January 1st, 1962. That was when I first met Li (for the purposes of this book I shall refer to the members of the Li family as I do in person: Li for Li Jian, and their second name for anyone else). I had been out drinking with some friends from the war: Bob, Hadisukarno, and probably some others; I don’t remember who it was, specifically. What I do remember is being kicked out of a bar (The Hangman’s Noose – what a place that was) in the early hours of the morning, and falling over on top of someone. That someone was wearing a smart suit, and probably didn’t appreciate being knocked into a puddle by a drunken man. Actually, it was easy to tell he didn’t appreciate it, because he said, “You drunken idiot! You’ve ruined my suit!”
I apologised to him, and staggered off with my friends back to barracks, laughing and singing as we went. I did not know at the time that the man I had knocked over was the then-deputy leader of the Social Democrat Party. Like the Conservatives, it was a pro-indepedance party, and it was led by the former chairman of the Bidang Selatan Rail Company, Pang Ni.
By 1962, I was not yet leader of the Conservatives. I was merely a member – a long-time member, yes, a founder in fact – but nothing more than a member. We styled ourselves quite heavily on the British conservatives of those times. In all honesty, it would be safe to say we simply copied everything Harold MacMillian said without a grain of original thought. (It is worth noting that the former Matilum Prime Minister was no relative of our former colonial governor or his brother).
It would not be long before I met Li again.
Like the SDP, the Conservatives were a pro-independence party, and in March of 1963, a cross-party independence lobby meeting was held. I was accompanying the then-head of our party, Johnny Wilkson, along with two other party members, and my friend Hadisukarno, who was attending as an observer. Li stood up at the head of table, and began to speak. I didn’t recognise him, but I did notice what a rousing speaker he was. By the end of it, there were cheers, and shouts for independence. I won’t say these shouts were his fault, as it was a pro-independence meeting, but he certainly emboldened those present. The meeting carried on for a few hours, and at the end the political parties present all agreed that further meetings should be held with the aim of drawing up demands to the Matilum government. Just as everything was drawing to a close, Ni made eye contact with me. Her vision locked on like a guided missile. Her eyes were cold, and her stare carried a message of dislike and distrust. My first instinct was to leave and not talk to this woman who obviously had a bone to pick with me, but I was curious. Curious as to what kind of man Li was, deputy leader of the SDP (and a man who completely overshadowed the true leader), was. Curious also as to what I had done to make the actual leader of the SDP hate me.
Nothing came to mind. I was trying to think of a way to phrase my question when she answered it for me.
“You…” Came a voice from behind me. “You’re the one who ruined-“ She put particular stress on this word. “-my colleague’s suit!”
I turned around, and my reply was simple.
“Did I? When.”
“Yes. New Year’s Day.”
“Well, I’m sorry. Perhaps I could buy you and him a drink to make up for it?”
“Hardly. It was your drunkenness that ruined it in the first place. And one drink wouldn’t cover the dry cleaning bills he had to pay.”
I was, I confess, unsure of what to say. I couldn’t exactly offer to cover the bill: I had no money. I received the rather low army officers’ salary and blew my paycheque on alcohol every month. In the end, I simply apologised. With an angry glare, Ni stalked off.
Before the next pro-independence meeting could be held, Johnny Wilkson tragically died while on holiday with Ni (the two of them were on board Wilkson’s boat for talks when Indonesian saboteurs sank it near Terjakan. Both I and Li would rise to lead our parties from this same act of terrorism). Wilkson is one of very few men for whom I have little negative to say or reveal – I did not know him long, and for the brief period he was leader of the Conservatives, he seemed a good, honest man. Slightly timid, but a born leader nonetheless. His death presented the rest of the party with a bit of a problem, for Wilkson had been our founder, and we had not existed long enough to draw up a charter or constitution explaining such things as how the leader was determined. As a result, the higher-up members of the party, Wilkson’s closest advisors and friends, held a meeting to decide who would take over. Tan Ai Lin was chairing the meeting, simply because it was his idea to hold it in the first place. It began with him standing up, calling everyone to order and asking, “Alright, raise your hand if you would like to put yourself forward for next leader of the Conservative Party of Byakko.” I raised my hand. He went on, “Well, that’s decided then. I was going to call a vote, but I don’t think that’s necessary…”
As it turned out, no-one else of the twenty or so there wanted the job. That is the story of how I came to be leader of the second-biggest political party in Byakko. No-one else wanted the job. My first act as leader would be to draw up the Party Charter, outlining the aims, rules and procedures which we would follow.
It was June of ‘63 when the major parties met to draw up our demands to the Matilum. It was at my suggestion that the title of the document was changed from ‘Demands to her Majesty’s Government’ to ‘Requests for her Majesty’s Government’. The relationship between SDP and Conservatives remained frosty for this initial period. While we both agreed on independence, an unspoken agreement between myself and Li to not start talking about policy post-independence was staunchly kept, for fear of splintering this alliance. We laboured for several months, and, in February 1964, the All-Party Committee of the Independence Alliance had finished the Request for Independence, as we later changed the title to.
Writing a request for independence and having someone read it are two different things: no matter how well you do the first, if you fail on the second you may as well not have bothered. The colonial administration refused to listen to us – we tried again and again to secure an audience with the governor, but to no avail. I attempted to use contacts within the regime that I had built up while Sir Arthur MacMillan was governor (through his brother and my good friend, Richard). I would frequently make good progress on the lower levels: most junior bureaucrats and civil servants were happy to talk to us and tried to pass us up to those who could actually make a difference. In the end, though, no-one high in government, no-one with any real power, would listen to us. When we finally discovered why, the answer was not what any of us could have possibly expected.
Next Chapter: Chapter 4: An Announcement