversy. Former leftists have used newly declassified British archival records to openly reject the conspiracy charges and assert their role in the decolonisation of Singapore. Except for brief, occasional statements, the PAP government had been fairly quiet on the issue until 2014, a year before Singapore’s 50th year of independence. Since then, the government has put forward an account of the crackdown, defended the conspiracy charges and published purported evidence of communist subversion. It has rejected countervailing accounts as selective or self-serving, while reminding Singaporeans that the PAP has built a better country after the purge.


Gov’t insists Operation Coldstore not politically motivated
The Singapore Government has once again claimed that Singapore’s history is what it says it is, and that the claims of “revisionist historians and their proxies” lack “academic rigour [and] intellectual honesty”

Historians and others, including former members of the breakaway faction of the People’s Action Party (PAP), the Barisan Socialis, say that the arrests of more than 100 members of Barisan Socialis during Operation Coldstore in February 1963 was politically motivated.

This is a view which runs counter to the Singapore Government’s position – that the security operation was to arrest “communists” who supported armed struggle.

In a statement which was reported by the local press on Thursday, Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office, Sam Tan, says such contrarian views “downplay the communist threat to Singapore in the 1960s”, the Straits Times reports.


Singapore’s ‘Battle for Merger’ Revisited - Part ll

The historical background - For the benefit of the younger generation, it is necessary to describe the historical background at the end of the 1950s and the beginning of the 1960s, i.e. the period prior to merger and Operation Coldstore.

Let us not forget that World War II was a ferocious battle between two imperialist camps for control of global wealth. In the Southeast Asia, it was fought out in the colonies with total disregard for the untold sufferings it brought upon the local population, including our forebears in Singapore and Malaya. Therefore, their desire for independence from colonial Britain in the aftermath of World War II was fervent and uncompromising.

With the end of the War in 1945, Britain sought to reimpose its exploitation of the colonies including Singapore even though as a member of the newly-established United Nations, it was obliged to grant them independence. Hence it began casting about for the person or party, most committed to protect British interests in Singapore, upon whom it could bestow independence. In brief, Singapore was still a colony in the period before merger and Operation Coldstore, with Britain having the final say in all matters affecting us. It had the right to suspend the constitution.

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Singapore’s ‘Battle for Merger’ Revisited - Part l
The merger issue

2015 is the fiftieth anniversary of Singapore’s separation after almost two years of being part of the Federation of Malaysia (16 September 1963 – 9 August 1965). The event is marked as the day when the island gained independence. The British colonial rulers formally relinquished its residual power over Singapore’s defence, foreign affairs and internal security to the newly-formed Federation of Malaysia when merger came into effect. Reunification was the aspiration of its people as the island was severed in 1946 by the British after being part of the Straits Settlements for 120 years, save for the Japanese Occupation (1942-45).


However the merger scheme which Lee Kuan Yew’s PAP government concluded with the Federation of Malaya government’s Tunku Abdul Rahman was an outright failure. It is thus curious that for the official celebration of SG 50, the PAP government should choose to highlight the 12 radio broadcasts that Lee Kuan Yew as prime minister made between 13 September and 9 October 1961 which was published as The Battle for Merger (1962). The book was reprinted in 2014, with much official hype but no new insights. The deputy prime minister and concurrently coordinating minister for national security and minister for home affairs who launched the reprint, stressed the importance of the PAP’s push for the 1963 merger thus:
"It was a time when momentous decisions had to be made for Singapore. A wrong decision then would have been calamitous and Singapore might still be trying to shake off the dire effects today."
The 1963 merger was a wrong decision. The disastrous outcome was foreseen by the opposition Barisan Sosialis.  We wanted reunification with Malaya, but NOT on the terms that Lee obtained. Those simply could not work. They did not address the fundamental ethnic issue which was handled differently in Malaya and Singapore. The Alliance, the ruling party which dominated Malaysian politics, was an alliance of ethnic-based political parties. It had control of Singapore’s internal security through the internal Security Act (ISA) which provided for detention without trial. The PAP had accepted that Singapore would have fewer seats than its population size warranted, weakening its representation in the Federal government.

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Reponse to Poh Soo Kai’s allegations

Dr Poh Soo Kai’s commentary (“Singapore’s ‘Battle for Merger’ revisited”) in New Mandala on 3 Dec 2014 is a misleading account of Operation Coldstore, Singapore’s merger with Malaya, the Barisan Sosialis Singapura (Barisan) and his own role in that period.

Dr Poh and other revisionists like Dr Thum Ping Tjin have alleged that Operation Coldstore was a political exercise meant to suppress what they claim to be legitimate, presumably peaceful, democratic opponents of the PAP government. A full reading of the declassified documents from the British National Archives shows clearly that Operation Coldstore was a security operation meant to counter the serious security threat posed by the outlawed Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and their supporters in Singapore, working through the Barisan and associated communist united front (CUF) organisations. The revisionists conveniently omit mention of the incriminating information in these documents. For example, they quote selectively some of then UK Commissioner to Singapore Lord Selkirk’s remarks to claim that Operation Coldstore was an act of political suppression with no security basis. But a holistic reading of all the documents debunks their accounts. The documents reveal that both Selkirk and his deputy Philip Moore were concerned about the extent to which the CPM had penetrated the Barisan and had concluded that security action was imperative. Indeed, about two months before Operation Coldstore was carried out, they had begun to urge strenuously that action be taken.

The Barisan was not an ordinary left-wing political party, and its leaders were not “unwitting dupes” of the Communists. It was the prime CUF body in Singapore in the 1960s, influenced, directed and led by CPM cadres, as the British officials then, as well as CPM leaders themselves since, have acknowledged.

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Singapore Government responds to allegations by ex-detainee Poh Soo Kai on Operation Coldstore
The Government's comments were made by Singapore High Commissioner to Australia Burhan Gafoor in a strongly-worded letter yesterday to the Australian National University's New Mandala website. They were in response to a commentary on the website by former Coldstore detainee Poh Soo Kai (pictured) earlier this month. -- ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

The Singapore Government has rebutted recent allegations by former political detainees and some historians that a major crackdown on leftists in 1963 was a political exercise, saying the claim was "misleading and disingenuous".

A full reading of the available evidence would highlight the "serious security threat" the Communists posed, it said.

The crackdown, Operation Coldstore, was a continuation of security operations mounted since 1948 to contain the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM).

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Mr Lee Kuan Yew told the truth about Communist united front: PM Lee

The first person accounts of senior Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) leaders, as well as declassified British documents confirm the extent of the Communist united front in Singapore, said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in a Facebook post on Saturday.

PM Lee said these documents "leave no doubt that the Barisan was formed at the instigation of the CPM, and that Lim Chin Siong was a Communist cadre".

His comments in the Facebook post comes two days after the Government's detailed reply to a commentary by former Barisan assistant secretary-general Poh Soo Kai which questioned the legitimacy of the crackdown, codenamed Operation Coldstore, The Straits Times reported.

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Prime Minister, Lee Hsieng Loong wrote on his Facebook

I took these photos of a fascinating exhibit: a pair of original handwritten documents. One was a trade union document, signed 林清祥 Lim Chin Siong. He was the leader of the Barisan Sosialis, the main open front political party. The other was a Communist study cell document, signed 王明 Wang Ming. The handwriting was identical. In fact Wang Ming was Lim Chin Siong’s party name; Communist cadres took party names to conceal their real identities. So Lim Chin Siong was a Communist, and the Barisan Sosialis was Communist controlled.

This was more than 50 years ago. Many old Communist and pro-Communist activists have reconciled with their past, and become good citizens. But a few hard core ones still deny these historical facts. They don’t want to admit that they had fought on the wrong side, and that luckily for Singapore they lost. Some “revisionist” historians make this argument too. One motivation: cast doubt on the legitimacy of the PAP government, not just in the 1960s, but today.

The British have been declassifying documents from their archives in London, and making them available to the public. Also senior CPM leaders like Chin Peng, Eu Chooi Yip, Fong Chong Pik (aka the Plen) and others have published memoirs. Their first person accounts, like the British documents, confirm the extent of the Communist united front in Singapore, and leave no doubt that the Barisan was formed at the instigation of the CPM, and that Lim Chin Siong was a Communist cadre.

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British archives, personal accounts, confirm extent of Communist United Front activities here: PM Lee

His comments in a Facebook post came two days after the Government's detailed reply to a commentary by former Barisan assistant secretary-general Poh Soo Kai which questioned the legitimacy of the crackdown, codenamed Operation Coldstore.

Dr Poh's commentary and the government response were carried in the Australian National University's New Mandala website.

Mr Lim and Dr Poh were among 113 Communists and supporters arrested and detained without trial during Coldstore - carried out when Mr Lee Kuan Yew was prime minister.

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Many old Communists have become good citizens: PM Lee
A few hard core ones, however, still deny historical facts

Many old Communist and pro-Communist activists have reconciled with their past, and become good citizens, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in a Facebook post today (Dec 20).

However, he added, there are some hard core ones who still deny these historical facts.

“They don’t want to admit that they had fought on the wrong side, and that luckily for Singapore they lost.”

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Many old Communist activists became good citizens, but some still deny facts: PM Lee

PM Lee, who visited the Battle for Merger exhibition in October, mentioned the book of Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s radio talks in 1961, which explained what the fight against the Communists was about, and why Singapore needed a merger with Malaya.

The prime minister said the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) was a violent, illegal organisation. "So it operated secretly, underground. But the Communists infiltrated open, legal organisations like trade unions, student associations and political parties. These supported the Communist cause, but denied that they themselves were Communist. Mr Lee (Kuan Yew) exposed this Communist united front tactic."

PM Lee added that a few hard core Communists still deny these historical facts. "They don’t want to admit that they had fought on the wrong side, and that luckily for Singapore they lost. Some 'revisionist' historians make this argument too. One motivation: cast doubt on the legitimacy of the PAP government, not just in the 1960s, but today."

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Reluctance to open official records discredits government’s rebuttal on ISA detainees

When Singapore High Commissioner to Australia Burhan Gafoor rebutted Dr Poh Soh Kai’s recent allegations that a major crackdown on leftists in 1963 was a political exercise, his rebuttal was firmly rejected by former political detainees and some historians on social media, and a renewed call for the government to make available official papers on the detentions.

In a nine-page letter, Mr Gafoor said that Dr Poh’s claims were “misleading and disingenuous”. The letter was published on Thursday on the Australian National University’s New Mandala website and later reported by Straits Times.

Dr Poh, former Assistant Secretary General of Barisan Sosialis, was among 113 left-wing politicians and unionists rounded up in Operation Coldstore, which he called a “set-up” against political opponents of then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, including Barisan’s Secretary General, Lim Chin Siong.

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PM Lee’s short narrative of merger history leaves much to be desired
Photo uploaded by Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong

It is not clear when PM Lee’s mathematics expertise has evolved into the study of forensics of handwritings. As such, it is clear that PM Lee’s comment is practically unqualified. Otherwise, does PM Lee have reason to believe that Wang Ming is indeed Lim Chin Siong? Is the analysis of the two sets of handwritings part of the government’s investigations?

As it stands, releasing the official documents of the secret branch would be the surest way of verifying this fact. To date, the government has not made these documents public, preferring to obfuscate it with an unverifiable handwriting analysis.

Perhaps our current PM would do better to leave history to the historians, as much as he should leave the handwriting analysis to the forensics experts. Instead, it would be better for the PAP to substantiate it’s much-repeated narrative with some hard evidence, rather than mere conjectures.

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A ferocious struggle for Singapore's future
In December 1974, Dr Poh provided medical aid to an injured Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) bomber, who was part of a three-man CPM team on the way to plant a homemade bomb at the home of a factory owner when the bomb exploded prematurely in Katong. The incident injured the bomber and killed his two accomplices. -- ST FILE PHOTO

Dr Poh Soo Kai's commentary ("Singapore's 'Battle For Merger' revisited") in New Mandala on Dec 3, 2014 is a misleading account of Operation Coldstore, Singapore's merger with Malaya, the Barisan Sosialis Singapura (Barisan) and his own role in that period.

Dr Poh and other revisionists like Dr Thum Ping Tjin have alleged that Operation Coldstore was a political exercise meant to suppress what they claim to be legitimate, presumably peaceful, democratic opponents of the PAP government. A full reading of the declassified documents from the British National Archives shows clearly that Operation Coldstore was a security operation meant to counter the serious security threat posed by the outlawed Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) and their supporters in Singapore, working through the Barisan and associated communist united front (CUF) organisations. The revisionists conveniently omit mention of the incriminating information in these documents. For example, they quote selectively some of then UK Commissioner to Singapore Lord Selkirk's remarks to claim that Operation Coldstore was an act of political suppression with no security basis. But a holistic reading of all the documents debunks their accounts. The documents reveal that both Lord Selkirk and his deputy Philip Moore were concerned about the extent to which the CPM had penetrated the Barisan and had concluded that security action was imperative. Indeed, about two months before Operation Coldstore was carried out, they had begun to urge strenuously that action be taken.

The Barisan was not an ordinary left-wing political party, and its leaders were not "unwitting dupes" of the communists. It was the prime CUF body in Singapore in the 1960s, influenced, directed and led by CPM cadres, as the British officials then, as well as CPM leaders themselves since, have acknowledged

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FACTUAL ERRORS SPOTTED AT THE BATTLE FOR MERGER EXHIBITION
This letter was originally sent to the National Libraries Board

Alternatively, you may choose to amend the display to accommodate multiple opinions on the issue. Perhaps a revised version of the original paragraph would do:
"The Singapore government claims that the Communist Threat persisted into the 1980s. For this reason, they detained English-educated social activists in lawfully-established organisations, such as student and para-church groups. They believed these men and women aimed to destabilise the country and establish a Marxist state. The ex-detainees deny this version of events. Multiple historians also dispute the government's account."
It is noteworthy that The Battle for Merger exhibition does not, to my knowledge, describe the course of Operation Spectrum beyond this paragraph. This means that my correction should be easy to accommodate.

Perhaps a day will come when the National Library is free to mount an exhibition on Operation Spectrum itself, detailing not only the government's perspective, but also the ex-detainees' traumatic experiences and accounts. That day may not be far away.

related:
HC OF SPORE TO AUSTRALIA: DR POH SOO KAI’S COMMENTARY 'MISLEADING'
Singapore’s ‘Battle for Merger’ Revisited

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“Battle for Merger” exhibition does not reflect true history of Singapore
This morning I visited the Jurong Regional Library which is now hosting the Ministry of Home Affairs’ exhibition called “The Battle for Merger”

As expected, it was a one sided portrayal of Singapore’s history. The exhibits showed how the British and then, more importantly, the PAP and most importantly, how Lee Kuan Yew “killed off” the “communists” who were allegedly wrecking this peaceful island. In a series of 12 radio talks, Lee Kuan Yew “convinced” the people to accept his preferred terms for merger with Malaya.

If the exhibition had been paid for by the PAP, I would have no complaints. But this one sided portrayal of the so called “Battle for Merger”, as if there was any battle at all, is entirely paid for by us, the public. I don’t think the Jurong Regional Library receive any rent for the use of the large exhibition space.

What is even more disagreeable is the library’s role in this biased exhibition by their display of books. Why didn’t the display include titles such as “Comet in Our Sky”, “Fajar Generation”, “The 1963 Operation Coldstore in Singapore Commemorating 50 Years”, “We Remember”, “The May 13 Generation”, and “Youth on Trial”, just to mention a few of the titles that contradict Lee Kuan Yew’s 12 radio talks? These books are available at the library.

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BATTLE FOR MERGER A REALITY CHECK FOR REVISIONIST VIEWS
From ‘Reprint of the Battle for Merger will provide reality check for revisionist views’, 10 Oct 2014, article in CNA

The re-publication of a book of former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew’s radio talks from 1961, The Battle For Merger, will provide a “reality check” for revisionist views, said Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean at the launch event on Thursday (Oct 9).
“I hope it will awaken interest among younger Singaporeans in the events of this crucial period in our history, educate them into what actually happened, what the battle was about, and why it was so crucial that the right side won,”
Originally published in 1962, The Battle For Merger is a book that contains a series of 12 radio talks delivered by Mr Lee between Sep 13 and Oct 9, 1961, giving a vivid account of the ongoing political struggle over merger.

Among the many superlatives used to describe LKY’s radio sermon, the best come from his son, the current PM, himself, who recalls the ‘superhuman‘ effort of 36 broadcasts in 3 languages, and how the Battle of Merger still reads like a THRILLER today. In TCH’s speech, he called it a ‘gruelling’ exercise which left our founding PM ‘thoroughly exhausted’, but later makes a too-brief mention of the critical event that is the 1962 referendum.

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Does it matter if Lim Chin Siong was a communist?
Lim Chin Siong

PM Lee Hsien Loong’s observation of the Battle for Merger exhibition is just an attempt to defend his father’s wrong doing.

For more than half a century, Singaporeans have been told that communists were dangerous people and that they indulged in violence. The government conveniently omit to tell us that it was the communists who fought and died for Malaya (which included Singapore) during World War II and that Chin Peng was honoured by our colonial master soon after the war.

The CPM was the first anti-colonial organisation and not the PAP. If Lim Chin Siong and his friends were communists, they were also the founding members of the PAP. They fought alongside the PAP and helped it win the general election in 1959. Without them, where will the PAP be today?

related:
Reluctance to open official records discredits govt’s rebuttal on ISA detainees
PM Lee: CPM a violent and illegal organisation

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Truth Will Tell

Burhan Gafoor, Singapore's High Commissioner to Australia, is the latest to join the league of revisionist historians. But apparently somebody else is guiding his penmanship. "We have put together an account using evidence from the British archives as well as CPM sources, which confirm that Mr Lee Kuan Yew told the truth," admitted prime minister Lee Hsien Loong in his Facebook post on Saturday (Dec 20). Gafoor/Lee wrote:
"Chin Peng has confirmed that the Barisan was under the CPM’s influence. He cagily disagreed that the CPM “controlled” the Barisan, but admitted: “We certainly influenced them”. He did not elaborate on how the CPM “influenced” the Barisan or who were the CPM’s proxies in its Central Executive Committee, but he confirmed that communists were among those who joined the party."
You can have a heyday with the semantics over "control" and influence". But there's no uncertainty about collaboration with the enemy. The following paragraphs, in the original bold text, from pages 54 and 55 of "The Battle For Merger" book speak volumes about the duplicity of one character: 

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Lee’s one sided broadcasts lacked legitimacy

I refer to the 10 Oct 2014 Straits Times report “Gruelling series of broadcasts”.

It’s bewildering Lee Kuan Yew felt that the Chinese educated were unsure of communist defeat in 1961 when the state of emergency had already been lifted a year before in 1960 with the successful defeat of the communists by the British a few years earlier. The British was still in charge of defense then so it was the British who were fighting the communists, not the PAP. As usual, Lee likes to take credit for what others do. British fighting the communists becomes PAP fighting the communists.

Also, the fighting had been confined to the Malay Peninsula and never touched Singapore. Since the communists didn’t touch Singapore, how could the PAP had been fighting the communists?

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The Battle for Merger
Battle for Merger radio talks a 'crucial move': PM Lee

The radio talks that Singapore's founding Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew gave were a crucial move in winning the hearts and minds of the people. Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said this in a Facebook post on Saturday (Oct 11), after visiting the Battle for Merger exhibition at the National Library.

The exhibition showcases the compilation of the 12 radio talks first published in 1962, that has now been reprinted.

Mr Lee said the radio talks led to Singapore joining Malaysia, then separation and today's independent Singapore. It told the inside story of the fight between the non-Communists and Communists, and explaining to Singaporeans what was at stake. He said had Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the non-Communist side lost, Singapore's history would have been totally different.

related: Reprint of The Battle For Merger launched

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To Singapore, with Love 星国恋
Why public screening of film not allowed

EDITOR at large Han Fook Kwang lobbied for lifting the prohibition on the public screening of Ms Tan Pin Pin's film, To Singapore, With Love ("Let's talk about the past openly, warts and all"; Sunday).

He argued that Mr Lee Kuan Yew's The Battle For Merger would interest the public only if it contends with alternative accounts of the same period.

In fact, persons from all sides of the ferocious fight between the communists and non-communists have already been having their say.

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Review: To Singapore, with Love

Sitting on a porch in Kuala Lumpur, Dr. Ang Swee Chai recalls that in 1977, when her husband Francis Khoo’s arrest was imminent, she had suggested that they get married – “that way I could at least visit him in jail”. Soon after their swift wedding, amidst threat of arrest and indefinite incarceration, they fled Singapore. Decades later, reality loomed. “It dawned on me that I was going to die alone in London… I want to be in 100A Upper Serangoon Road,” she says softly. Swee Chai has returned to Singapore just once — on a single-entry permit, carrying her husband’s ashes.

The men and women in Tan Pin Pin’s To Singapore, with Love are courteous in their painful recounting of the circumstances that forced them to leave their country of birth – four, maybe five decades ago. They instantly remember their dates of departure – long ago now. Their stories are factual, fragile and yet wistful. A lifetime of pent up yearning and loss has surprisingly not left them despondent. The grace and detail of their spirited, candid narratives taped conversationally at home, on streets and in offices, make this film intimate and engaging. True to Ms. Pin’s oeuvre, there are no gratuitous mood shots in this film; superfluous music is not necessary to pull at our heartstrings – the clear, penetrating words suffice.

“I knew that they had to get rid of me,” says the professorial, Oxford educated lawyer Tan Wah Piow, in a matter-of fact tone. He left Singapore after serving a jail term of one-year for blowing the whistle on what what he perceived as gross labour injustice. During that time he saw the forcible and complete dismantling of the university student union he had been an integral part of.

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