Friday, April 13, 2007

Tun Dr. Ismail’s Hypothesis
On M’sia-S’pore Re-Merger

My late father admired Tun Dr. Ismail very much. He said to me one day, Tun Dr. Ismail was a very strict, disciplined and principled leader. Most Johoreans of my father’s generation loved Tun Dr. Ismail. They adored him although Tun Dr. Ismail was not one of Johore’s famous freedom fighters against the introduction of the Malayana Union rule in 1946. My father also once said to me that he had never had the chance to meet Tun Dr. Ismail in person. Nevertheless, Tun Dr. Ismail was his hero.

I came to know Tun Dr. Ismail through his photograph hanged on the wall of my family’s house in Batu Pahat, and through my father’s many conversations with his friends, normally at night, after he had finished conducting his tuition on basic English for my kampung’s youngsters preparing themselves to seek employment in Singapore in early 1960s.

Tun Dr. Ismail passed away while I was studying in England. On that day I happened to be at the Malaysia Hall, 46 Brynston Square, London. My friends and I were about to have our lunch at the dining hall. Suddenly, the was a slight commotion. Minutes after that, we were being informed by the Malaysia Hall’s warden, of Tun Dr. Ismail’s sudden departure.

The reactions of most of us were spontaneous. We were silent in disbelief for a few seconds. Then, most of us just shed tears. I recited al-Fatehah for him. Tears were running down my cheeks.


In 1982 I began working as a press secretary to Tun Musa Hitam in the Ministry of Home Affairs, Jalan Dato’ Onn, Kuala Lumpur. And that was the time when I was first introduced to most of Tun Dr. Ismail’s doctrine on honesty, fairness, and disciplines.

In most of the Monday morning prayer session [briefing time] with Tun Musa, he had always reminded all of his personal staff, including me, to understand, articulate and emulate Tun Dr. Ismail’s sets of rules, disciplines, principles and values as a public servant.

Later on, especially after I was elected as a member of parliament [1990-2004], I had always remember Tun Musa’s and Tun Dr. Ismail’s doctrines on public service, especially on punctuality, dedication, honesty, patriotism, racial harmony, public order and national security.

During my years as an MP, I also took the opportunity to dig from the Parliament resource centre, Tun Dr. Ismail’s speeches as being recorded in the hansard [the verbatim report of Dewan Rakyat proceedings]. I had read several of Tun Dr. Ismail’s major speeches. I did this because I wanted to know more about the man, his thoughts and his principles on politics in multi-ethnic Malaysia. This, however, did not help me much with what I wanted to know about Tun Dr. Ismail.

Ysterday, Blogger Nuraina A Samad gave me a copy of the latest book on Tun Dr. Ismail – The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr. Ismail and His Time – written by Dr. Ooi Kee Beng. And, it is this book that gives me a really deep insights of Tun Dr. Ismail as a man, a father, a diplomat, a leader, and a statesman.


Now I know Tun Dr. Ismail’s politics better. I know he was a true Malaysian. He had no traces of racial prejudice. He had subscribed to the idea of creating a Malaysian Malaysia, though not similar to the one being advocated by the DAP, which originated from Lee Kuan Yew’s vision in early 1960s.

Now, I also know that Tun Dr. Ismail was a superb diplomat. He had excellent leadership ability, qualities and values. He had a far-sighted vision of Malaysia and its rakyat. He had a pragmatic views on how to restructure the Malaysian society which has a very diverse economic and educational backgrounds. He sacrificed his life for his motherland. He played major roles in the formation of Malaysia. And equally vital and significant roles during the separation of Singapore.

However, after reading Dr. Ooi’s book on Tun Dr. Ismail, I am now left with several strategic questions unanswered. These questions are about our future. These questions are based on several hypothesis left behind by Tun Dr. Ismail as being recorded in Dr. Ooi’s book, which I believe, are meant for us Malaysians to think, articulate and provide the answers, whenever we are ready to do so.


First: In pages 159 and 160 of his book, Dr. Ooi quoted Tun Dr. Ismail’s letter to National Geograpic, dated 22 April 1966. One significant point being written by Tun Dr. Ismail in that particular letter is:

“Singapore and Malaysia are interdependent. Singapore has the finest port in the East and a large portion of her trade depends on Malaysia. At the moment both nations, comparatively speaking, are well off. If they can co-exist for some time, each understanding the other’s point of view, the time will come when they will merge again. It is better to wait for this to come because if they do not do so they will sink together instead of coming together.”


And now, let us ask ourselves this question: Will Malaysia and Singapore “merge again” in years to come? Is it true, according to Tun Dr. Ismail, that “if they do not do so they will sink together instead of coming together”?

Second: Also in page 160, Dr. Ooi quoted Justice Tun Suffian about Tun Dr. Ismail’s view on Malaysian Malaysia:


“He was a realist, aware of the prejudices of every community. He agreed with Mr Lee Kuan Yew’s slogan “Malaysia for Malaysians”, but he did not agree that it could be done overnight, he knew that the inborn prejudice and resistance of millions have to be worn down patiently, that the millions from every community have to be convinced slowly, that they have to be persuaded steadily in the delicate process of uniting the various races in Malaysia.”

I view these two hypothesis of Tun Dr. Ismail are interrelated. These, therefore, should lead us to another question: Will the re-merger of Malaysia and Singapore become a reality after the slogan of “Malaysia for Malaysians” has been fully understood, agreed and accepted by all Malaysians in the future?

I will leave these two strategic questions to the people of Malaysia and Singapore to think and ponder. But, I also hope that these two questions will not be left unarticulated by leaders of both nations.

My personal opinion, however, is that the re-merger of Malaysia and Singapore, will possibly come true only if both nations and the rakyat are willing to look ahead to a better future and willing to free themselves from the present day’s prides and prejudices.


So, Dr. Ooi, your book The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr. Ismail and His Time, is actually not only a must-read book to better the existing relations between Malaysia and Singapore. To me, your book should also be considered as an important document which can be used as a basis for further intellectual discourse about the future of both nations.

In conclusion, let us all think why Tun Dr. Ismail had said that if Malaysia and Singapore “can co-exist for some time, each understanding the other’s point of view, the time will come when they will merge again. It is better to wait for this to come because if they do not do so they will sink together instead of coming together.”

Tun Dr. Ismail had left us. He will not be able to further deliberate on this hypothesis. It is now up to us, you and I, Malaysians and Singaporeans, to understand the spirit, hope and aspiration hidden behind these words. – Ruhanie Ahmad


wayne said...

The late Mr M.G.G.Pillai wrote on November 01, 2005 in Malaysia Today; amongst others that he happens to think Singapore will eventually have to merge with Malaysia, but as an adjunct of Johore.

He also said,"we have different opinions on the affair. We are told, officially and in the history books, that it was a cordial affair. The two prime ministers - Tunku Abdul Rahman of Malaysia and Lee Kuan Yew of Singapore - though both from Cambridge, did not get along. The Tunku, 62 at the time, believed in nature and Mr Lee, then 43, in nurture.

The main Singapore negotiators, which included the then culture minister and later deputy prime minister, Mr S. Rajaratnam, did not want to leave Malaysia. Neither did Mr Devan Nair, the PAP MP for Bangsar, later President of Singapore and now living in exile in Canada. Whatever the history books might say, the fact is the Tunku took the decision while recuperating for shingles in a London clinic.

It took Mr Lee and his cabinet by surprise when Tun Razak, then Malaysian deputy prime minister, informed Mr Lee about it. There were furious negotiations between Malaysia and Singapore in the run up to the negotiations. The then Singapore Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Toh Chin Chye, wrote to the Tunku and saw him, but he was told Singapore could stay if Mr Lee was out of the picture. Dr Toh's decline in Singapore politics began then in independent Singapore.

Mr Lee was brash then. He saw the PAP as the premier Chinese party in Malaysia and Singapore, which of course the Tunku did not agree. Mr Lee was emboldened by the 1964 general elections, when crowds from what is now Suleiman Court to the area surrounding Selangor Club turned up to hear him although PAP was returned in only one constituency, Bangsar. But there was the implied understanding that the PAP would remain in Singapore. The PAP broke that. It was downhill after that, which culminated in Singapore's expulsion two years later.

Mr Lee's message was not acceptable to UMNO at that time, nor is it now though it is much modified, and the assistant minister for information, Syed Jaafar Albar, the father of the Malaysian foreign minister and who did not want Singapore out although he resisted Singapore in Malaysia. On Singapore's independence, the PAP became the DAP and Mr Lim Kit Siang, Mr Devan Nair's assistant at that time, tool over. Mr Nair returned to Singapore in the 1969 general elections. Mr Lee did not want Singapore ejected from Malaysia, but when that was inevitable, he brought Singapore to what it is today: an efficient island republic but its people are brash, arrogant.

But this will last only so long as it gets its water from Johore. I happen to think Singapore will eventually have to merge with Malaysia, but as an adjunct of Johore.

The history of Singapore's ejection from Malaysia is not as simple as it is made out in Singapore and Kuala Lumpur; as it should be. But we are not interested in the past but the UMNO version of the day. The Malaysian politician who was one at the time of ejection is now in his late seventies or older. But he has not written his memoirs, although he has much to say. Once retired, the politician is forgotten and consigned to the political dustbin. Tun Mahathir does not see it that way. He is active in politics, though he resigned from office two years ago. But he has no plans yet to write his memoirs, which he should. He was elected in 1964, was against Singapore coming into Malaysia, was regarded as an ultra in Singapore, and against Singapore leaving, one of whom Mr Lee called the "ultras".

My view then and today is that the ejection of Singapore was preceded by often vociferous exchange of words and Mr Lee did not want the break. But history in Singapore and Malaysia says otherwise."

cyberprince said...

Saudara Wayne [I hope you are not the coded Wyne that I know!]

Thank you for the backgrounder. It is really enlightening. I also read from one book produced by UMNO in 1966 of PAP's intention to place itself as an alternative to MCA in the now defunct alliance. After its failed to do so, the PAP was said to start agitating the chinese thru alex-josey's idea of Malaysian-Malaysia.

Anyway, who am I to talk about history? But, I may want to agree with u that Singapore may, in many many years to come, become another state in Malaysia once again. Whether it will be as an adjunct of Johore, I am not sure. But it may be in Malaysia.

Thank you.

zam said...

definitely, singapore will merge back with malaysia when sr lee is not around anymore. singaporeans' spirits are still strong now because of sr lee.

we talk about the world is flat, it is bound to happen one day. god willing.