Former politician Yatiman Yusof publishes new memoir

Mr Yatiman Yusof (left) presenting his memoir to President Halimah Yacob (centre) at the book launch on Dec 14, 2021. PHOTO: BERITA HARIAN

SINGAPORE - When he was asked to be a candidate for the People's Action Party in the 1984 general election, former Senior Parliamentary Secretary Yatiman Yusof, 75, received a wide range of reactions.

Some were supportive of Mr Yatiman, then 38, but many disparaged him, given his past involvement with Malay organisations and his comments which had been critical of the Government. Some even labelled him a dissident.

In his new memoir, launched on Tuesday (Dec 14), Mr Yatiman recounted how he shrugged off the initial criticism and worked to convince voters in Kampong Kembangan, where he was contesting.

He started working the ground at the end of August 1984, and attended Meet-the-people sessions every Tuesday evening late into the night, where he and his team would work on at least 60 cases each time.

His efforts paid off. Mr Yatiman won the contest for the ward in December that year, securing 55.7 per cent of the vote against Mr Jufrie Mahmood from the Workers' Party.

Mr Yatiman's memoir, titled Perjalananku dari desa ke likuan kota, or My journey From Village To The City, was published by the Singapore Malay Writers Association '50, or ASAS'50.

The 406-page book includes first-hand and behind-the scenes accounts of Mr Yatiman's time as the editor of Malay newspaper Berita Harian and Berita Minggu in the late 1970s, as an MP during the 1980s and political office holder in the 1990s.

The book was launched at the Malay Heritage Centre in the Bugis area. In attendance were President Halimah Yacob and former politicians including former Senior Ministers of State Sidek Saniff and Zainul Abidin Rasheed, and former Senior Parliamentary Secretary Hawazi Daipi.

Mr Yatiman told The Straits Times that the book was a "monumental task" six years in the making, as it was written from scratch based on his memory of the events of his life.

Born in Johor in 1946, Mr Yatiman moved to Singapore with his family the year after. He started teaching in 1965, before moving on to work in Berita Harian and Berita Minggu in 1978.

After becoming an elected MP, he left journalism in 1986 to take up his appointment as Parliamentary Secretary for Foreign Affairs, and was promoted to Senior Parliamentary Secretary in 1996.

About a year later, Mr Yatiman was appointed Senior Parliamentary Secretary for Information and the Arts. He retired in May 2006.

On why he decided to pen down his memoirs, Mr Yatiman said he initially wanted to write the book for his four children and four grandchildren so that they could get to know him better and remember the life he had.

But in the process of writing, Mr Yatiman was told by friends that sharing his experiences and thoughts to others beyond his family would be good as well.

"What I have written is all about... what Singapore used to be - what is buried under the concrete," he said. "Young Singaporeans might want to know how their country used to be. It's not a 'hey presto' moment that we have what we have now."

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