On 2 February 1963, the Special Branch mounted Operation Coldstore to “safeguard against any attempt by the Communists to mount violence or disorder in the closing stages of the establishment of the Federation of Malaysia” and ensure that Singapore joins Malaysia “in a more secure and sound state”. Acting under the Preservation of Public Security Ordinance, the Special Branch initially arrested 107 persons. Among them were key leaders of the left-wing Barisan Sosialis and its associated pro-communist organisations which had “done their utmost to sabotage the formation of Malaysia”. They included Lim Chin Siong, S. Woodhull, Fong Swee Suan and Dominic Puthucheary. In explaining the arrests, the Internal Security Council (ISC), which had sanctioned the operation, stated that it had evidence pointing to communist infiltration and control of the Barisan Sosialis and its affiliated labour unions, and that their leaders were “deeply implicated” in communist “subversive activities”.
Following the 1959 Legislative Assembly general election, Singapore for the first time had a fully-elected government led by Lee Kuan Yew, whose People’s Action Party (PAP) was voted into power with a strong majority. The PAP then began to focus its efforts on gaining full independence for Singapore, which was closely tied to the party’s aim of reunification with Malaya through merger. In July 1961, then Malayan Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman invited Lee Kuan Yew to discuss plans for a “Greater Malaysia”. The proposal triggered a bitter power struggle within the PAP that eventually led to its split. The splintered left-wing group led by Lim Chin Siong formed the Barisan Sosialis in July 1961. The party fought against Lee’s merger (Malaysia) plans, but was defeated in the September 1962 referendum called by the PAP to obtain the people’s vote on merger.
Before the scheduled pronouncement of Malaysia to take place in September 1963, an anti-colonial revolt broke out in Brunei in December 1962. Not only did Lim express support for the uprising, he had also met the leader of the Brunei revolt days before. This sowed the conviction that the Barisan Sosialis was not averse to political violence and that they were ready “to depart from constitutional methods and to jeopardise national defence and Singapore’s security by joining with groups resorting to violence and bloodshed as in the Borneo Territories”.
Following the security operation, the remaining Barisan Sosialis leaders led by Lee Siew Choh condemned the arrests and lobbied the United Nations for the release of their cadres. The protests led to the further arrests of the party’s leaders in April and May 1963. By the time the 1963 Legislative Assembly general election was called in September, the Barisan Sosialis had been severely weakened. The Barisan Sosialis captured 13 seats at the polls, which the PAP won resoundingly with 37 seats.
Operation Coldstore dealt a severe blow to the communist network in Singapore. Chin Peng, then the Secretary-General of the Communist Party of Malaya (CPM), admitted in his memoirs that “Operation Cold Store shattered our underground network throughout the island. Those who escaped the police net went into hiding. Many fled to Indonesia.”
1. Singapore. Internal Security Council. (1963, April 2). Statement of the Internal Security Council (Singapore Legislative Assembly, Misc. 2 of 1963, p. 1). Singapore: Govt. Print. Off. Call no.: RCLOS 351.75 SIN.
2. Abisheganaden, A. (1963, February 3). 107 held in Singapore dawn drive. The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
3. The Straits Times, 3 Feb 1963, p. 1. Internal Security Council, 2 Apr 1963, p. 1.
4. Internal Security Council, 2 Apr 1963, pp. 1–6.
5. Hussin Mutalib. (2003). Parties and politics. A study of opposition parties and the PAP in Singapore (pp. 57–58). Singapore: Eastern University Press. Call no.: RSING 324.25957HUS.
6. Hussin Mutalib, 2003, p. 58.
7. Tengku invites Lee. (1961, July 26). The Straits Times, p. 1. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
8. Hussin Mutalib, 2003, pp. 61, 86.
9. Mahadeva, A. (1961, July 30). PAP dissidents name new party ‘Barisan Socialis’. The Straits Times, p. 4; Barisan Star. (1961, September 19). The Straits Times, p. 8. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
10. Hussin Mutalib, 2003, p. 62.
11. Hussin Mutalib, 2003, p. 63.
12. Internal Security Council, 2 Apr 1963, p. 1; Yap, S., Lim, R., & Leong, W. K. (2009). Men in white: The untold story of Singapore's ruling political party (p. 249). Singapore: Singapore Press Holdings. Call no.: RSING 324.25957 YAP; Siew Choh cables a protest to Thant. (1963, February 11). The Straits Times, p. 16. Retrieved from NewspaperSG.
13. Hussin Mutalib, 2003, pp. 99–101.
14. Chin, P. (2003). Chin Peng: My side of history (p. 439). Singapore: Media Masters. Call no.: RSING 959.5104092 CHI.
The information in this article is valid as at 2011 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.