Is Kit Siang good or bad? A new book offers some answers
“It was utterly nonsensical and ridiculous to believe that the DAP had anything to do with the riots. For the simple reason that we were the victors,” Lim recollects. “In fact, we never expected to win so big. So if you have created inroads, you don’t want to spoil the whole process by organising May 13 and having riots, curfew, a cessation of political activities. It’s totally against our interest. Conversely, it can only be orchestrated by people who have lost.”
A. Kathirasen, Free Malaysia Today
Is Lim Kit Siang the good guy or the bad guy? It depends very much on whom you ask.
Members of the DAP, and those who admire him, will say that the party adviser and former secretary-general is the good guy, even a great guy. Members of Umno, PAS and Bersatu, however, will insist he’s the bad guy.
Supporters say Lim has been demonised by most Umno and PAS leaders over the years, including former prime minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
However, when some of them, like Mahathir and PAS’s Hadi Awang, collaborated briefly with Lim and the DAP to achieve political power, the DAP veteran suddenly became a good guy.
Privately, over the years, some Umno leaders and pro-Umno or pro-PAS government officials have grudgingly told me they respected Lim’s principles and incorruptibility, and even acknowledged his role in keeping democracy alive.
Lim has, like Mahathir, been described as a dictator by various people and politicians, including those from his party who were expelled or who left due to clashes with him. Quite a number see him as arrogant.
It is inevitable that people will compare Lim with other previous opposition stalwarts such as “Mr Opposition” Tan Chee Koon and the Seenivasagam brothers, and may be found wanting.
What is clear though is that, for the past five decades, Lim has been a mainstay in Malaysian politics, especially opposition politics. And he has been jailed, harassed and investigated by Umno-led governments over the years for his political stand and ideals.
It will take volumes to write about his political career and life and what others thought/think of him. Well-known author Kee Thuan Chye has attempted to do this in two volumes, the first of which will be launched on Oct 25.
Kee wants Malaysians to know the real Lim, who, he says, is “much misunderstood”. By and large, Kee says, “the public see only the demon, not the man; the icon, not the human being”.
Kee – an actor, playwright, stage director, journalist and author – has attempted to humanise Lim in his book ’Lim Kit Siang: Malaysian First’. The first volume is titled ’None but the Bold’.
In presenting his picture of the trials and triumphs of Lim, who is known as Kit to those in the party and others close to him, Kee has spoken to numerous people, including former government politicians and journalists.
Recollections of former deputy prime minister Musa Hitam, former Penang chief minister Koh Tsu Koon, current Penang chief minister Chow Kon Yeow and Lim’s son Guan Eng feature alongside the views of former journalists such as K Gurunathan.
For instance, Lim’s daughter Hui Ming says: “One thing about my father is that he’s a very forgiving person. People attack, bad-mouth him, but when they come back to re-join the party later, he still welcomes them with open arms. It takes a very strong person to do that. That’s why I say he is mentally very strong. … If people were to do things to me like they did to him, I don’t know if I’d be so magnanimous and forget what they did. I think that’s how he keeps his sanity, because if you don’t forgive and forget, it will destroy you from within.”
Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud, the DAP candidate in the Teluk Intan by-election in 2014, has this to say: “To me, he is not the nasty old Chinese man people have been talking about. This is just a person who loves his country, who loves being in politics, loves working and believes in working very hard for the future generations. …What I like about him is when he needs a new perspective on things, he will have a makan (meal) or coffee session with a bunch of young members or leaders, and ask everyone for their opinion. Not all leaders are like that.”
The book describes the career of a politician who has seen Malaya become Malaysia and played a significant role in nation building.
One of the events Lim talks about in Kee’s book is the May 13, 1969 tragedy and how he was arrested under the Internal Security Act.
Lim says he was placed in a large cell together with some gangsters and criminals immediately after being arrested but that they were “very respectful” towards him because they sympathised with the opposition cause for a better Malaysia.
He recalls two Special Branch officers interrogating him. “During interrogation time, they would take me out, go to the rest house near Kuala Selangor. It was supposed to be a ‘holiday’ for you. You could have nasi lemak or noodles, different from lock-up food. They asked you questions. In my case, quite civil. After a while, I told them let’s make things easy, what are your questions? I’ll type the answers for you. Faster.”
Lim tells Kee that he was not tortured and that no psychological pressure was applied on him. Lim feels this is because he is and always has been “an open book”.
“If they want to torture you, there must be a reason, to get info they don’t have. I had no info to offer that they didn’t already have.
“I told them it was utterly nonsensical and ridiculous to believe that the DAP had anything to do with the riots. For the simple reason that we were the victors,” Lim recollects.
“In fact, we never expected to win so big. So if you have created inroads, you don’t want to spoil the whole process by organising May 13 and having riots, curfew, a cessation of political activities. It’s totally against our interest. Conversely, it can only be orchestrated by people who have lost.”
That, of course, makes sense.
Kee tells me that Lim is indeed “an open book”. According to Kee, “Lim answers whatever I ask, to the best of his memory. Not once did he ever say ’No comment’ or ’I don’t want to address this’.”
The biography, Kee emphasises, is an independent project and not a commissioned job.
Kee says: “Kit never said to me how it should be written or what should go into it. I respect that aspect of him very much.”
I ask Kee how he found Lim and whether his view of the veteran politician changed as the interview sessions progressed.
The author of ‘No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians’ and ‘March 8: The Day Malaysia Woke Up’ says: “Kit is not a voluble man. Far from the sort of politician who spews verbal diarrhoea. He is a thinking man.
“His answers can sometimes be short, even terse. He doesn’t say more than what needs to be said. Once, someone asked him how an interview I had just done with him went and Kit replied jokingly that during the session, he was being “victimised” by me!”
Kee tells me: “We got on well together. Laughed a lot together – at things he said and things I said. I enjoyed his dry sense of humour. Some of it is reproduced in the book. He is not the intensely serious person some people perceive him to be. He is actually down-to-earth.
“He was forthright in answering my questions, but as can be expected, he cannot remember the details of some events that happened long ago. That’s understandable because his political career goes back more than five decades, and he’s now 80. I try to fill in the gaps by interviewing other people. That way, I also get different perspectives on the same event or issue.
“He was also consistent from my first interview to the latest one. I’ll be interviewing him further for Vol 2. To me, he came across as a person who is steadfast in his beliefs. He also doesn’t impose himself or try to project an image that might make him look good – he just answers the questions matter-of-factly as I asked them. He doesn’t try to embellish. I admire that. It shows that he is honest in his responses.”
Kee says in his preface that the idea of writing a biography of Lim came to him several years ago, but that it wasn’t till the beginning of 2020 that he started working on it. “I had no idea then what a massive undertaking the project would be. It was only after I had written numerous chapters that I realised it would take more than one volume to do justice to Mr Lim’s life and work.
“Now that the first volume is done, I’m looking forward to tackling the next one. It has been an edifying mission for me so far because I have learnt much from everyone I interviewed, and derived immense pleasure from writing Mr Lim’s story.
“I’m sure I will experience more pleasure and learning when I set about crafting the next volume.”
The RM80 book, published by Landmark Books, will be a welcome addition to the biographies of Malaysians who have made a difference in the lives of its citizens.