Kit Siang, the unreluctant politician

By Shannon Teoh, The Malaysian Insider

KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 20 — It is difficult to think of Lim Kit Siang ever being naive.

But as an 18-year-old, he once proposed that his clique of friends “go out to the world, establish new political parties and 10 years later come back and exchange notes.”

It was 1959. Little did he know that in 10 years, he would be in prison.

“It’s so ridiculous. How can you go out to other countries and establish political parties? There was no conscious notion to establish any political party but maybe the desire to go out and do something to change the world,” Lim said of his friends whom he described as “politically interested and aware.”

At least in Malaysia, there is little argument that Lim has made an impact in his 45 years of active politics.  

He has been an MP for all but one term since 1969, opposition leader, DAP chairman and twice an Internal Security Act (ISA) detainee.

The DAP stalwart turns 70 today but still remembers the days of his political awakening.

In an interview with The Malaysian Insider last week, he recalled how as a 14-year-old, he would go on cycling “expeditions” from his home town of Batu Pahat, Johor to Melaka.

“Those days, it was quite a trip. About 60 miles and we would spend the night in Muar,” the DAP parliamentary leader said.

It coincided with the Bandung Conference in Indonesia, a meeting of newly independent Asian and African states, and that was the main topic of conversation for the trip.

“My group of friends were very interested in world developments like the Suez Canal nationalisation by Egypt in 1956 which shook the whole world. It was the first time an Afro-Asian country dared to thumb its nose against the white man and was prepared to throttle the world economy,” Lim said.

“In the 50s, national institutions had not yet been so emasculated and suborned as it is now. Now we have to restore them and it won’t be easy,” he said.

It is probably the memory of such times that spurs him on as no doubt, the last 50-odd years have taken its toll.

“You feel very, very fatigued. I do much less now. The age is catching up,” he protested when it was suggested that he still has the energy of someone half his age.

Lim, who is now Ipoh Timur MP, first emerged in Malaysian politics in 1966 as a founding member of DAP not long after leaving Singapore where he was a press officer in the Ministry of Culture.