Wednesday, 25 September 2013

From London to Bangkok: A Comrade Remembers

Seeing Chin Peng's portly self in his later years, few would believe that this was the man who once waged a bloody Communist insurgency in the Malaysian peninsula. For years, he fought with his brothers-in-arms but was finally forced into exile in Thailand. Others who fought alongside him, both physically and ideologically, were similarly forced to flee into exile around the world. In recent years, Chin Peng fought to return to Malaysia and was denied entry every single time. Such is the fate of a man who was at the losing end of history. Maybe it is in his honour that even his ashes wrecked such apprehension in the BN government that they were denied entry for the fear of reopening old wounds.

Now in his death, with his former comrades scattered all over, tributes began to trickle in for a man they once revered and struggled alongside with. From distant London, a flower wreath sent by Tan Wah Piow, rekindled a long forgotten connection. In this dog eat dog capitalistic world that we live in now, such loyalty and sentimentality is a breath of fresh air. Self-exiled in the UK, constantly fighting for his innocence against the Singapore government's charge of being the mastermind behind the Marxist Conspiracy, he once stated vehemently in his book Let the People Judge that he was no communist.

"How could there ever be such a plot to establish a communist state when the so-called "mastermind", that is, my humble self, confessed in no uncertain terms that I oppose the very idea of turning Singapore into a communist state? Why does the Singapore goverment insist on calling me a communist when I am not one?" Tan Wah Piow in his book Let the People Judge

In the same vein, Wah Piow's sentimental self was already evident in 1982, when despite his own trying circumstances, he was instrumental in securing political asylum for another five members of Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) in Europe. Be it Communist or Nationalist or Socialist, the display of camaraderie that neither time nor distance can hope to extinguish is indeed worthy of a mention.  


Rough Translation:

"Former Singapore student movement activist Tan Wah Piow, who went into exile in the United Kingdom in 1976 and had a close relationship with former Communist leader Chin Peng, sent a wreath to the latter's wake today. From self-exile, he instigated a movement to abolish the Internal Security Act (ISA) in Malaysia and Singapore and asked for the release of Communist Party of Malaya (CPM) members.

Tan was a student at the University of Singapore in the 1970s and became the president of the student's union in 1974. In the same year, he was charged by the Singapore Government for organising and taking part in an illegal gathering and sentences to a one year jail term.

Information revealed that Tan was influenced by Marxism when young and therefore became passionate about student movements.

Based on online information, after his release from jail in 1976, Tan flew to UK on a Singapore passport with forged renewal endorsements to seek political asylum and stayed there till today.

In the UK, he continued to lobby for the abolishment of the ISA and release of CPM members.

Although Tan fled Singapore in mid 1970s, the Singapore Government named him as the mastermind of the Marxist Conspiracy in 1987."

Side Note: Ms Teo Soh Lung, one of those arrested during the Marxist Conspiracy, shared her views on Chin Peng's passing.

Ms Teo: "it is not right to say that the MCP wanted to establish a communist Malaya. They were prevented from joining the political process after the war even though its members fought against the Japanese when the British fled".

Perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the MCP did try to participate in the political process but they were repeatedly outwitted by the English-educated neo-colonialists, namely LKY and his comrades. The MCP did participate in the political process, first through Lim Chin Siong when he shared the leadership of PAP with LKY, and later through Barisan Socialis when they participated in the 1963 General Elections; but sadly chose to boycott parliament thereby depriving Singaporeans of an alternative to which we still seek today. Hence, MCP members had two major forays into the political arena and both ended in disappointment.

I shall end this post with a quote by German scholar Martin Luther:

Every man must do two things alone; he must do his own believing and his own dying.

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

Subhas Anandan on Law Society Presidents after Francis Seow

This is part two of prominent lawyer Subhas Anadan writing about his experiences with Law Society's presidents. The first part about self-exiled lawyer and former solicitor general, Francis Seow, can be found here.  


After Francis Seow stepped down, Giam Chin Toon took over. He had lost to Francis Seow the previous year. Giam was a very unassuming person and not very eloquent or demanding. But he had the knack of getting the right people to do the right things and he would get the job done. In that sense, he was an effective leader. Of course, he paled in comparison with Francis Seow, who was flamboyant and outgoing. Giam was the opposite. He was quiet and was not interested in publicity. He just wanted to be left alone to do his work.

I still remember the time when Giam met with an accident during his tenure. He was driving his Porsche when he knocked down a cyclist against the flow of traffic. The cyclist, an old man, was riding up a slope and Giam couldn’t see him in time to avoid him. The cyclist died. Giam was badly shaken up but he still attended the council meeting and was re-elected president of the Law Society for a second year. I recall the man’s family was threatening him. In fact during the coroner’s inquiry, word went around that the family was going to create a scene and possibly harm Giam. I was asked by some council members to show support for him in court and I roped in some lawyers to join me. We hung around there to make sure that nothing happened to Giam. He was a friend and our President. We felt that it was our duty to ensure that nothing happened to him. Finally the matter was settled. Giam was not charged because he was simply not responsible for the accident.

Giam Chin Toon

After his term was over, Chelvarajah, who was his vice-president took over as president of the Law Society. Chelva is remembered for his courage in speaking out over Chief Justice Yong Pung How’s demands to get things done quickly. The Chief Justice wanted backlogs cleared quickly. He did not want justice to be delayed, all the time emphasising that justice delayed is justice denied. He was always rushing everyone. He wanted the law to be swift but in his enthusiasm, he did not take into consideration the practical problems lawyers faced, for instance, when bringing in foreign witnesses in time for trials. No quarters were given. The registrar was given instructions to issue early dates and to clear the cases quickly. If people could not accept the dates given, the registrar was told to strike off the court action. It was getting to be a very serious problem.

At an annual dinner held during his term as president between 1990 and 1992, where the Guest of Honour was then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong, Chelva made his speech. He took a dig at the Chief Justice, who was present at the dinner, when he said: “When we talk about justice delayed being justice denied, we must also remember that justice hurried is justice buried.” There was practically a standing ovation for him because he had put it so aptly at the appropriate time. I think it took a lot of guts for the Law Society president to stand up and say that. Though enthusiastically received, his speech did not have any effect on the judicial administration. Cases were still being rushed but I felt Chelva made his point that evening.


After Chelva, we had Peter Low as president for two years. He was a very insipid president, not noted for anything good or bad. He did not make any changes and there was no effect on the Law Society or on the layers. He just plodded along. How he managed to remain president for two years, no one knows. That’s all I can say about him. After Peter Low, came another friend of mine, Chandra Mohan. He used to clash with Chief Justice Yong on policies, the Legal Profession Act and many other matters. He was quite bold and spoke his mind. The next president was the late R Palakrishnan. During his three-year tenure, there wasn’t much dispute between him and the judiciary. In fact, we called him a ”yes” man because practically everything the Chief Justice wanted, he gave. I suppose that was the best way out. There was no point fighting if you were not going to win anyway. You might as well give in gracefully and reap the ensuing rewards.

Peter Low

The late Pala Krishnan

Arfat Selvam took over from Palakrishnan. She was a disaster. She did not read the minds of the lawyers. There was an attempt to pass a vote of no-confidence against her and her council by the general body of lawyers. I think it’s the first time in the history of the Law Society that such a motion was tabled. After two hours of serious debate, my good friend, Lee Tow Kiat, wisely suggested that the meeting be adjourned. That motion was carried and the meeting was reconvened again. After the incident, I think she decided that she had enough after being president for one year. She stood down. She blamed me amongst others for making her life as president miserable and blamed us for all the problems she had. In some ways what she said was true.

Arfat Selvam

We also had Philip Jeyaretnam, another effective president. During his time, we set up the Association of Criminal Layers of Singapore. He misunderstood the motive behind its formation and clashed with us. We hit back at him. There were some antagonistic exchanges between the both of us. Finally, during his last few months as president, we met for lunch and managed to resolve our differences. We realised that it was all a case of miscommunication. After Jeyaretnam, we had Michael Hwang, who is the current president. To me, he seems to be doing well and making the right moves, but others say “a new broom sweeps clean”. We’ll have to wait and see how his tenure progresses.

I am not in a position to say much about other Law Society presidents. I know Harry Elias very well. He was president before Francis Seow. I worked with Harry in some of his sub-committees. I know T P B Menon who was president for four years. He managed to run the Law Society with a small secretariat. People like him did not have the luxury of the type of secretariat the current president has.