by Teo Soh Lung

REMEMBER OPERATION COLDSTORE (2 February 1963), which took place before the crack of dawn today, 58 years ago.

REMEMBER the patriots who sacrificed their lives when they were arrested and imprisoned without trial for decades. Remember all of them today.

Not many of the survivors of Operation Coldstore are alive today. There should be a celebration of their lives today but the official history of this country repeatedly attempted to obliterate their names, painting them as communists and disloyal citizens.

Fortunately, Dr Poh Soo Kai is alive and well today. He was one of the founding members of the PAP (which sadly, is not admitted by the PAP) and the Assistant Secretary-General of the Barisan Sosialis when it was formed in 1961.

In the recently published book ‘In the forefront, Commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Singapore Barisan Sosialis’, Dr Poh contributed a powerful Introduction which sets the Singapore history as it should be.

He wrote:

Barisan Sosialis Singapura, formed on 18th Sept 1961 was the party which represented the left-leaning electorate, the mainstream political force in Singapore in the 1950s and 60s. Its goal was to eradicate British colonial rule and influence, and obtain genuine independence, that is, a democratic, socialist Malaysia.

This goal was a reiteration of the PAP’s inaugural manifesto which we pledged to uphold as its founder members in November 1954. We remained faithful to our anti-colonial mission. It is precisely for this that the British pressed Lee Kuan Yew to kick us out, so that they could then take action against us without Lee being put in a spot of having to defend members of his party. WE DID NOT RESIGN OR SPLIT FROM THE PAP. LEE KUAN YEW KICKED US OUT, SO WE FORMED A NEW PARTY. (Emphasis mine)

How the Barisan came to be, and its decline as a political party within two years is the history of the suppression by the British of powerful anti-colonial mass movement in Singapore. The Barisan was cut down at its height, its leaders and most capable and active members were imprisoned without trial under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance (PPSO) in the fateful mass arrests of Operation Coldstore on 2 February 1963 on trumped up charges. The follow-up operation to this took place on 8 October 1963, under the Internal Security Act.

These fatal blows in effect ended the Barisan, and the powerful united, democratic and socialist movement in Singapore. THE PEOPLE OF SINGAPORE DID NOT REJECT WHAT WE STOOD FOR, OUR LEADERSHIP, OR THE WAY OUR PARTY WAS RUN. THEY WERE DENIED THE OPPORTUNITY TO VOTE IN THE BARISAN SOSIALIS AT OUR FULL STRENGTH AS THE GOVERNMENT OF SINGAPORE IN THE GENERAL ELECTION OF 21 SEPTEMBER 1963. (Emphasis mine)

Despite Operation Coldstore and blatant harassment of its candidates during the shortest campaign at the time, the Barisan obtained 33.2 percent of the votes and 13 seats. The PAP had a two-third majority with 46.9 percent and 37 seats. Nevertheless, it still felt threatened by the Barisan’s base in the trade unions, and launched Operation Pecah two weeks later. Five Barisan members who had just won seats in the general election, defeated candidates, labour unionists and subsequently Nantah students and graduates were swept into prison without trial.

The suppression of the Barisan was not a surprise to us. The strength of the independent left-wing movement was completely unacceptable to the departing British colonialists. They found and nurtured right-wing collaborators to plot and set against the left.

Lim Yew Hock as chief minister from 1956 to 1959 was openly pro-British and against the left.

Lee Kuan Yew, leader of the left-wing opposition PAP was surreptitiously working with Lim Yew Hock and the British to undermine the left wing of his own party. …

How Singapore is today ruled by a small group of elites which effectively control every arm of government, is the consequence of Operation Coldstore.

We should not forget the great sacrifices of our people. They are the heroes of our country. Their names are listed in ‘THE 1963 OPERATION COLDSTORE IN SINGAPORE, COMMEMORATING 50 YEARS. Check them out.

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