Stories of 50 ‘ordinary’ PAP veterans captured

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and PAP.SG chairman Halimah Yacob (right) with pioneer activists Helen Goh and Mohd Seain Madsom during the book launch at the Fullerton Bay Hotel yesterday.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and PAP.SG chairman Halimah Yacob (right) with pioneer activists Helen Goh and Mohd Seain Madsom during the book launch at the Fullerton Bay Hotel yesterday.ST PHOTO: KUA CHEE SIONG

It honours the pioneer activists who lived through the uncertain 1950s and 1960s

From proofreading Singapore's Separation documents in Tamil and English to campaigning from dawn to dusk in Malay and Mandarin atop lorries, stories of ordinary People's Action Party (PAP) veterans took centre stage at a book launch yesterday.

The book PAP Pioneers: 50 Ordinary Stories, produced by the PAP Seniors' Group (PAP.SG), documents these and other anecdotes of pioneer activists who lived through the tumultuous 1950s and 1960s.

Singapore's survival as a nation was uncertain during those years, PAP secretary-general and Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong said at the launch at the Fullerton Bay Hotel.

But these veterans believed in the party's vision of a multiracial and fair and just society, and gave their heart and soul to the cause, he said.

STORIES TO INSPIRE

Books like this will give younger Singaporeans a chance to read about the journey we travelled, to appreciate how much our pioneers contributed, and inspire them to do the same for themselves and for their children.

PRIME MINISTER LEE HSIEN LOONG

Books like this will give younger Singaporeans a chance to read about the journey we travelled, to appreciate how much our pioneers contributed, and inspire them to do the same for themselves and for their children," he added.

Many of these pioneers, now well into their 70s and 80s, are still volunteering at PAP branches.

They include Mr M. Subramaniam, 72, who joined the PAP in 1962 and worked in the Government Printing Office. The weekend before Aug 9, 1965, he was urgently called back to work and asked to proofread the Separation documents in Tamil and English.

Mr Mohd Seain Madsom, 75, was in the Works Brigade and built the roads around Andrew Road in the 1960s. During elections in the 1970s and 1980s, he went around with PAP candidates on lorries, using loudhailers to campaign in Malay alongside his fellow activist, who would speak in Mandarin.

As for Madam Helen Goh, 71, her most memorable moment was sitting next to a man with a crew cut who asked her many questions at a grassroots dinner in 1984. He turned out to be a young Mr Lee Hsien Loong, who would soon stand for election in the new Teck Ghee constituency.

She still helps at Mr Lee's branch.

PAP.SG chairman Halimah Yacob said the party's pioneers helped it build strong branches and mentor new generations of activists: "Their hard work has made it possible for the party to be where it is today."

Mr Lee also paid tribute to founding father Othman Wok, 91, who attended the launch and had steadfastly upheld a multiracial, multireligious and meritocratic Singapore.

Mr Lee noted that while Singapore was in Malaysia and the PAP fought for a multiracial society, Mr Othman was denounced by Umno as an "infidel", "a traitor to Malays", and got death threats. But he stood firm with the PAP, and that made all the difference. Said Mr Lee: "The central government decided the Singapore Malays are different, they will stand for a multiracial society, and I think that contributed to our being kicked out of Malaysia."

Mr Lee said he was also grateful for the support of the elderly, alongside all groups, at the recent general election, and thanked PAP.SG for the role its members played.

The group has helped shape the PAP's thinking and policymaking since its 2013 launch, and will play an important role ahead, he said. This includes representing seniors and championing policies that benefit them - but also understanding the need to be fair to all groups and do what is best for Singapore and its future.

PAP.SG now has chapters at 47 of the party's 89 branches, and Madam Halimah urged the remaining party branches to form chapters as well to better see to seniors' needs.

Mr Seain no longer goes around campaigning on lorries, as pre-recorded messages are used. He feels some of the human touch is lost.

But Mr Toh Lim Mok, 68, from Fengshan branch, said different generations have their own experiences, and the young can learn from the old. "I hope the young won't take things for granted," he said.

•Those interested to read more about these pioneers can go to https://www.pap.org.sg/MORE/PAPPioneers/Content

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2015, with the headline 'Book captures stories of 50 PAP veterans'. Print Edition | Subscribe