22 May 2006

Singapore Urban Legends

"Some elections back when the 'Mentor' was PM, he threatened the electorate by saying he would find out why those who voted against the PAP did so. That was in a speech after an election when the public was beginning to be brave enough to rub the dictatorship up the right way. I still remember the sinister and menacing tone when Harry Lee made his open threat."
From A.K. Tan, in comment to Voting must be kept secret

Pleinelune and I went down to the National Archives during the weekend to verify this claim. A.K. Tan has to be referring to the 1984 General Elections, notable for the loss of 2 seats to the opposition JB Jeyaratnam (WP-Anson) and Chiam See Tong (SDP-Potong Pasir). As the election was on 23 December, we checked the Straits Times from 24-27 December.

There was no account of Papalee issuing threats to find out who voted for whom. The Straits Times in the 1980s had to print every single word of Papalee's speeches; we waded through 5 pages of his election victory speech, printed over 2 days, and found nothing similar to AK Tan's anecdote.

That's not to say there weren't any harsh lectures from the then-PM.

On the morning of 24 December 1984, Papalee made several interesting remarks:

Because they had begun losing seats to the opposition: "at this rate, the one-man, one-vote system could lead to decline and disintegration"

He accused the opposition of "gutter politics": "Every election campaign starts off on a reasonable note, then in order to get the crowds excited, they make more and more brazen, scurrilous, wild accusations." (Like for example, accusing their opponents of planting bombs with their election manifestos?)

Papalee sternly warned the electorate in Potong Pasir and Anson that they would have to live with their choices; "the party would withdraw services to the two opposition-held seats of Anson and Potong Pasir"

Of course, there were the usual admonitions about Singapore descending into riots, that the people must realise this is not a game, you cannot change governments, etc.

However, the best lines came from the recently deceased S Rajaratnam, then Second Deputy Prime Minister in Papalee's cabinet. Said the man who wrote the national pledge: "If this is an attempt by voters to blackmail the government, to compromise on important issues or principles, then we must show them we cannot be blackmailed. No government should succumb to blackmail." That was the most chilling quote from the 1984 election, and it didn't come from Papalee.

It was Rajaratnam who made the threat AK Tan remembers. In "Genuine distress or blackmail, asks Raja", the then-2DPM wanted to find out whether the vote swing to the opposition was a genuine distress signal or an attempt by voters to blackmail the Whiteshirts. He then followed up by saying "we must show them that we cannot be blackmailed". Perhaps due to the passage of time, we now have the impression that it was Papalee who threatened "he would find out why those who voted against the PAP did so"?

Now, on that night, with Papalee raising a clenched fist at the microphone during the election victory speech and interview, with Rajaratnam, Mah Bow Tan, Richard Hu taking turns to reiterate their leader's disappointments, one threat would've seemed indistinguishable from the next.

So please, everyone. Let that urban legend rest. Papalee did not threaten to undermine the secrecy of the vote.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Nice. Thanks for the research. :)