On the surface, it may have seemed like a battle for merger.
But underneath lay a deeper, more momentous and dangerous battle between the communists and non-communists in Singapore, said Deputy Prime Minister (DPM) Teo Chee Hean.
"At the heart of this battle were two contrasting visions of how society should be ordered and how we should govern ourselves," he said.
DPM Teo was speaking at the launch of the reprint of the book The Battle For Merger.
Originally published in 1962, it contains transcripts of the radio talks by Mr Lee Kuan Yew, then Singapore's prime minister, to persuade people to support the merger between Singapore and the Federation of Malaya.
DPM Teo said the reprint was timely, with Singapore celebrating her 50th birthday next year.
Some revisionist writers have tried to downplay the merger issue, portraying the fight as "merely a peaceful and democratic disagreement over the type of merger".
"They ignore the more fundamental agenda of the communists to seize power by subversion and armed revolution," Mr Teo said. The book captures this fierce struggle over the future of Singapore, he said.
In the 12 talks, conducted in English, Mandarin and Malay, Mr Lee exposed the communists' actions and why they opposed the merger.
"Some political figures I had named were incensed and demanded redress. But there were no libel suits. Those I had singled out knew I had the facts on my side," Mr Lee wrote in the new book's prologue.
On speculating how Singapore would be today if there had been no merger, Mr Lee said it is a "parlour game for those who have the luxury of engaging in armchair debates".
"The founding generation of leaders did not have this luxury. We knew we were in a fight to the death against a formidable adversary.
"We had been allied with them in an open front to fight the British and knew how strong they were. We knew what would happen if the communists had prevailed.
"The PAP (People's Action Party) and its sympathisers would have been the first to be liquidated," he wrote.
The Battle for Merger is sold in major bookstores at $32.50 before GST. It will also be available in public libraries.
In conjunction with the launch, there is also an exhibition at the National Library Building from now until Nov 30. It will move to other libraries and will be on until March next year.
1. Singapore was a violent place in the 50s and 60s as protests and strikes by communist-backed unions were commonplace. An armed revolution was taking place.
This strike in 1961 by workers protesting against management practices outside the old Robinsons department store turned physical as the police forcibly removed three trade unionists.
2. The same year, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew began a series of 12 radio broadcasts to convince people that merger with Malaya was the way forward.
Though the context was merger, a key focus was to expose the communist agenda.
The series ran from Sept 13 to Oct 9. He wrote and delivered each speech in English, Malay and Mandarin.
3. The communists and their supporters opposed the PAP's vision for merger with Malaya and the concept of Malaysia, fearing their activities would be clamped down.
4. A referendum was held. People in Singapore had to vote on the merger. This was the only time Singapore has had a referendum.
5. A resounding 71 per cent voted yes and Singapore became part of Malaysia in 1963.
Postscript: Singapore split from Malaysia in 1965 and became an independent nation.
This article was first published on Oct 10, 2014.
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