The launch of these two books at the Kuala Lumpur Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall on November 24, 2012 was a seminal event against the backdrop of significant political changes in both Singapore and Malaysia. Well attended by social and political activists from both sides of the causeway, the launch’s significance lies in the range of issues that were addressed by both the speakers and members of the audience. Tan Wah Piow, Dr G Raman and Dr Wong Chin Huat were the three speakers who took centre stage and led a thoughtful discussion on issues ranging from regime change, re-merger, hopes for change, meritocracy versus affirmative agenda, and how to forgive and forget autocrats.
Chaired by Ms Maria Chin Abdullah the meeting got off to a witty start when Tan Wah Piow was jovially “chastised” for his love of good wine and good food by his introducers Mr Tan Yew Sing (Chairman of Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall), and Dr Kua Kia Song (Chairman of Suaram). Both of them knew Wah Piow well and recounted lively anecdotes dating back to their secondary and London Fuemsso days. He was praised for his wit, passion and powerful intellect and commitment to justice, democracy and political change.
Kicking off the question and answer session the first salvo came from a former trade unionist who wanted to know the whereabouts of Phey Yew Kok who was the master mind behind the frame up of Wah Piow and who subsequently absconded with union funds. The questioner requested that if anyone has any information on Phey they should contact him while another member of the forum said he would gladly report him to the Interpol.
The issue of regime change was given a hopeful thumbs-up by Dr Wong Chin Huat who predicted that UMNO will not be able to “last the next 5 years”. Based on their respective justifications for their continued hold on to power, one resting on race-based affirmative policies and the other on elitist meritocratic “pay me well policy” any electoral upsets on either side of the causeway would have serious ramifications for both the Barisan Nasional and the PAP.
The historic separation of Singapore from Malaysia in 1965 brought on an emotional surge to Dr G Raman. He felt strongly that the people of Malaya and Singapore are one people and it was tragic that the split occurred because of the rivalry between Jaffar Albar and Lee Kuan Yew whose political ambitions drove a terrible wedge into the pair of Siamese twins. As for the possibility of re-merger hope is always there as long as the current race based and elitist policies are unsustainable.
Looking to the future, Wah Piow is confident that change will occur. The mismatch between high GDP growth and serious distribution problem will cause younger Singaporeans to rise to the fore and strengthen the voices of the opposition. Dr G Raman believes that a loose coalition of opposition parties in electoral contests will pave the way to more significant changes later. As for the question of “forgiving and forgetting” the repressive actions of autocrats, Wah Piow said he never looked upon the question as a personal one. He believes that repressive leaders like LKY did perform some social good like housing and other economic benefits. Their biggest folly is to place their own power interest above the need for healthy democratic institutions to evolve. It is indeed regrettable that leaders like LKY could not rise to more statesman-like stature.
The book launch ended on a high note to the lyrics of the song “we live in a land full of sunshine and beauty. Mountains high and forest green and turtles in the sea”. This was belted out impromptu by a Singaporean who had brought a ten year old boy to the book launch. For him it is the younger generation who will represent our hopes for the future.