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A perspicuous view of Singapore’s political history from a former ISD director

Bitter rivals turned kingmakers: Former ISD director in Singapore shares how Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock’s intervention secured Lee Kuan Yew’s political future.



by Yoong Siew Wah

Lee Kuan Yew was an enigmatic and controversial political figure, depending on which of the political spectrum one viewed him.

British Colonial rule from Sir Stamford Raffles’s discovery of Singapore in 1819 had been one which can be described as disciplinary patriarchal compared with the inhumane oppressive colonial rule of the Dutch in Indonesia; the winds of change in the mid-twentieth century brought about its mortification, which Lee Kuan Yew played a significant role.

Lee Kuan Yew went to Cambridge University in the UK for his law degree and was deeply immersed in ostensibly subversive activities orchestrated by the British Communist Party and its allies which fortified him with a solid revolutionary background when he returned to Singapore after completing his studies and obtaining his law degree to carry out his highly political ambition for political ascendancy.

Ironically, England was the training ground for leaders of its former colonies. But the ground was infertile.

The Malayan Communist Party (MCP) had engaged in an armed struggle to overthrow the British Colonial Government and later the Democratic governments to establish a Communist state in Malaya, including Singapore. In Singapore, there were assassinations of traitors and reactionaries by the Communist killer squad and quite extensive arsons of British-owned Singapore Traction Company buses.

The Communist armed struggle was not going well for the MCP, with heavy casualties, and Chin Peng, the MCP secretary-general, called a meeting of the central committee to discuss and find a solution to the heavy losses.

They decided to set up a second front called the United Front to complement their armed struggle, and they issued a resolution they called the October Resolution, which they sent to all their combatting units, including Singapore. The magnificent October Resolution turned out quite a blessing in turning the tide, especially in Singapore.

Overnight in 1953/54, hundreds of pro-communist organisations sprang up to the alarm of the authorities, especially the Special Branch (SB), but were not daunted by them. This was expected, and SB was prepared for this extraordinary phenomenon.

Trained SB officers were capable of matching and overwhelming them. Out of nowhere emerged an undisputed leader of the CUF in the person of Lim Chin Siong, who was obviously appointed with the imprimatur of Chin Peng’s MCP.

Lim Chin Siong turned out to be a consummate leader with the charisma to command a mega-massive mass base. His outstandingness in his leadership was never in doubt as even highly intellectual activists like Devan Nair, James Puthcheary,  S. Woodhull and labour strongman Fong Swee Suan were devoted deputies under his leadership.

Lee Kuan Yew had introduced Lim Chin Siong to his guests at a social gathering as the future prime minister of Singapore, and David Marshall was stunned when he heard this.

The CUF, under Lim Chin Siong, had decided to liquidate Lee Kuan Yew and his close combatants, like Dr Goh Keng Swee and Dr Toh Chin Chye, from the political scene. They were simply no match to Lim Chin Siong’s political mass base and would be easily gobbled up by the Communists and end up languishing in Prime Minister Lim Chin Siong’s prison, a Lee Kuan Yew’s prophecy that could have come to pass.

But for the humanitarian mercy of the Lord’s intervention. It was the cue that moved Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock and the Special Branch to act as the divine deliverer and kingmaker in rescuing Lee Kuan Yew and his close comrades. Special Branch had the power of arrest that needed the imprimatur of CM Lim Yew Hock to detain for an indefinite period.

SB officers under the command of Richard Corridon carried out a swoop on the CUF headquarters in SFSWU in Middle Road following widespread riots orchestrated by the CUF after the PAP rally in Bukit Timah on 26 October 1956.

Lim Chin Siong and all his deputies, like Devan Nair, James Puthucheary, S Woodhull, Fong Swee Suan and all those found there, were arrested and brought back to the Special Branch. The extensive swoop paved the way for Lee Kuan Yew to lead the PAP to a landslide victory in the general election in May 1959 and become prime minister.

The question on people’s minds is why Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock was so kind and benevolent, saved Lee Kuan Yew from political doom, and really became his kingmaker when they were bitter political rivals.

Would Lee Kuan Yew have done the same favour for Lim Yew Hock if he, instead of Lee Kuan Yew, was the Communist target? This was a secret that Lim Yew Hock kept to himself, and we can only guess.

Lim Yew Hock had distinctly shown that he was a staunch patriot and put national interest before self-interest. Like all patriotic Singaporeans, he would have been deeply mortified to see Singapore under a Communist regime. Never in his wildest dream could Lee Kuan Yew have imagined Lim Yew Hock to be his saviour and kingmaker.

Lee Kuan Yew’s victory, as expected, was greeted with a never-before overwhelming euphoric ovation and worldwide adulation. A lot of promises of a better life were expected of PM Lee Kuan Yew and his faithful deputies by the people, and Lee and his team really rose to the occasion in fulfilling the people’s wishes.

Lee  Kuan Yew demanded and obtained from the British Governor the release of Lim Chin Siong and his coterie of leading activists like  Devan Nair, James Puthucheary, S. Woodhull and Fong Swee Suan before he took office as prime minister. He imposed constraints on them to prevent them from straying back into the CUF.

Devan Nair was treated differently as he had thrown his loyalty to Lee Kuan Yew. They were appointed political secretaries to ministers who were tasked to keep an eye on them. It worked for a while, but Lim Chin Siong and his fellow activists were crafty fellows who had no difficulty hoodwinking Lee Kuan Yew and his ministers and were secretly scheming to return to their old fold.

So it was a matter of time before they defiantly divested their political secretary post and boldly returned to the CUF struggle. Before their arrest in 1956, they were a formidable force that constantly and overwhelmingly disconcerted the composure and stability of Lee Kuan Yew in his political survival as prime minister.

The appointment of George Bogaars as Director of the Special Branch was a godsend to Lee Kuan Yew, who hung on to him for his dear life and survival.

George Bogaars proved to be such an outstanding Director of the Special Branch that he was able to circumscribe the CUF revolutionary battlecry to a secure and stable level, and Lee Kuan Yew and his minister were able to sleep peacefully at night. |

Bogaars had no security background, and the fact that he could perform such an incredible feat could be a divination. I and my colleagues were working under George Bogaars, and we were really flummoxed by how Lee Kuan Yew could be so dependent on a benefactor that he could not live for a day without his benevolent protection.

Bogaars also saved Lee Kuan Yew from detention by the Malaysian Interior Minister Tun Ismail before Singapore was kicked out of Malaysia.

The irony of fate was that George Bogaars could have a serious fallout with Lee  Kuan Yew at the end of his career. Could this be the gratitude of a man whose life had been saved by this benefactor? But then, he was not known to be humane to those who had served him, whom he treated like a piece of chess on his chessboard to be discarded when they outlived their usefulness.

I was given the honour of being his victim of gross injustice. How could a sane prime minister stoop so low as to scurrilous attack a defenceless civil servant by uttering a blatant lie telecast live to the world from the August Parliament House?

Overnight I became a celebrity but for the wrong reason. He acted like he was above the law and no Singapore judges dared to convict him I was left wih the next best choice. I requested Lee Hsien Loong to make a public apology for his father’s sin, and I am still waiting for his answer. The Chinese call this To place righteousness before family (大义灭亲).

Has Lee Hsien Loong this sterling quality? Let’s keep our eyes peeled and see.

The CUF could be having a rollicking exchange of flippant interplay with Lee Kuan Yew, to the latter’s dismay, because Lee was obviously cheesed off with them and in no mood to engage in any inter-taunting with them. It was clear that Lee Kuan Yew was feeling the burgeoning onslaught of the CUF, a suffocating effect on his political party that was going to bring about his existential extermination.

The impressionable British High Commissioner Lord Selkirk was, whether inadvertently or not, putting a spanner in the works by holding the famous tea party for the CUF leaders like Lim Chin Siong and James Puthucheary where when pressed by the astute James Puthucheary Lord Selkirk flippantly mollified them the British would not be averse to a Communist takeover as if this could not be the lifeline to the morale of the CUF in their quest to capture power.

If Kee Kuan Yew was caught off guard, he did not show it, and he did not react violently as expected. He could have been having a more sinister and devastating scheme up his sleeve, as later events had confirmed.

Again, Lord Selkirk rose to the occasion in his righteousness in justice and fair play. Lee Kuan Yew was labouring under the feeling that the world of disaster was coming down on him.

In his not-so-benign fertile mind, the punishment to the death notion of Operation Coldstore. was to be executed before Singapore joined Malaysia. But this operation needed the imprimatur of the Internal Security Council. (ISC) for it to proceed.

Lord Selkirk, the British High Commissioner, adamantly insisted in his so-called minimalist stand that the British side would like to see concrete evidence of imminent violence by the CUF before supporting the motion, almost upending Lee Kuan Yew’s Operation Coldstore plan.

It was the fatherly diplomatic charm of Malayan PM Tungku Abdul Rahman who saved the day with his melliferous persuasive oratory, which finally melted the righteous obstinacy of Lord Selkirk to throw in his support for the motion. It showed that even God was on the side of Lee Kuan Yew.

2nd February 1963, was the date the death knell was sounded for the CUF. Operation Coldstore, the biggest operation in Special Branch history, was launched.

George Bogaars, the Director of the Special Branch, was in overall command, and it was a test of the sterling quality on which Lee Kuan Yew reposed his previous life.

As the Chinese saying goes, We have to succeed, and no failure is allowed (只许成功 不许失败) was a good omen to start the operation. Ironically, this was the slogan that Mao Tze-tung frequently used.

As a security precaution against any unforeseen leakage, The operation task force was assembled at a secret location in Johore. At the appointed time the task force units fanned out into Singapore separately and descended o their targets catching them all by surprise. All the leading CUF activists, like Lim Chin Siong and James Puthucheary, were roped in with no resistance.

With this mammoth Operation Coldstore, the whole CUF directing apparatus was almost completely decimated, and what was spared could not, in their wildest dream, pose any security threat to Lee Kuan Yew.

The path was clear for Lee Kuan Yew to consolidate his political power base ad infinitum until he retired. The British and Malayan fully supported Operation Coldstore as it was in their security interest. Foreign-born like James Puthucheary and S. Woodhull were rusticated to their home country, in this case, Malaya.

It was a colossal task managing the aftermath. Many were incarcerated for long periods, and there was the question of the humanity of human rights. However, Lee Kuan Yew was not known to be a man of charitable mercy to his political adversaries. He was known to be constantly obsessed with a communist threat to his life and survival, which could be reflected by his intense means of self-preservation.

So a 33-year incarceration of Chia Thye Poh and over 22 years for Dr Poh Soo Kai was a normal conception of his lofty mind despite all the local and international critiques and supplications for their early release.

Although not psychiatrically supported, Lee Kuan Yew could be a mental case of serious dimension and should have consulted a shrink, but in his case, it could have been so deep-rooted that not even a world-renowned shrink would have been able to restore his sanity. Even renowned historians found it insurmountable to write his obituary. There is a Chinese saying: A general wins a war, and ten thousand bones become ashes (一将功成万骨灰)

Anyway, despite his serious character flaws, he was both a founding-father benefactor and an iniquitous persecutor but had made supreme contributions to Singapore, not least by turning it to first-class status from a third-class village, are substantial evidence of his dedicated and pinnacle service to bring prosperity and eminence to the people and the country. There were his loyal admirers who made sure that his centenary would be allowed to pass without a grandiose commemoration of the hundredth anniversary of auspicious birth.

His son, Lee Hsien Loong, has now succeeded him, and how he has performed to serve the people will be the subject of a narrative that I will pen at a later date.

Mr Yoong, who is in his 90s, was the Director of Singapore’s Internal Security Department (ISD) from 1971 to 1974. He was Director of the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB) in the 1960s. He runs a blog, Singapore Recalcitrant.

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The good, the bad and the treacherous, … all found in the one man !!! Karma was unreasonably kind to this man and he went on to take full advantage of the time and his status, … to consolidate and fortified his position further, further benefitting his family and cronies. Sure, he did good for the “fishing village”, but, what about the fuller picture, … or are we talking about “collateral damage” that’s morally and humanely acceptable !!! Anyways, … I’m certain that most will cheer and clap this founding father of all fathering fathers, … till the cows find… Read more »

com’on get a life! Yoong was dog to the Regime and have persecuted many other innocence people. Deserving, karma cycle in circle.

It is always good to understand the past and learn. Yet it is really time for Singaporeans to write OUR present and future, not keep harping on the past, like the Kayu Son always has a clutch mentality on his daddy. 2 points to make from the article: 1) “… not least by turning it to first-class status from a third-class village…” This is an oft FALSEHOOD from the 1G drummed to propaganda status by the pappies. SG wasn’t a village, it was an important and developed port-city under the British. Many of our current top schools were established BEFORE 1965… Read more »

2023 still at the Communist, Marxist and Democracy bygone days narrative. They have all gone hay wired becos Empirism Override all their initial heart to serve the People. They are only interested in consolidating their Powers and Wealth and enslaving others … And still bringing up OLD stories … To what end?!?

Bring back to the point, ppl aren’t static. They will change due to power, influence, what they hold in their hearts …

Where and when was Mr Yoong born? When was he appointed as Director ISD aka Special Branch?