Looking back, to see way ahead

Looking back, to see way ahead
Good ole memories
Fandi Ahmad greeting fans after Singapore’s victory in the 1994 Malaysia Cup final at the Shah Alam Stadium, Selangor in December 1994

SINGAPORE -The headline said starkly: "Singapore is out".

It ran across the front page of The Straits Times on the morning of Aug 10, 1965. The report that followed told of amendments to the Constitution, passed unanimously by both Houses of Parliament on a certificate of urgency, resulting in Singapore being separated from Malaysia to become an independent, sovereign state.

It went on to describe the secret meetings in Kuala Lumpur between leaders of the Malaysian federal government and the People's Action Party to sign the separation agreement, quoting then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman as saying that separation was his idea.

An enlarged copy of this historic page of The Straits Times kicks off the We: Defining Stories exhibition, now on at the National Museum of Singapore.

A joint effort by the museum and this newspaper, the exhibition draws on pictures and pages from ST's archives to recount some of the critical moments in the life of this country, as seen through the eyes of the photographers and journalists who were there at the time.

Next to the news report, the editors of the day had decided to run a front-page editorial, a rare practice usually saved for the most significant developments.

"The first reaction to the decision of the Malaysian and Singapore Governments to go separate ways is one of cruel shock and profound regret," it said.

It went on to declare that "there had been nothing to prepare the public for yesterday's tragic news", adding that "separation was the last thing the public expected".

"What has happened is sad beyond words. The right to form Malaysia was won in a bitter and prolonged battle in which the leaders of Singapore and the Federation joined forces against common enemies within and without.

"What has happened to the spirit of those early days? The dangers of separation have not vanished. The economic advantages of integration have not grown less. It is a thousand pities that the clock has been thus set back," the editorial lamented.

It rounded off with a call for leaders on both sides to temper their reactions and the emotions of their followers, adding somewhat hopefully: "In time, it is to be hoped the wounds will heal and the logic of Malaysia, unimpaired in its fundamentals, will reassert itself."

As I read these words last Saturday while visiting the exhibition, I was struck by the deep sense of shock and sorrow, and indeed the wonder at the folly of it all, that rang out from the typewriter of the ST's editorial writer of the day.

He was not alone. A related clipping from the same day's paper had a headline which said "Lee confident of S'pore's return to the Malaysian fold again", indicating that many doubted the unexpected and unwanted experiment in self-rule was likely to be long-lived.

I wondered, if those commentators knew then what we know now, would they have considered the separation "tragic" and "sad beyond words"?

Would they have wished that the fundamental forces that forged an integrated Malaysian federation "would one day reassert themselves"?

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