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Lee Kuan Yew delivers radio talks in the battle for merger 12th Sep 1961

On 13 September 1961, then Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew delivered the first in a series of 12 radio talks that aimed to expose the Communists -- including their ideology and modi operandi -- and reveal their intentions for opposing merger with the Federation of Malaya. Between 13 September and 9 October 1961, Lee delivered three broadcasts weekly on Monday, Wednesday and Friday over Radio Singapura.  Each day’s broadcast was delivered in three languages – Mandarin at 6.45 pm, English at 7.30 pm and Malay at 9 pm – making a total of 36 broadcasts by Lee in less than a month. Over the Chinese service, the Cantonese translation was transmitted at 7.15 pm each day, followed by the Hokkien version at 7.45 pm. Tamil translations were aired at 7 pm on the same days. The talks were also broadcast over Suara Singapura and Rediffusion.[1]

These broadcasts were the opening salvo in a keenly fought battle for the hearts and minds of the people of Singapore towards merger.[2] Lee went on air to “clarify and explain the political situation in Singapore and the Federation [at the time]” and to “prevent the people from being confused by the Communists, their front organisations and front men”.[3] During the radio talks, Lee detailed the history of the anti-colonial united front between the People’s Action Party (PAP) and the Communists, including how the Communists operated and their objectives, their reasons for derailing merger as well as the factors that caused the united front to eventually break up. Lee also revealed, for the first time, his interactions with Malayan Communist Party representative Fong Chong Pik (whom Lee called the “Plen”), who had sought to establish a united front with the PAP.[4]  

In January 1962, the transcripts of the broadcasts, along with 12 appendices, were compiled into a book titled The Battle for Merger. The appendices comprised supplementary materials to reinforce Lee’s arguments, including speeches and press reports relating to merger, statements issued by political detainees as well as documentary evidence of Lim Chin Siong’s Communist connections.[5]  

A total of 10,000 copies of the 207-page hardcover book in English were printed and sold for a dollar a copy. By 23 February 1962, some 7,500 copies had been sold.  On 6 March the following month, 7,500 copies of the hardcover edition in Chinese were released for sale. Another 2,000 copies of the book in Malay were also published. Subsequently, 100,000 copies of an abridged paperback edition with fewer appendices were printed – in English, Chinese, Malay and Tamil – and distributed free-of-charge to the public.[6] In 2014, the National Archives of Singapore, together with Straits Times Press,  launched a reprint of the book.

In the contest for hearts and minds, Lee’s radio talks “were an important weapon in the government’s arsenal to win the battle for merger”. [7] The national referendum on merger was held on 1 September 1962, following a year-long campaign to rally the people in support of merger. The results were announced in the early hours of 2 September, with the government’s terms for merger securing 71 percent of the vote.[8]

1. Lee to give 9 radio talks on merger and politics. (1961, September 12). The Singapore Free Press, p. 3; Prime Minister to give broadcast talks. (1961, September 12). The Straits Times, p. 4; Lee, K. Y. (1998). The Singapore story: Memoirs of Lee Kuan Yew (pp. 394–399). Singapore: Times Editions and Singapore Press Holdings. Call no.: RSING 959.57 LEE-[HIS].
2. Lau, A. (2014). The battle for merger – the historical context.  In K. Y. Lee, The battle for merger (p. xii). Singapore: The National Archives of Singapore and Straits Times Press.
3. Lee, K. Y. (2014). The battle for merger (p. 1). Singapore: The National Archives of Singapore and Straits Times Press.
4. Lee, 2014, pp. 26–30; How I came to know the Communists. (1961, 19 September). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
5. Lim did write to MCP. (1962, 28 January). The Straits Times, p. 2; The Reds and Lim. (1962, 22 January). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
6. Book by Lee selling fast. (1962, 26 January). The Straits Times, p. 11; ‘Battle for Merger’ is proving a best-seller. (1962, 15 February). The Straits Times, p. 6; Marshall’s pictures also in the book. (1961, 1 November). The Straits Times, p. 7. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
7. Lau, 2014, p. xxix.
8. Lau, 2014, pp. xxviii–xxix.


The information in this article is valid as at 2014 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.

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