Mr. Ambrose Khaw was a senior sub-editor, and then deputy managing editor of The Straits Times in the tumultuous years of Merger and Separation. Mr. Khaw was working from the Straits Times office in Singapore during the merger. He moved to the head office in Kuala Lumpur immediately before and after the Separation. Mr. Khaw, now 70, and retired, gives the stories behind the headlines:

It was basically a case of Lee Kuan Yew versus the pro-Malay politicians in Malaysia.

Lee Kuan Yew insisted that he was the Prime Minister of Singapore and should be treated as such. The Malaysian politicians, on the other hand were saying that he was just one of a large number of Mentri Besars, and they did not believe that he should be given any more power than their Mentri Besars.

"Let's not give him too much rope"

Lee Kuan Yew wanted to make the point that he was somewhat above the Mentri Besars but the others in Malaysia said, 'Let’s not give him too much rope'. The group of people who were especially vocal were who Lee Kuan Yew openly called the ultras or extremists. They had the support of the Malay voters. Jaffar Albal was the most prominent of the ultras. He was an UMNO member.

Lee Kuan Yew also made a lot of speeches advocating a Malaysian Malaysia. He wanted to win the support of the Sabahans and Sarawakans by advocating a Malaysia for all Malaysians, where all groups were equal.

Many of his speeches were made in Suleiman Court in Kuala Lumpur. In those days, Suleiman Court was an open space at the junction of Batu and Campbell Roads, two major roads in the centre of town. Although he could not give speeches at the more prestigious places such as the Padang, Suleiman Court was a suitable open space. There were buildings on the side where people could run for shelter when it rained.

Kuan Yew was a good speaker, and his rallies were always very well attended. Plenty of people were willing to listen to him, including Malaysian Chinese.

"This man is making too much noise"

But his views ran contrary to those held by the pro-Malay politicians. They said: 'This man is making too much noise'. They didn’t like this very much. Lee Kuan Yew was perceived by them as trying to erode the special position of the Malays and their culture.

Because a lot of people were listening to him, Lee Kuan Yew was encouraged to push harder for a Malaysian Malaysia.

The Tengku thought that Lee Kuan Yew was wrong to be so vocal. Chinese and Malaysians and Malaysia for Malaysians when all his ultras were up in arms.

Ultra men

The Tengku was a moderate.

But don’t forget that the Tengku needed the support of his ultras and their supporters in UMNO. Moreover, he was probably aware that the ultras, being more vocal and numerous in UMNO, also spoke for many silent constituents.

But Lee Kuan Yew would not be stopped. He felt he had the right to speak at the rallies, to get his supporters into Parliament in Malaysia.

 

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