Tuesday 7 February 2012

Remembering Toh Chin Chye: 1921 - 2012

PAP founding chairman Toh Chin Chye dies
Ex-DPM Toh Chin Chye succumbs to failing health at age 90
By Li Xueying, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2012

For much of independent Singapore's history, Dr Toh Chin Chye captured Singaporeans' imagination as a pugnacious fighter - one who struggled for Singapore's independence, manoeuvred against the communists and, later, criticised the People's Action Party (PAP) that he helped found.

On Friday, the old political warrior breathed his last at 9.30am.

The founding chairman of the PAP and former deputy prime minister died at his home in Hillcrest Estate.

He was 90. He is survived by his son-in-law Johnny Ng Kim Kiat, 41, a property developer, and four grandchildren aged four to 15. They live next door to Dr Toh Chin Chye, who lived alone, aided by a maid.

Dr Toh Chin Chye's wife Florence Yeap died in 2004 at the age of 77. Their only child Toh Ai Chu, who was adopted, died three years ago of breast cancer at the age of 41.

It was then that Dr Toh Chin Chye's health started faltering, said those close to him. But he derived comfort from spending time with his grandchildren.

At the wake last night, his eldest grandson Matthew, 15, said that Dr Toh Chin Chye was always concerned about the teenager's studies. 'He would always tell me, 'Stop playing, learn your spelling'.'

Dr Toh Chin Chye's wake is open to the public, who can pay their respects at 23, Greenview Crescent.

In accordance with his wishes, he will have a private funeral. It will be held at Mandai Crematorium next Tuesday. The Government is helping the family with the funeral arrangements.

As a mark of respect to one of Singapore's founding fathers, Dr Toh Chin Chye will be accorded the honour of being borne on the ceremonial gun carriage to the crematorium.

In addition, the state flag on all government buildings will be flown at half-mast on the day of the funeral.

On Friday, Dr Toh Chin Chye's former comrade-in-arms and sometime opponent, Mr Lee Kuan Yew, paid tribute to him - 'a historic figure in our fight for justice and independence'.

In a statement, Singapore's first prime minister wrote: 'I will confine myself to my recollection of him as a man of strong character.

'He was a redoubtable fighter for equality for all peoples, regardless of race, language or religion. He was tenacious in his beliefs. Once his honour is challenged, he was like a bulldog never letting go of the offender.'

Friends and former colleagues turned up in a steady stream at his home on Friday.

Leaders pay tribute to Dr Toh Chin Chye's contributions

There were high-level visitors, including President Tony Tan Keng Yam, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean and former foreign minister George Yeo.

There were also his loyal grassroots leaders from Rochor, where he was MP for 29 years from 1959 to 1988, when he retired from politics.

Born in Taiping, Malaysia, the son of a bicycle shop owner came to Singapore in 1939 after he was awarded a scholarship to Raffles College.

He later studied physiology in London, where he took over the reins of Malayan independence group Malayan Forum from Dr Goh Keng Swee.

On his return, he pushed for the 'basement crowd' - a group of anti-colonials who gathered at Mr Lee's home basement in Oxley Road - to be registered as a political party.

'Why don't we start a political circle? We can call it the Action Party,' he recounted in an interview for the book Leaders Of Singapore.

Thus the PAP was born, and Dr Toh Chin Chye became its founding chairman.

Tough and politically astute, he fought off its enemies, riding roughshod over leftist trade union activists and keeping a tight rein on the party branches.

According to the book Lee's Lieutenants, Dr Toh Chin Chye's name was even floated as an alternative to Mr Lee as prime minister on two occasions. Mr Lee had offered to resign after the PAP lost the 1961 by-election in Anson and in 1964 after the race riots, but this was rejected by the central executive committee.

But as the PAP consolidated its power, and attention turned to Singapore's development, Dr Toh Chin Chye - who served stints as deputy prime minister, health minister and science and technology minister - found himself sidelined in favour of technocrats.

In 1981, he was dropped from the Cabinet, much to his dismay.

As a backbencher, he clashed with his own party on - among other issues - the pace of its leadership renewal, the Medisave scheme and the elected presidency.

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong remembers one of those occasions: The 1985 Budget debate, during which Dr Toh Chin Chye passionately criticised the Central Provident Fund (CPF) contribution - then 50 per cent of wages - as a heavy imposition on employers.

PM Lee said in a condolence letter to Mr Ng: 'I had just entered politics, and as a minister of state in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, I stood up and rebutted him vigorously.

'But as it turned out, Dr Toh was right. The economy soon went into a steep recession, and by the end of the year, the Government had concluded the CPF rates were too high and indeed needed to be cut.'

There were other times when Dr Toh Chin Chye's work was less controversial.

President Tan noted that Dr Toh Chin Chye was assigned to helm a committee to design a new flag for Singapore in 1959.

That year, the red-and-white flag replaced the Union Jack, which had flown over Singapore for 140 years since 1819. On Singapore's independence in 1965, it was adopted as Singapore's national flag.

President Tan said: 'He has left lasting contributions to Singapore, and all of us will miss him and the role that he played in the political development and progress of Singapore, to bring Singapore to what it is today.

'Singapore has lost a great man.'


Final farewell to PAP founding chairman Toh Chin Chye
His death another sign the founding generation is fading away: PM Lee
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 8 Feb 2012

For the fourth time in six years, the flags on government buildings flew at half-mast in mourning on Tuesday.

For the third time in two years, a ceremonial gun carriage made its slow journey to Mandai Crematorium.

The coffin it carried was that of Dr Toh Chin Chye, the founding chairman of the People's Action Party and deputy prime minister in independent Singapore's first Cabinet.

He died last Friday at age 90.

At the sombre private funeral in the morning, he was remembered as a resolute fighter and a meticulous policymaker, who almost devoted his life to God as a Jesuit priest, but gave it to his young country instead.

'Dr Toh's passing is another sign that our founding generation, both leaders and ordinary citizens, are gradually fading away,' Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said in his eulogy.

Since 2006, four founding fathers - Dr Toh, Dr Goh Keng Swee, Mr S. Rajaratnam and Mr Lim Kim San - have died. In 2010, Madam Kwa Geok Choo, wife of former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, died.

With Dr Toh's death, only five members of independent Singapore's first Cabinet are still alive: Mr Lee Kuan Yew, Mr Ong Pang Boon, Mr Jek Yuen Thong, Mr Othman Wok and Mr Yong Nyuk Lin.

Some, such as former education minister Ong and former labour minister Jek, are rarely seen at public events, but on Tuesday, they were at the funeral.

Mrs Jek said, with tears in her eyes: 'It is terrible to lose such a hardworking man.' Dr Toh was part of a monthly lunch group with Mr and Mrs Jek and several other PAP stalwarts.

Mr Lee, who had described Dr Toh as a 'redoubtable fighter for equality for all people', did not attend the funeral.

The present generation, while benefiting from what the founding fathers achieved, does not have the 'personal experience of how we got here', said PM Lee.

'The battles and the blows, the excitements and disappointments, the unforgettable memories and indelible lessons that those critical years in our history impressed on the people fortunate enough to live through them.'

It was Dr Toh who pushed the group of young men who met in Mr Lee's basement in the 1950s to form a political party and enter the fray, PM Lee recalled.

But as Dr Toh fought for independence from the British, and later battled the leftists for political power, his family back in Taiping, in the Malaysian state of Perak, was kept in the dark of the risks he was taking, younger brother Toh Chin Kooi, 69, said in his eulogy.

Every month, recalled the younger Dr Toh, a money order for 400 Malayan dollars would arrive - to the immense relief of their parents. It was their only sign that Dr Toh was safe and well across the Causeway.

Dr Toh's pugnacious public persona - first as the fearsome political negotiator, then as the 'Iron Chancellor' of the University of Singapore - hid a devout and devoted family man.

Former PAP MP Loh Meng See, who took over the Rochor area from Dr Toh in 1988, recalled receiving a cassette tape from Dr Toh of his favourite hymns.

'His top favourite was One Day At A Time,' said Mr Loh. 'As it turned out, his one day at a time topped 90 years.'

While Dr Toh may have expressed his convictions strongly, his views stemmed only from a selfless vision for Singapore, he added.

Final resting place next to wife and daughter

After five eulogies were delivered, eight pall-bearers lifted the Singapore flag off Dr Toh's coffin, folded it and placed it in the arms of his son-in-law Johnny Ng.

It was a flag Dr Toh had brought into being. Having helped earn the fledgling nation's independence, he was tasked with helming the committee to design its flag.

'This was not merely an issue of aesthetics,' said PM Lee. 'Our flag had to embody the values, aspirations, spirit and pride of our nascent nation, and over time, win the affection and loyalty of the citizens.'

The red-and-white flag which finally emerged had a crescent and five stars representing democracy, justice, peace, progress and equality - 'values Dr Toh himself embraced and fought for all his life', said Mr Lee.

As the funeral came to a close, Dr Toh's family placed white roses in his casket.

His ashes will be kept in Mandai Columbarium, next to those of his late wife and daughter. Over the last eight years, their deaths had dealt him heavy blows.

In a brave and composed eulogy, 15-year-old Matthew, the eldest of his four grandchildren, said that 'Kong Kong has gone to join Ah Ma and my mother'. Over the last week since his grandfather died, he has learnt something of what Dr Toh had accomplished before he was born, Matthew added.

'I knew my grandfather made many contributions to Singapore. However, I did not realise how many lives he touched until this week.'

Recalling the fateful decision Dr Toh made as a boy to take up a scholarship to further his studies instead of becoming a Jesuit priest, Mr Loh said that Dr Toh had the 'brilliant mind and unworldly heart' to be a good man of the cloth.

'But he is no less beloved for choosing to serve his country.'

'I first knew Dr Toh as a young boy. Dr Toh would visit Oxley Road, and my parents would also bring me and my siblings along when they visited Dr Toh where he lived. His home was a flat at the university quarters at Nassim Road. It is gone now. He was not yet married, and had no children of his own, but was always generous and kind to us.

Later, as a young officer in the Singapore Armed Forces, I had an opportunity to work with Dr Toh. My formation, the Artillery, was organising a decentralised National Day Parade in Jalan Besar Stadium, where Dr Toh would be the reviewing officer. I accompanied the Chief of Artillery to brief Dr Toh on the plan several times, at his office which was then at King Edward Road. He was meticulous and insistent on doing things the way he wanted, down to the last detail. Fortunately, the parade went off smoothly, and Dr Toh was satisfied.

After his retirement from politics in 1988, I would meet Dr Toh from time to time, often at gatherings of retired MPs. He was the same old Dr Toh, but the years gradually took their toll on him. Dr Toh's passing is another sign that our founding generation, both leaders and ordinary citizens, are gradually fading away. Singapore is well into a post-independence phase.

The present generation has benefited tremendously from what the founding generation did, but without the personal experience of how we got here - the battles and blows, the excitements and disappointments, the unforgettable memories and indelible lessons that those critical years in our history impressed on those who lived through them. Dr Toh's passing reminds us of how we got here, how much we owe to him and his generation, and how heavy a responsibility we have to carry their vision forward and to take Singapore higher and further into a brighter future.'

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong on his memories of Dr Toh Chin Chye

PM Lee remembers 'generous and kind' Dr Toh in eulogy
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 7 Feb 2012

The passing of Dr Toh Chin Chye 'reminds us of how we got here, how much we owe to him and his generation, and how heavy a responsibility we have to carry their vision forward,' said Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his eulogy for the founding chairman of the PAP on Tuesday morning.

Singapore is now well into its post-independence phase, said Mr Lee, as another of the Old Guard who lived through the critical years of Singapore's fight for independence has now faded away. He recalled being taken along as a young boy whenever his father, former PM Lee Kuan Yew, visited Dr Toh in his Nassim Road flat. 

Dr Toh was not yet married with children of his own then, but was always 'generous and kind.'

Former PAP MP Loh Meng See, who succeeded Dr Toh as MP in the Rochor area after 1988, said in his eulogy that Dr Toh would have become a Jesuit priest had he not won a scholarship to pursue his studies.

Recalling him as a man of devout faith with a 'brilliant mind and an unworldly heart,' Mr Loh said that Dr Toh always felt the need to treat the less privileged and the disadvantaged with respect and dignity.

Three of Dr Toh's family members also spoke at the funeral at Mandai crematorium. His siblings, Dr Toh Chin Kooi and Dr Toh Chooi Gait, recalled him shouldering the burden of supporting the family of 8 as the eldest child, and how he took meticulous care of his late wife when she suffered a stroke.

15-year-old Matthew, Dr Toh's eldest grandson, said that his grandfather always told him and his siblings to live life in a sincere and upright manner. 'I knew he was a founding father of Singapore, but I didn't know how many lives he had touched until this week,' he said, referring to the outpouring of tribute after Dr Toh's death on Friday, at the age of 90.

Dr Toh's coffin, draped with the Singapore flag, was borne to Mandai crematorium on a ceremonial gun carriage, as a mark of respect for him as a founding father of Singapore. In the audience at the solemn ceremony were President and Mrs Tony Tan Keng Yam, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, fellow members of Singapore's first Cabinet Ong Pang Boon and Jek Yeun Thong, and several ministers and MPs.

Dr Toh 'of a generation of warriors and builders'
PAP founding chairman remembered as one who 'dared challenge the PM'
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2012

Dr Toh Chin Chye was of a generation of leaders who were both 'warriors and builders', said Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Sunday.

Not only did they fight for and achieve independence for Singapore, but they also then governed and developed the country - a successful transition that few other independence heroes from that era achieved.

'It is important for us to reflect on the values and contributions of that generation of leaders,' noted Mr Goh. 'We can use these sad moments to reflect on our own future.'

While current challenges - an aging population, higher housing prices and transportation woes - may not be as 'compelling' as the existential battles the Old Guard fought, they are key to Singapore's survival and prosperity, he added.

Mr Goh turned up at Greenview Crescent on Sunday afternoon to pay his final respects to the founding chairman of the People's Action Party (PAP), who died on Friday at the age of 90.

Speaking to reporters, he remembered Dr Toh as 'one of the ministers who would dare challenge (then) Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew whenever they disagreed'.

But their many differences did not cause Dr Toh to 'campaign publicly against the party', said Mr Goh. 'Although his comments were critical, they were, from his point of view, for the good of the party and the country.'

That Dr Toh was not one to shy from a battle - whether against the prime minister in Cabinet or student activists when he was vice-chancellor of the University of Singapore from 1968 to 1975 - was recalled with admiration by many others at the wake on Sunday.

'He was courageous enough to have different views at the top (of government),' said founding Nanyang Technological University president Cham Tao Soon. 'There were many things that he and Lee Kuan Yew didn't see eye-to-eye on. But you have somebody who's able to offer alternatives. That is something that Singapore will miss - somebody who can challenge the PM at that level.'

After Dr Toh left the Cabinet and became a backbench MP in 1981, he was a harsh critic of several government policies, including Medisave, a policy introduced by Mr Goh, who had taken over the health portfolio from Dr Toh.

Recalling those years, Mr Goh said Dr Toh was a 'socialist till his dying day', who believed that the Health Ministry should bear the cost of treating all Singaporeans.

Mr Goh's approach, and the philosophy which underlined Medisave, was that the individual should bear some of the cost as the Government had budget limitations.

Despite such clashes, Mr Goh emphasised that Dr Toh's boldness in stating an opposing view is a 'very important quality'.

'It's not the PM's show. Ministers must be prepared to debate,' he said. 'If not, the Cabinet system would not work. It would become a presidential system. One man says something, the rest follow. That's not healthy.'

Dr Toh's warrior instincts were at hand in his confrontations with student activists in the 1970s, when he was known as the 'Iron Chancellor'.

Against staunch opposition from some students and lecturers in a politically-charged university atmosphere, he pushed through changes he believed in, including university fee hikes and the merging of the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Social Sciences.

Former deputy prime minister Wong Kan Seng, a university student at the time, said on Sunday that Dr Toh 'knew in those days that student activism was a problem on campus and he was able to manage that'.

'In the old days, they were seen as tough, but sometimes you need to make tough decisions and stand by them,' said Speaker of Parliament Michael Palmer, who attended the wake with a few grassroots leaders from his Punggol East ward. 'Their decisions were for Singapore, and that decisiveness and drive is not to be forgotten.'

Dr Toh the warrior was not above offering an olive branch when the occasion called for building, not fighting.

Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob was also a student when he was vice-chancellor.

At a welcome ceremony for first-year students, she watched then student union president Tan Wah Piow tell the university administration that the difference between them was that he was not wearing a jacket - implying that the administrators were in a lofty and elite world of their own.

'So when Dr Toh made a speech later, he said, 'If that's the only thing that stands between my knowing you better and you feeling that we understand your concerns, then I will take off my jacket,' she recalled on Sunday at the wake. 'And he actually did.'

Call to make young Singaporeans more aware of nation's pioneers
By Rachel Chang, The Straits Times, 6 Feb 2012

Of the stream of visitors arriving at 23, Greenview Crescent over the last two days to pay their final respects to Dr Toh Chin Chye, few had unwrinkled faces or black hair.

While the founding People's Action Party chairman's four grandchildren were a constant youthful presence at the wake, the bulk of visitors were people in the latter half of their lives.

The seeming lack of interest on the part of younger Singaporeans in the founding generation of political leaders was something that 34-year-old Tan Kong Soon, president of the Think Centre political activist group, found dispiriting.

'Young people seem not to know the extent of Dr Toh's contributions, some of which are monumental,' he said.

He believes that history books in schools should have more on 'Lee's Lieutenants' like Dr Toh, Dr Goh Keng Swee and Mr S. Rajaratnam, instead of focusing too much on former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew alone.

Minister of State for Community Development, Youth and Sports Halimah Yacob said that she was saddened that many of the young people she had spoken to did not know much about Dr Toh.

'These are giants of our history and if we don't even remember the giants in our history, how can we talk about our future?' she said.

More should be done so that young people can understand the 'battles of the past'; this will help transmit core political values to the next generation of Singaporeans, she added.

Minister of State for Education and Defence Lawrence Wong said that this was not a new problem, and went beyond Dr Toh.

In the late 1960s, Dr Goh Keng Swee had commented that lack of interest in their own history was a common characteristic among Singaporeans, he said.

While the situation has improved in his opinion, more can be done, he added.

'We are still a young country. As we see the passing of the founding generation, hopefully we can do more, through schools and various programmes, to inform our young children about how we came about.

'That's important because you need a sense of who you are before you can move forward into the future.'

Passing of a generation, says Prime Minister Lee
Dr Toh's death a reminder of how much Singaporeans owe to the nation's pioneers
By Janice Heng, The Straits Times, 5 Feb 2012

As children, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and his siblings would visit Dr Toh Chin Chye's house with their father, Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

Dr Toh, too, would drop by their place in Oxley Road.

At those meetings of great historical weight - held to form the People's Action Party - PM Lee remembers Dr Toh as a man who was always 'very kind to us little kids'.

Visiting Dr Toh's Greenview Crescent home again yesterday, to pay his respects at Dr Toh's wake, PM Lee said, 'It is the passing of a generation.'

The former deputy prime minister died on Friday morning, the fourth founding father to do so since 2006. The others were Mr S.Rajaratnam, Mr Lim Kim San and Dr Goh Keng Swee. Of the 10 Old Guard ministers who formed Singapore's first Cabinet after independence in 1965, just five - Mr Lee, Mr Ong Pang Boon, Mr Othman Wok, Mr Yong Nyuk Lin and Mr Jek Yeun Thong - are still alive. Mr E.W. Barker died in 2001.

Singapore is very much into 'a post-independence phase now', said PM Lee, with a post-1965 generation benefiting from what the founders did. But they do not have 'personal knowledge of what happened: the blows, the battles, the excitements, the disappointments, all the unforgettable memories for those who lived through them'.

'When a person like Dr Toh passes, it reminds you of how we got here, how much we owe to that generation, and how much is our responsibility to carry it forward and to take Singapore higher and better into the next step,' said PM Lee.

Dr Toh's legacy was the national flag he helped design, and the university he helped unite, said PM Lee. But it was also his political contributions: 'To be part of the battle at a very critical time when it could have gone either way.'

Without 'stout-hearted, resolute, very determined fighters' such as Dr Toh, the PAP might not have survived.

PM Lee was at the wake for almost 30 minutes, speaking with Dr Toh's friends and relatives.

The changing times were also noted by former PAP chairman Lim Boon Heng, who was asked what he had learnt from Dr Toh, the party chairman from 1954 to 1981.

Mr Lim said they had chaired the party in different eras: Dr Toh in the early 'tumultuous' years, and Mr Lim in a more peaceful time, from 2004 to last year. In between, Mr Ong Teng Cheong and Dr Tony Tan took the helm.

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam said that 'Singapore is better off for the fact that Lee Kuan Yew had with him a group of people who had convictions, beliefs that they fought for, determination to make what they believed in come true, and with minds of their own' - like Dr Toh.

Remembering Toh Chin Chye: 'He worked for Singapore all his life'
By Cai Haoxiang, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2012

Modern Singapore is very different from its turbulent early days, and younger Singaporeans may not know who Dr Toh Chin Chye was.

But what they can learn from his life is 'to have a cause, to fight for what you believe in', said President Tony Tan Keng Yam when he visited the wake for the founding chairman of the People's Action Party (PAP) on Friday.

'Dr Toh always worked fiercely for what he believed in... he believed in Singapore, he worked for it all his life, always contributing, always trying to do his best for the country,' said Dr Tan.

Dr Tan was among Singapore leaders past and present, including Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean, Emeritus Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong and former foreign minister George Yeo who paid tribute to Dr Toh Chin Chye at his Hillcrest Estate home on Friday.

They highlighted his contributions as one of Singapore's founding fathers, remarked on his wealth of knowledge, especially on Singapore's early days, and described his imprint on them as a man of conviction and commitment.

Dr Tan said Dr Toh Chin Chye played a pivotal role in the tumultuous early days of the PAP, when a faction split to become the Barisan Sosialis and challenged the party for political power.

'When the existence of the party itself was at stake, he steered the PAP safely through very treacherous waters,' Dr Tan said.

Mr Goh remembered Dr Toh Chin Chye's 89-vote victory against Barisan chairman Lee Siew Choh in the 1963 General Election in Rochor.

He was an undergraduate and he had just voted for the first time in his Pasir Panjang constituency, he said in a condolence letter.

That election marked a 'critical turning point' for the PAP and Singapore, Mr Goh said.

'Without the solid foundation that Dr Toh helped to build, the PAP would not have grown in strength and be the party of choice for the majority of Singaporeans in subsequent elections,' he said.

Mr Goh and Dr Tan both related another aspect of Dr Toh Chin Chye's character - where the strength of his convictions caused him not to hesitate in making candid, forthright criticisms of the PAP and the Government.

Mr Goh recalled meeting Dr Toh Chin Chye in 1976 when the latter chaired a PAP committee that interviewed and shortlisted candidates for election.

At that time, Dr Toh Chin Chye had some reservations about the PAP 'parachuting technocrats into government positions' instead of recruiting from its branches, Mr Goh said.

But he believed that Dr Toh Chin Chye was 'more against the pace of appointing newly elected technocrats without political experience into ministerial positions than the principle of self-renewal itself'.

'Today, besides identifying candidates from the public and private sectors, the PAP makes it a point to actively recruit candidates from its branches,' Mr Goh said.

Dr Tan, who entered politics in 1979, recalled that after Dr Toh Chin Chye stepped down as a minister in 1981, he remained a very outspoken backbencher.

'He made his views clear, and when he felt it was necessary, expressed views very passionately and cogently, even if these were different from what the Government advocated. And quite often his views were very sound,' Dr Tan said.

Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Teo Chee Hean said that he had been struck by Dr Toh Chin Chye's fiery speeches even when he was a young man, before he entered politics in 1992.

And former foreign minister George Yeo remembered Dr Toh Chin Chye as a 'kindly gentleman' in his first one-to-one meeting with him in the early 1990s.

'I was very respectful, but he didn't pull rank, he treated me as if I was a peer, which on thinking back would have been very strange because I was still in my late 30s,' Mr Yeo said.


Grassroots leaders recall Toh Chin Chye's heart for the poor
By Toh Yong Chuan, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2012

As early as 1977, Dr Toh Chin Chye came up with the idea of using the void deck of high-rise HDB flats to build an old folk's home.

The Rochore Kongsi Home for the Aged was set up at Rochore Centre, a cluster of HDB homes.

His grassroots leaders said on Friday that he wanted to provide a roof for the destitutes in his Rochor constituency.

Dr Toh Chin Chye, who was then Health Minister, said as much at its opening in July 1977: 'The aged no longer need to feel that just because they are in the autumn of their lives, they will be put away in an institution alienated from and forgotten by the rest of the world.'

Retired accountant Philip Liew, 71, a long-time grassroots leader in Rochor where Dr Toh Chin Chye was MP until 1988, recalled how he rallied his constituents, grassroots organisations and the community centre to raise the money for the home, which has space for 24 residents.

'Everyone chipped in,' he said.

Another long-time grassroots leader George Khoo, 84, recounts how he would send poor residents to him for medical treatment.

'I would treat them for free, no need to ask, because Dr Toh sent them,' said the spritely doctor, who still runs the clinic he set up in Rochore Centre in 1976.

Another group that Dr Toh Chin Chye went out of his way to help were those made homeless by the fires in Rochor, which was dotted with wooden shophouses well into the 1970s and and 1980s.

Businessman Ronald Ho, 59, who was a grassroots leader in Rochor for about 20 years until 1988 and continued to help him manage his personal affairs long after that, recounted how Dr Toh Chin Chye would, with his grassroots leaders, be among the first at the scene to provide help.

In a December 1974 fire, about 70 people lost their homes in a two-hour blaze that destroyed six shophouses and a three-storey building in Albert Street.

Dr Toh Chin Chye found homes for his residents on the same day.

In January 1980, a two-hour inferno off Jalan Besar razed property worth $3 million through the night and made 300 people homeless.

He again got them homes swiftly while chiding owners of the shophouses for blatantly flouting fire safety laws.

Just as well-remembered was Dr Toh Chin Chye's ability to keep the peace in his divided constituency.

Dr Khoo recalled a Rochor constituency separated into enclaves of Henghwa, Hockchia and Hainanese people, each with their own community leaders who were protective of their turf.

Triads, pickpockets and petty criminals were not uncommon.

But Dr Toh Chin Chye, despite being conversant only in Hokkien and some Mandarin, was able to convince them to live in peace.

'He was a brave man,' Dr Khoo said.

Remembering Toh Chin Chye: PAP pioneers remember a fighter
They describe Dr Toh as strict but fair and compassionate
By Leong Weng Kam, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2012

They had stood shoulder to shoulder with Dr Toh Chin Chye in helping to found the People's Action Party (PAP) in 1954.

On Friday, five of these PAP pioneers stood as one in describing the party's founding chairman as 'a fighter', a decisive leader and a very serious man.

All octogenarians, they also held him up as a man with a deep compassion for the poor, who was fair and honest.

Former old guard minister Ong Pang Boon, 82, recalled especially an acrimonious meeting Dr Toh Chin Chye had with a group of leftist trade union leaders in 1957.

They had made demands and allegations against the PAP while Mr Lee Kuan Yew, the party's then secretary-general, was in London for the Merdeka Talk to gain self-government for Singapore.

'But Dr Toh held the fort and was a real fighter as he held his ground against their opposition to the Internal Security Council,' Mr Ong, who was then the PAP organising secretary, told The Straits Times on Friday.

The leftist unions, totalling about 20, were against the formation of the council, which was to decide on Singapore's internal security when it obtained self-government.

It was to comprise a representative each from Singapore, the British colonial government and the then Federation of Malaya.

Recalled Mr Ong: 'The marathon meeting lasted seven hours, from 8pm to three the next morning, and Dr Toh was tireless in arguing against them.'

He said Dr Toh Chin Chye, who died on Friday at age 90, had been in poor health for many years.

They met regularly and he last saw Dr Toh Chin Chye on Tuesday when he visited his Greenview Crescent home to exchange Chinese New Year greetings.

Dr Toh Chin Chye looked frail in a wheelchair and was unable to speak because of phlegm in his throat, said Mr Ong.

Recalling their shared past, he added: 'I will always remember Dr Toh for his commitment to the party through its most difficult years.'

These included events such as the split with the leftists in the early 1960s and Singapore's merger and later separation from Malaysia between 1963 and 1965, said Mr Ong.

Former senior parliamentary secretary Chan Chee Seng, also a PAP founding member and party stalwart, said Dr Toh Chin Chye was generous in sharing his knowledge with newcomers to the party.

'He was very knowledgeable about politics, and I learnt a lot from him, especially in the early days when I was new.'

Added the 81-year-old: 'He was always very serious, straightforward and honest.'

Agreeing, Mr Chor Yeok Eng, 81, and a former senior parliamentary secretary said: 'He was a man of few words but a decisive leader when dealing with disputes and differences in the party.'

He was strict but fair, added Mr Chor.

Former leftist and PAP legislative assemblywoman Ho Puay Choo, 82, who left the party in 1961 over differences on the terms of Singapore's merger with the Federation of Malaya, said Dr Toh Chin Chye was very helpful and approachable although he was the party chairman.

'He was always willing to fetch me to attend party functions in his small 600cc car,' she added.

She also lauded his compassion for the poor which she attributed to his strong socialist leanings.

Former leftist trade unionist and fellow PAP founding member Fong Swee Suan, 80, who left the party to form Barisan Sosialis in 1961, said that despite their differences in political ideology, he respected Dr Toh Chin Chye as a party leader.

'Like I said in my 2007 memoirs, I found him to be honest, fair, trustworthy and a man committed to his political beliefs to the end,' said Mr Fong, a former political secretary in the PAP government.

Dr Toh Chin Chye's passing a deep loss for Singaporeans: PM Lee
This is the text of Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong's letter of condolence to Dr Toh Chin Chye's son-in-law, Mr Johnny Ng:

My cabinet colleagues and I are deeply saddened to learn of the passing of Dr Toh Chin Chye. Please accept our deepest condolences and sympathies.

Dr Toh was born in Taiping, Perak. He was a brilliant student, and won a scholarship to study in Singapore and, later, the University of London for his PhD. While in London, Dr Toh chaired the Malayan Forum, a group that brought together students who were concerned about the future of Malaya and Singapore. It was also in London that he met some of his future comrades in politics, including Mr Lee Kuan Yew and the late Dr Goh Keng Swee. He returned to become a lecturer in physiology in the University of Singapore.

Dr Toh belonged to the core group of founding fathers who created today's Singapore. He was the founding chairman of the People's Action Party (PAP), and served as chairman for 27 years. When the PAP was elected to form the government in 1959, Dr Toh was appointed Deputy Prime Minister.

As Deputy Prime Minister, Dr Toh chaired the committee to design a new flag for Singapore. He conceived a design with a crescent moon to represent a newly independent country, and five stars to represent the ideals of democracy, justice, peace, progress and equality. He also chose the colours red (to symbolise universal brotherhood and equality of man) and white (to signify purity and virtue) to represent what Singapore stood for. This flag has become an enduring symbol of the spirit and unity of all Singaporeans.

Dr Toh was a tenacious fighter and a man of principle. His comrade-in-arms, the late Mr S. Rajaratnam, described him as a 'man who does not look for a fight, but once in a fight, where honour is at stake, he fights unto death'.

In the battle against the communists, Dr Toh was a stout-hearted warrior and yet, at the same time, a voice of reason. Dr Toh himself was thrust into the centre of the political battle in the 1963 General Election, when Dr Lee Siew Choh, the leader of the left-wing Barisan Sosialis party, stood against him in Rochor. After a fierce campaign, Dr Toh won by a slim margin of 89 votes. This narrow victory made all the difference: It marked a turning point in the struggle between the non-communist PAP and the pro-communist Barisan Sosialis.

After Singapore joined Malaysia, Dr Toh felt passionately about equal rights for all races in Malaysia. He decided that the PAP should fight the 1964 Federal Elections in the peninsula and started the Malaysian Solidarity Convention to campaign for a Malaysian Malaysia. He organised the first Convention rally in June 1965 in Singapore, and launched a series of Solidarity rallies throughout Malaysia. This led to many consequences, culminating in Singapore's expulsion from Malaysia. But when the moment came to split, Dr Toh found it emotionally a very difficult decision, especially as he still had family in Taiping. Dr Toh was one of the last ministers to sign the Separation Agreement.

Three years after Singapore's independence, Dr Toh returned to the University of Singapore, this time as the vice-chancellor. His purpose was not academic studies, but nation-building. He re-oriented the university's mindset towards national goals. He established new faculties, and emphasised professional degrees relevant to Singapore's economic development. He built a new university campus at Kent Ridge, and gathered in one modern campus all the departments previously scattered in four different locations.

Dr Toh also served as the Science and Technology Minister and, later, Health Minister before retiring from the Cabinet in 1981. He continued for two more terms as a Member of Parliament until 1988. As a backbencher, Dr Toh served with commitment, dedication and integrity. He reflected the concerns of his Rochor constituents and also spoke up on national issues he felt strongly about. During the Budget debate in 1985, Dr Toh made a passionate speech criticising the Central Provident Fund contribution, then 50 per cent of wages, as a heavy imposition on employers. I had just entered politics, and as a minister of state in the Ministry of Trade and Industry, I stood up and rebutted him vigorously. But as it turned out, Dr Toh was right. The economy soon went into a steep recession, and by the end of the year, the Government had concluded the CPF rates were too high and indeed needed to be cut.

Throughout his career, Dr Toh dedicated himself to the task of nation-building, so that as he said 'every race, every community has a share in the prosperity of Singapore'. He recognised this as the foundation of a united and cohesive nation, and commented in retirement that his greatest pleasure was that there were no more race riots.

Singaporeans will long remember and honour Dr Toh for his many contributions to our nation. He helped to shape the course of our nation's history at a critical time, and to lay the foundations for Singapore's success. His passing is a deep loss to all of us.

NUS, national flag Dr Toh Chin Chye's most notable legacies
His fighting spirit and straight talk won him admirers and critics
By Elgin Toh, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2012

Having muscled his way - and his party's - to famous victories at the polls, Dr Toh Chin Chye would take every ounce of the relentless fighter in him into his government roles.

His career as a Cabinet minister spanned more than two decades - including nine years as Deputy Prime Minister - with many lasting legacies, the most notable of which are the National University of Singapore's (NUS) Kent Ridge campus and the Singapore flag.

He is remembered as a minister who preferred to call a spade a spade than to repeat crowd-pleasing platitudes - a quality that would attract as many admirers as critics. But he never allowed the naysayers to distract him from the task at hand, and would face them down if he had to.

The 'Iron Chancellor', as he was known during his time overseeing the University of Singapore, once told students who disagreed with him that one who was given power had to 'have the will to to assume the responsibilities which go with power' - a personal motto that seems to have characterised his tenure in all the positions he held.

From 1959 to 1968, he was Deputy Prime Minister, performing the role of Acting Prime Minister when Mr Lee Kuan Yew was overseas.

He was also asked to head efforts to design a new flag for the fledgling nation. He studied closely the flags of other states before opting for something distinctive. 'I didn't want any conflict, I wanted a clear-cut Singapore flag, unique to us only,' he later explained.

Within two months, he settled on five stars, which stood for democracy, peace, progress, equality and justice, and a crescent, which symbolised the emergence of a new nation.

'This flag has become an enduring symbol of the spirit and unity of all Singaporeans,' noted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his condolence letter on Friday.

In the three years after separation with Malaysia in 1965, Dr Toh Chin Chye focused his energies on diplomacy, as the new Republic needed to win recognition and support from other states.

He led the Singapore delegation to New York in September 1965 to apply for entry to the United Nations, winning unanimous approval from the UN General Assembly. This would be the first of many overseas trips to Europe, Asia and the Middle East, where he strove to win friends for the country.

In 1968, he relinquished the post of Deputy Prime Minister. Mr Lee Kuan Yew later recalled in the book Hard Truths To Keep Singapore Going that he made the change because of Dr Toh Chin Chye's nervous handling of a racial riot in 1964 as Acting Prime Minister.

He was appointed Minister for Science and Technology and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Singapore.

But for the doctorate holder who originally intended to enter academia, not politics, it was far from a return to the peace and quiet of campus life.

Instead, he fought some of the hardest battles in his government career over the next seven years.

Against staunch opposition from some activist students and lecturers in a politically charged university atmosphere, he pushed through changes he believed in, including university fee hikes and the merging of the Faculty of Arts and the Faculty of Social Sciences.

He also came under fire for his emphasis on a university geared towards nation-building and one that therefore produced degrees and research relevant to economic development.

He is best remembered for gathering the university - previously scattered in four locations - into one campus at Kent Ridge and establishing the faculties of engineering and architecture and the National University Hospital.

In its tribute to him on Friday, NUS, which succeeded the University of Singapore, said he laid a 'strong foundation' for the university and contributed to the transformation of higher education in Singapore.

For two weeks in 1975, Dr Toh Chin Chye was appointed Education and Health Minister, but he later asked to relinquish the Education portfolio when Mr Lee wanted to appoint a Senior Minister of State to assist him. 'Either I am in charge or I am not,' he reportedly told Mr Lee.

It was one of a number of disagreements between the two that would eventually culminate in his retirement from the Cabinet after he disagreed with the pace of Cabinet self-renewal.

As Health Minister, he oversaw the strengthening of specialist care in government hospitals and often showed special concern for the elderly and the poor in coping with medical bills.

'He was always thinking of the welfare of the down and out. If there was a limitation in terms of provision, his tendency was to share more with those who were poor,' said Dr Andrew Chew, who served as Dr Toh Chin Chye's permanent secretary.

But he also drew flak from some quarters for defending the policy of limiting female medical students at NUS and for advocating that the mentally ill should not have children.

In Hard Truths, Mr Lee singled him out as the Cabinet minister who 'challenged me ideologically'.

Said former PAP MP Chin Harn Tong: 'Dr Toh spoke up because he was a man of conviction, but also because he was not beholden to anybody. He was in the party from the start, with everyone else.'

Statement from Mr Lee Kuan Yew
This is the text of the statement issued by former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, which was titled, 'The passing of an old guard':

Dr Toh Chin Chye had made great contributions to Singapore. Details of his long and illustrious career have been covered in letters by the Prime Minister and the President.

We were comrades for many years from our student days at the Malayan Forum in London from 1950 until his retirement in 1981. I will confine myself to my recollection of him as a man of strong character. He was a redoubtable fighter for equality for all peoples, regardless of race, language or religion. Brought up in Taiping, Malaysia, he was determined that there should be no discrimination against anyone because of his race. He was tenacious in his beliefs. Once his honour is challenged he was like a bulldog never letting go of the offender.

With his passing, Singapore has lost an historic figure in our fight for justice and independence.

I send my condolences to his son-in-law, Johnny Ng.

Dr Toh Chin Chye: No 'dumb cow' but a vocal critic in the House
As a backbencher in Parliament, he spoke up fiercely for equality
By Chua Mui Hoong, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2012

An outspoken man who promised he would not be a 'dumb cow' when he left Cabinet, Dr Toh Chin Chye more than kept his word.

When he left the front bench and became plain MP for Rochor in 1981, he said in an interview: 'In this last term, I hope I will be of public service and not be a wallflower in the chamber of Parliament or a dumb cow.'

The former deputy prime minister, health minister, minister for science and technology and once university vice-chancellor brought the same probing mind and plain speaking to bear on government Bills and policies as he had on all his past portfolios.

He also brought the same tenacity of mind and refusal to budge from principled positions that had stood the People's Action Party (PAP) in such good stead in the early years.

The only difference was this time, he had the PAP trained in his sights.

He pressed for political liberalisation, in speeches in 1983 and 1984. He thought Singapore's political environment discouraged thinking and dissent. The PAP should allow 'different views' since it was the dominant party in a society with 'no internal threat'. Those in authority should open up to become 'more tolerant'. There 'was less press freedom today than in the early 1950s', he claimed in July 1984. A month later, he urged that 'we must politicise the younger generation' as voters were 'illiterate about politics' and how government worked.

These views still resonate with many Singaporeans in 2012. But was there hypocrisy in a man who had inspired fear and awe among academics when he was vice-chancellor of the university now preaching tolerance?

When reporters asked him why he encouraged openness now when he was viewed as being a repressive vice-chancellor, Dr Toh Chin Chye pointed to the robust criticism of his university administration in the newspapers back then, saying he had discouraged such debate. 'Compare that situation with today - thundering silence.'

The irony is that Dr Toh Chin Chye had once been an integral part of the PAP machinery he later came to criticise. Either he saw no need for more openness when he was an Establishment figure, or his position in the backbench sensitised him to the plight of the powerless.

But he was no mere ideologue. As other early PAP leaders noted, he was one of those with ideas, who also worked to put them into action. As MP, he criticised - and when it mattered, he went against the party Whip.

He was a fierce critic of the 'killer litter' law in 1986 that would have allowed the Housing Board to repossess the flats of tenants who threw litter out their high-rise windows. He condemned the broad reach of a law that punished not only the litter-thrower, but also the entire family by rendering them homeless. He called it an inequitable, ludicrous and obnoxious law, and warned of 'opening floodgates for future abuse'. He abstained from voting for it, going against the party Whip.

He angrily denounced a scheme to give priority for school admission to children of graduate mothers, calling it unconstitutional and discriminatory. As it turned out, Dr Toh Chin Chye's instincts matched those of the electorate. The Government rammed through the policy, but scrapped it when it proved too unpopular at the ballot box.

He launched a spirited attack in 1983 on the Medisave proposal to have workers save part of their wages in individual Central Provident Fund accounts to pay for hospitalisation bills. 'The provision of health-care facilities must be accepted as a social responsibility,' he argued, describing this as 'a measure of the degree of civilisation' of a society.

He felt so strongly on this issue, he declared he would abstain from voting along party lines. But when the vote was called, he was conveniently absent from the House.

One view of Dr Toh Chin Chye's years as a backbencher critic is that he was unhappy to have been asked to leave Cabinet in 1981 when he was just 59. Dr Toh Chin Chye did indeed oppose the pace of renewal in the PAP ranks, thinking it too fast, too soon. He thought party stalwarts who had made politics their life work should not be cast aside to make way for technocrats who had been parachuted in. He said in a 2002 interview: 'You don't repay their loyalty by throwing them out suddenly. They have no jobs to go to... We have the responsibility to help them find another job.'

But it is caricature to say personal bitterness drove him into embarking on a late career as a vocal critic from within the PAP's own ranks. He had been offered a diplomatic post as well as other posts on retiring from Cabinet, but refused them all. He retired from politics altogether in 1988 and enjoyed his beloved orchid garden into his 80s.

In their condolence letters to Dr Toh Chin Chye's son-in-law, both Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew described Dr Toh Chin Chye as a man of honour and principle and a tenacious fighter.

These are not words to describe a bitter old man jousting with shadows in his latter years. It would be more accurate to view Dr Toh Chin Chye's parliamentary skirmishes in the 1980s as being motivated by his convictions, not his ego.

In fact, a common thread can be discerned in all the parliamentary battles that Dr Toh Chin Chye picked. Simply put, he spoke up for equality: All children are entitled to the same chance of going to school regardless of their mothers' education; all citizens have the right to hospital care regardless of their ability to pay; all citizens have the right to participate in politics.

Mr Lee Kuan Yew once said his early Cabinet was divided into two camps: on one side were the pragmatists like himself and Dr Goh Keng Swee; and on the other, there were the instinctive socialists, emotionally drawn to the ideal of equality, like Dr Toh Chin Chye. Long years in government did not change Dr Toh Chin Chye's democratic socialist bent.

Dr Toh Chin Chye might have spent his last political years in the wilderness. But history will judge how he - and crucially his ideas - will be perceived. He was after all prescient on the 1985 recession, warning of high wage costs even before the dark clouds formed overhead, as PM Lee acknowledged in his condolence letter.

On the proper balance between state and individual responsibility in health care, the pendulum is swinging towards a greater role for the state.

His warning that the elected presidency could erode the power of Parliament and the Cabinet does not seem so far-fetched after last August's heady presidential election.

Dr Toh Chin Chye might have been, in the words of an American scholar in 1968, a 'seemingly shy little man, less than five feet tall and weighing under 100 pounds'.

But his place in history is assured.

What if there had been no Toh Chin Chye?
At a crucial moment in PAP's history, he made all the difference
By Sonny Yap, The Straits Times, 4 Feb 2012

In the beginning there was Toh Chin Chye.

He was there at No. 44 Bryanston Square in London where he joined a group of fellow university students in the Malayan Forum questioning British rule and seeking independence for a united Malaya and Singapore.

He was there in the basement dining room of No. 38 Oxley Road in Singapore where he huddled with the house owner named Lee Kuan Yew and other professionals, trade unionists and workers to hatch plans for a new left-wing political party.

He was at the Victoria Memorial Hall now known as the Victoria Concert Hall where he chaired the inauguration meeting which introduced the People's Action Party (PAP) and its white-garbed leaders to Singapore.

And he was right there at the Raffles Institution counting centre at Bras Basah Road when the final votes were tallied for the May 30, 1959 General Election which saw the PAP capturing 43 out of 51 seats to form the government of self-governing Singapore.

Dr Toh Chin Chye, a man of small stature, quick temper and sharp mind, had seen it all. As party chairman from 1954 to 1981 and as deputy prime minister and Cabinet minister from 1959 to 1981, he was a key member of the team that formed the PAP and led the PAP Government through the trials and tribulations of Singapore in its formative years.

Together with former prime minister Lee Kuan Yew, former deputy prime minister Goh Keng Swee and former senior minister Sinnathamby Rajaratnam, Dr Toh Chin Chye is among the founding fathers of Singapore who steered the island through a short-lived and ill-fated merger with Malaysia and then as an independent state struggling to make a living in a volatile and unpredictable world without natural resources, hinterland and market.

Dr Toh Chin Chye was the very personification of the values and virtues of the pioneering generation of leaders who grew up in the hardscrabble years of pre-war and Japanese-occupied Malaya and Singapore - thrift, frugality, self-sacrifice, hard work and discipline.

His socialist convictions sprang from his poor and difficult growing-up years in Taiping, Perak.

The son of a bicycle-shop owner and a housewife studied in St George's Institution, Taiping, then at Anglo-Chinese School in Ipoh before attending Raffles College in Singapore where he read for a Diploma in Science.

When his education on the island was disrupted by the Japanese Occupation, he became a hawker's assistant at a vegetable stall and later at a coffee stall.

To feed himself, he grew tapioca and potatoes.

His political awakening was triggered by the abominable inequalities and injustices he witnessed during the colonial years.

His beliefs were reinforced during his studies in London by exposure to Fabianism and a socialist Britain under Labour Prime Minister Clement Attlee. He was especially impressed by the National Health Service which provided free medical services for all citizens.

Pure as PAP white

Mention Dr Toh Chin Chye in any conversation with former PAP stalwarts and political foes, and his name will be liberally laced with adjectives ranging from honest and genuine to sincere and principled.

Those who had worked with him might have been at the receiving end of his legendary short fuse and acidic tongue and faulted his occasional poor judgments and other shortcomings. But they would never breathe a single word to impugn his integrity. Not a whiff of scandal or skulduggery had ever surfaced around him.

People interviewed for Men In White, The Untold Story Of Singapore's Ruling Political Party, published by Singapore Press Holdings in 2009, spoke profusely about his sense of morality and integrity. Former Straits Times news editor Felix Abisheganaden, who knew him and used to cover the PAP in the 1950s and 1960s, described him as 'very ethical'.

If the lightning in the PAP symbol represented Lee Kuan Yew, then the white background referred to Dr Toh Chin Chye, said Dr Sheng Nam Chin, a former PAP legislative assemblyman who later defected to the Barisan Sosialis. As he put it, 'Lee Kuan Yew: action. Toh Chin Chye: purity'.

Certainly no one would question his sense of duty and obligation. He would have given short shrift to today's scholarship bond-breakers, as this anecdote shows.

After obtaining his diploma in science (first class) from Raffles College in 1946, he bagged the Singapore Colonial Development Scholarship in 1949 to pursue his doctorate in physiology at the National Institute for Medical Research in London.

When he was advised to go to the United States in 1953 to continue his research, he said it would have been morally wrong to break his bond. He told this writer that he was always conscious of his obligation as a scholarship-holder and that he felt duty-bound to complete his studies.

Penang lawyer Philip Hoalim Jnr, who knew Dr Toh Chin Chye in London, remembered he was involved in ground-breaking research, noting that if Dr Toh Chin Chye had continued his work in physiology, he might have carved a name for himself in international science.

Dr Toh Chin Chye turned his back on America and the dizzying world of physiological research to return to Singapore to serve out his bond as a lecturer at the University of Malaya in Singapore. But that did not stop him from plunging into the uncharted world of politics.

Enduring legacy

It is his pivotal role as founding chairman of PAP that could well form his enduring legacy. He is best remembered for helping to see the party and Singapore through the political turbulence of the 1950s and 1960s.

He played a crucial role guiding the party through its darkest hour - the Big Split of July 1961 when 13 PAP dissident assemblymen opposed Singapore's proposed merger with Malaya and defected to form the Barisan Sosialis. This resulted in the PAP Government hanging on to power by a 26-25 margin.

Earlier, in the 1950s, Dr Toh Chin Chye held the fort in Mr Lee's absence and foiled all attempts by the leftists to undermine or unseat the leader. The party was dealing with radical activists, he said, and 'you can't have them running circles around you'. He had to navigate the beleaguered PAP through its incessant internal struggles between the pro-communist and non-communist members.

In one marathon meeting on March 24, 1957, he was locked in a bitter battle of will and stamina with strident representatives of 19 Middle Road trade unions. The pro-communists wanted to push through their resolutions and get Mr Lee out of the Merdeka constitutional talks in London. But Dr Toh Chin Chye held his ground and never flinched in a meeting that began at 8pm and ended at 3am. To this day, those who were at the meeting continue to express their admiration for his steely resolve.

During the Big Split, Dr Toh Chin Chye soldiered on valiantly even when his Rochor branch broke away and his branch secretary deserted him. He kept the spirits up when all around people were losing their heads. Dr Goh Keng Swee, for instance, recalled Dr Toh Chin Chye visiting him in his Fullerton Building office in 1961, after seeing Mr Lee, saying: 'I have just come from Harry's office. He was staring at the ceiling just like you did. You should snap out of this mood. The fighting has just begun. It is going to be long and nasty. But if we keep wringing our hands in anguish, we are sure to lose. We should start thinking immediately of our next moves - how to rebuild the party, rally the loyal party members and how to carry the fight into the enemy camp.'

As Mr S. Rajaratnam once described him: 'A simple man, but not a simpleton. A man who does not look for a fight, but once in a fight, where honour is at stake, he fights unto the death.'

History will record that Dr Toh Chin Chye's unswerving loyalty to Mr Lee made a critical difference to Singapore's political history. According to an account in Men In White, the party's 12-member Central Executive Committee was evenly split over who should be prime minister after the PAP won the 1959 elections. Six votes went to Mr Lee and another six to former mayor Ong Eng Guan. As chairman, Dr Toh Chin Chye broke the deadlock with his casting vote and Mr Lee went on to assume the premiership.

There were at least two occasions when Mr Lee submitted his letter of resignation as prime minister to then party chairman Toh following humiliating reversals. If he was ambitious and power-hungry, he could have exploited the divisions and taken over the premiership by accepting Mr Lee's resignation.

As he told this writer, he believed in the principle of collective leadership and the thought of usurping Mr Lee never crossed his mind. He noted that he was so fervently anti-communist that no leftist would ever dream of approaching him.

It was Dr Toh Chin Chye who started the PAP election campaign in 1959 which led the party to a landslide victory. He lit the election fireworks by exposing Education Minister Chew Swee Kee in the Labour Front-led government in a money scandal at a mass rally on Hong Lim Green on Feb 15. The scandal destroyed people's confidence in then Chief Minister Lim Yew Hock's government.

In the do-or-die battle in the 1963 elections, Dr Toh Chin Chye went head to head with Barisan leader Lee Siew Choh in the working class ward of Rochor. He won by a razor-thin 89 votes. Former PAP MP Chan Chee Seng remembered Dr Toh Chin Chye as a meticulous campaigner who carried a detailed map of the ward indicating all the places where he would walk, distribute his leaflets, knock on doors, meet the voters and deliver his speeches.

Dr Toh Chin Chye would also go down in history as the man who announced the party's controversial decision to field a team of 10 parliamentary and 15 state candidates in the 1964 federal elections while Mr Lee was leading an overseas delegation. The fateful polls, which came after Singapore joined Malaysia, marked PAP's biggest electoral defeat as it lost all but one of the seats it contested, with only Mr C.V. Devan Nair winning narrowly the parliamentary seat of Bungsar. This debacle started a chain of events that led eventually to Singapore's expulsion from the federation.

Explaining the debacle in Men In White, Dr Toh Chin Chye said that most Malaysian people 'had no affinity for the party' as it had no roots in the mainland compared to United Malays National Organisation (Umno) and the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA). Although he and other PAP leaders were born in Malaya, he said, they spent most of their time in Singapore and had lost touch with the voters.

Later, amid rising acrimony between PAP and the Umno-led Alliance, he and Mr Rajaratnam pushed for the formation of the Malaysian Solidarity Convention (MSC) to propagate the ideal of Malaysian Malaysia as opposed to the Alliance's policy of Malay supremacy and Malay special rights. MSC comprised the PAP and four other political parties based in East and West Malaysia.

When Separation came on Aug 9, 1965, following increasing communal tensions, Dr Toh Chin Chye felt it was terrible to let down the convention. Some people saw it as a betrayal, he said, and 'people in Sabah and Sarawak thought we betrayed them'.

On the personal level, Separation came as a devastating blow to him as the Taiping-born former deputy prime minister had always believed in a united Malaya and Singapore, right from his Malayan Forum days in London.

His reluctance to sign the Separation agreement pointed to the ominous possibility of a Cabinet split. He agreed only when he was shown a letter by then Malaysia's Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman stressing that 'there is absolutely no other way out'.

While Dr Toh Chin Chye was a man of discipline and self-restraint, he had always exhibited a strong streak of independent-mindedness. Former PAP veterans noted that Dr Toh Chin Chye, Dr Goh and Mr Eddie Barker were the only PAP Cabinet ministers who dared to talk back and argue with Mr Lee whom they called Harry.

How do you sum up the political contributions of Dr Toh Chin Chye who gave the best years of his life to Singapore at great sacrifice to his career and prospects?

Perhaps the best tribute came from Mr Lee at a valedictory dinner for retiring MPs in 1981 when he said: 'How can we say, who contributed more? Without Dr Toh holding the fort in the PAP, we might never have held the party together.'

What if PAP had fallen apart then? What if there had been no Toh Chin Chye?

Toh Chin Chye, patriot

REVERED is a word one would use sparingly to ascribe to the memory of upstanding pioneering leaders who gave their all to Singapore. Dr Toh Chin Chye was, to Singaporeans of his vintage, one founding patriot upon whom no greater recognition could be bestowed. Theirs was a natural affinity, because they suffered together. Singaporeans who came of age long after Dr Toh's time on the stage will know much less of the man and his work - so withdrawn was he in the last 20 years of his life. These inheritors of a legacy that is rare among multicultural and multiethnic states need only understand why the good life they are enjoying was never preordained, nor could it have come easily.

With his passing, which unsurprisingly has left young Singaporeans quite detached - as with the deaths of Mr S. Rajaratnam and Dr Goh Keng Swee - the call is heard again to make Singapore's modern history a part of the nation's living consciousness. Enough talk, just do it: The historians and university administrators, curriculum planners and curatorial experts, have compelling material to work with.

Dr Toh was the founding chairman of a patriotic movement started by dreamer-students of passion and conviction, that eventually prevailed against colonialists, communists and racialists. That movement, which brought the people the gift of independence, is today wrestling with newfangled notions of success on tap and political accountability that the founding fathers could never have imagined. Their job was to build something out of nothing. That early work took loads of courage and imagination; above all, belief in the justness of a mission.

Dr Toh died last week, aged 90. He had been out of the public eye for a long time. Some might surmise he lived his last years as an embittered old man after a very public falling out with the ruling party over governing values. This was after he was retired from Cabinet at the young age of 59. He was to challenge the Government on citizen empowerment, as in the opening of the Singaporean mind; the dispensations of social justice; and the pace of rejuvenation in the People's Action Party's leadership ranks. These issues have current relevance. Dr Toh was nothing if not prescient.

All one could reasonably be certain of is that he would have departed contented at having witnessed in his reclusive years, the transformation of a nation whose foundations he had so big a part in laying. This is a comfort. All Singaporeans will salute as Dr Toh takes his place in the nation's pantheon, alongside fellow patriots like Dr Goh, Mr Rajaratnam and Mr Hon Sui Sen.

No comments:

Post a Comment