Chong Eu was forced into premature retirement

By Lim Sue Goan, MySinChew

Elections are part of the democratic process but they are also a political game with paradoxes. Politicians fight for the elusive people’s support during an election.

The late Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, honoured as Penang’s father of industrialisation, was defeated by the then DAP secretay-general Lim Kit Siang in the 1990 general election, with a majority of about 800 votes. Chong Eu was then forced into premature retirement as the Penang Chief Minister and was succeeded by his then political secretary Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon.

Chong Eu had contributed much to Penang. He initiated and implemented industrialisation 10 years earlier than former Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. How could a leader who had made so much contribution be defeated then? It was certainly something Chong Eu felt painful about, and till now, many of his loyal supporters still find it hard to accept his defeat.

The political fighting was tense during the 1990 general election. Umno was trapped in a party crisis in 1987 and a judicial crisis in 1988 while Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, together with a few sacked leaders, formed the Parti Melayu Semangat 46 and became formidable opposition party.

The then Chinese, including those in Penang, hoped for a two-party system that could bring the country a brighter future. Although Chong Eu haddone a lot for the people and for Penang, he was still unable to withstand the tide of change sweeping the nation then.. Moreover, the Penang economy remained static and no further transformation was made after the industrialisation.That was why the DAP had almost overthrown the Penang BN state government in 1990.

However, the DAP launched the Tanjung 3 Campaign in the 1995 general election, and Kit Siang was presented as the Robocop who would lead Penang to greater height.

Kit Siang, however, was defeated by Koh and retreated from the Penang political arena. Some people were believed to have voted against Kit Siang to take revenge for the defeat of Chong Eu in the 1990 general election. Some said the Robocop strategy caused Kit Siang’s defeat.

Whatever the conclusion, the pendulum law will always concretely reflect people’s mentality. A party might win this time, but it will lose next time if it fails to perform well. The 2008 general election is the best example. The BN won nearly 90% of seats in the 2004 general election but lost Penang in the 2008 general election. It had nothing to do with whether Koh was contesting in Penang or leaving to join the federal politics. It was simply because the people’s mindset has changed.

Chong Eu was a politician who had witnessed the changes. Unfortunately, he left no memoirs as a historical supplement and guidance for the younger generation.