Even Mr J B Jeyaretnam, Singapore`s first post-1965 Opposition parliamentarian, will get the chance to tell his story, as a local think-tank starts the ball rolling to get former Members of Parliament to write autobiographical essays for a new book.
"At the Institute of South-east Asian Studies (Iseas), we are not against anybody," institute head K Kesavapany told a group of former People`s Action Party (PAP) MPs and academics at a seminar on Tuesday.
"We don`t practice censorship at Iseas — and we will publish what opposition MPs have got to say as long as what they say does not contravene the laws of libel and slander. We are open."
The proposed book will incorporate essays from 30 former MPs and will be edited by two from among their ranks — Dr Chiang Hai Ding and Mr Rohan Kamis — and former director of the National Archives Lily Tan.
The 30 MPs had played a role in shaping Singapore`s history, and had "stories worth telling" for the benefit of future generations and foreigners who become citizens here, seminar participants said.
Mr Chai Chong Yii, 79, who was MP for Bukit Batok from 1972 to 1988, recounted his perplexity on visiting China in 1978. The country had seemed so different from the one he had known before he migrated to Singapore as a young man.
"I felt quite lost," he said. "I was quite shocked to discover that I was not Chinese, my thought processes were not Chinese. I had evolved into a Singaporean."
Singaporeans of today, he felt, had two cultures — that of their country of origin and that of the European/American "dare to try" way of life. Eventually, Singaporean culture could evolve into that of a world culture, he said.
Dr Chiang, 69, an MP from 1970 to 1984, recounted how his grandfather, a poorly-paid teacher, had left Hainan Island for Singapore. In his autobiography, the former MP`s grandfather — whose first job here was as a labourer — had expressed how he found contentment in his old age, as he had managed to improve his family`s lot through migration to Singapore.
Another former MP, Mr R Ravindran, told of how many poor people had sought his help — the question was, who really needed it?
He cited the case of a woman who sought his assistance to get a job. Her head was covered — she claimed she was recovering from brain surgery as the result of being fired upon with a laser gun. Later, Mr Ravindran found out she had actually undergone treatment at Woodbridge Hospital (now the Institute of Mental Health).
Seminar participants also said the book of MPs` essays would come in useful for the next generation of leaders, as these "stories of the heart" would help them better understand the human side of things when they seek the populace`s mandate.
Mr Kesavapany said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong was supportive of the idea.
Mr Jeyaretnam could not be reached as of press time.
The book will be launched on Aug 8, 2008, a day before National Day next year, and it could well be the forerunner of a series — there being 200 current and former MPs, 180 of them PAP stalwarts, still around.
Also on the cards for Iseas are books on Singapore`s first Deputy Prime Minister Toh Chin Chye, Mr David Marshall, Singapore`s Chief Minister before independence, and Mr Othman Wok, a member of the first Cabinet. Books on the late S Rajaratnam and Lim Kim San, also key first-generation leaders, are already underway.
Meanwhile, one of the founding members of the PAP, Dr Lim Hock Siew — who was detained without trial from 1963 to 1982 — told malaysiakini during an exclusive interview in Kuala Lumpur that he was planning to publish his memoirs. "I am now conducting research to find newly declassified materials in London to link up more dots," the 76-year old said.
He was detained during Operation Cold Store, which saw more than 130 leaders of Opposition parties, labour and student unions, and left-wing journalists held.
Source: www.channelnewsasia.com (12 Juli 2007)