An alternate history of Kit Siang and DAP – a response to Lim Teck Ghee

From M Ali, Free Malaysia Today

I refer to a series of articles by Lim Teck Ghee on Lim Kit Siang and DAP that was recently published in FMT.

While I agree that few Malaysian politicians have stirred up as much controversy as Kit Siang has done, it is fitting that we look at the reasons behind the issues that he has championed and the political positions that he has taken that are supposed to have courted his notoriety as well as fame.

It would be remiss not to look at his career which started in Singapore as a journalist in the English-language press after having left his birthplace of Batu Pahat.

While working as a journalist he actively campaigned for the pro-PAP national trades union congress (NTUC). His goal was to help NTUC gain recognition in the journalists’ union, which was then controlled by the left in Singapore.

He reported on Operation Cold Store (that was the detention operation conducted against opposition leaders of the Barisan Sosialis Party) from a PAP perspective. He was being used by the PAP to further its cause, in the journalists’ union, to support the fledgling NTUC on the shopfloor.

These were his credentials when he was recruited by CV Devan Nair for work to further the interests of the PAP in Peninsular Malaysia in 1964, in the Malaysian general election.

After PAP’s victory in the 1963 state election in Singapore, Lee Kuan Yew broke the gentleman’s agreement he had made with then prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman not to fight the general election in Peninsular Malaysia in 1964.

It was from Nair that Kit Siang learned his basic political and organisational skills as his political secretary, as he himself had admitted in one of his internet postings. I am surprised that Teck Ghee has not found it fit to even mention Nair once in his article.

This despite the fact that Nair, not Kit Siang, is the founder of the DAP in Malaysia and the only successful PAP (Malaysia) candidate in the 1964 Malaysian general election.

Even Chen Man Hin was elected to the state legislature in Negeri Sembilan in a 1965 by-election in Rahang, when both Lee and Nair campaigned for him tirelessly.

After Singapore’s separation from Malaysia, Nair tried to register the DAP as PAP (Malaysia) and when that was rejected by the Registrar of Societies, he was forced to adopt the name, Democratic Action Party (DAP). The PAP constitution from Singapore was copied lock, stock and barrel.

This may have included two classes of party membership – the ordinary member and the cadre membership (which is only through invitation from the leadership).

Whether such classes of membership still exist in DAP is worth looking into by Teck Ghee. The PAP also sponsored the admission of the DAP into the Socialist International.

Kit Siang has been a dominant figure in the DAP for a number of reasons.

One, it had the support of the urban Chinese voters in the urban Chinese belt stretching from Perak to Negeri Sembilan and with pockets of Chinese support in Melaka and Johor.

He also survived in the leadership as he had very few challengers who wanted the job. The job of opposition leader was not a job that was highly sought after in any parliamentary democracy.

He was able to articulate the Chinese electoral concerns in a forthright manner, in some cases openly courting a Chinese chauvinist line, both inside and outside the Dewan Rakyat and as an editor of the Rocket from 1965-1969.

Whether the DAP had a clause in its party constitution similar to the PAP in Singapore, where the cadre members were the only ones who had a say in the election of the party leadership is a moot point. If there is such a clause, then Kit Siang’s political longevity can be partially explained.

Special role of the Malays

Teck Ghee refers to the Setapak Declaration of the DAP. The fingerprints of the declaration can be found in many of Lee’s speeches as a member of the Malaysian opposition where Lee was sitting from 1963-65.

The rights of the sultans and the special role of the Malays and the Malay language and some of the issues that were agreed to at the Merdeka talks in Lancaster House prior to Merdeka in 1957, were being openly challenged by Lee and the lone PAP Malaysia MP in the Dewan – Nair – and other members of the PAP delegation and others in the Malaysian opposition.

The “Malaysian Malaysia” slogan was first popularised by Lee during his tenure as a member of Malaysia’s opposition, not the DAP.

I suggest Teck Ghee read the speeches of Lee in the Malaysian Parliament before giving credit to the DAP. This (Malaysian Malaysia) was the logo on the DAP website for many years.

Lee’s famous lines, in 1965, “Supposing we real virile Chinese unite, there would be trouble in five or 10 years, because there are five million Chinese, 42% of the population.”

The stage was being set for the ethnic conflict and inter-ethnic tensions to escalate. Not to forget the role played by the PAP state government in Singapore in coordinating and supporting the Malaysia Solidarity Convention held in Singapore.

This was the first meeting of all opposition parties (with the exception of PMIP, if I remember accurately) from Peninsular Malaysia as well as Sarawak and Sabah.

It is simplistic for Teck Ghee to suggest that the pursuit of racial and religious equality in a Malay Muslim-majority state compartmentalised and polarised the country’s population, and that the advent of the New Economic Policy (NEP) made DAP a marginal player in the nation’s politics.

The Malay chauvinism was countered by the blunt Chinese chauvinism of DAP. This was despite DAP’s lip service for a democratic and socialist Malaysia.

How DAP can achieve a democratic socialist Malaysia (as per the Setapak Declaration) under such a policy, only Teck Ghee can explain, on behalf of the DAP.

To be continued….