Penang State Executive Councillor Dr. Toh Kin Woon came to the Penang DAP State Chinese New Year open house on Friday night, and he asked me about my media conference today to announce my political future. He remarked that by Chinese and Japanese standards I am at an age which is just at the beginning of one’s political prime.
Dr. Toh is of course right. The Chinese President Jiang Zemin is 74 while the Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi is 63. Dr. Toh was too polite to refer to Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr.Mahathir Mohamad who is 74 and eight months older than the Chinese President.
Jiang Zemin had been a member of the Chinese Communist Party for 56 years, Mahathir a member of UMNO for 55 years and Obuchi a Member of the Japanese House of Representatives for 37 years.
I came across the second anecdote when I was surfing the Internet yesterday. Two days ago, 11th February, was the tenth anniversary of the release of Nelson Mandela from 27 years’ of imprisonment, to lead South Africa out of apartheid and to democracy. Mandela was then 71 years old and he stepped down as South Africa President last year at 80.
I mention these two anecdotes to eliminate the factor of age in my decision
on my political future, as I am at the comparatively young age of coming
to 59, as compared to these political personalities, leaving two factors:
The answer to the first question is incontrovertible - unanimous vote of confidence from the DAP Central Executive Committee as well as solid support from the various state committees, branches and members, to the extent that I have to specifically ask the DAP leaders, state committees and branches not to issue any public statement or adopt any resolution on the issue lest accusations are made of an attempt to stampede public opinion.
In fact, when I accepted the post as National Chairman after I had resigned my 30-year position as DAP Secretary-General to accept responsibility for the party’s catastrophic electoral defeat in the 1999 general election, it was an affirmation that I was prepared to continue to make my contribution in the DAP leadership.
Normally, the matter should have rested there, for it should be the sole responsibility and decision of a political party as to the dispositions of its political leaders and no business of non-party members to interfere as to who should be the party chairman or secretary-general.
I do not think Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad, Datuk Seri Dr. Ling Liong Sik, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik and Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu would take kindly to any attempt by any mass media, whether printed or electronic, to canvas public views as to whether they should step down from their party posts and retire from politics, as had happened in the past two months with regard to my position as DAP National Chairman.
But I have found the last two months on the public feedback as to whether I should step down as DAP National Chairman and retire from Malaysian politics a very good cathartic experience, and I think it would do Mahahtir, Liong Sik, Keng Yaik and Samy Vellu a lot of good if they could undergo the same experience.
The mass media should not be afraid that editors could be sacked, KDNs withdrawn or newspapers closed but should extend to Mahathir, Liong Sik, Keng Yaik and Samy Vellu the courtesies they had extended to me in the past two months.
I want to thank party leaders, members and branches for their patience and support in the past eight weeks while I welcomed and considered public feedback about my political future, as they all felt that whether I step down as DAP National Chairman is a matter which should be decided solely by the party - the party leadership and membership - and not by outsiders.
I also thank all who have given me their opinions, whether through email, letter, phone call and direct contact, as well as those who gave their views through the media, both printed and electronic.
I respect the many views and opinions expressed through the media which were made in good faith and I do not begrudge those who have political axes to grind and who thought this was the opportune moment for them to take advantage of the situation to force me out of politics. I need not name them because Malaysians will know who I am referring to.
The overwhelming majority of the public feedback that I had received in the past two months are of the view that I have still an important role to play in Malaysian politics and that I should stay on and continue the battle for justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.
I had given long and serious thought to the views of a very small number, but very vocal in the media, that I should step down as National Chairman and retire from Malaysian politics. I do not deny that the past two months had been a very agonising period for me when I weighed the views of those who wanted me to step down as DAP National Chairman - of both the bona fide and malafide varieties.
I do not wish to enter into a public polemic with anyone on this issue, but I am always prepared to have private discussion with those who are minded to do so.
I have now decided to soldier on in the Malaysian political arena and continue my commitment to the cause of a new Malaysia of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance. In coming to a decision, I feel a weight which had been on me for two months being lifted off.
How long more I will continue to be active in Malaysian politics will solely depend on when I outlive my political usefulness to the people and country. But one thing I can probably say with some certainty now - that I do not see myself leaving Malaysian politics before Mahathir whom I expect to serve out his full fifth-term as Prime Minister. I should be around to see who finally becomes the fifth Prime Minister of Malaysia which could take place in 2003 or 2004.
I remember that sometime in 1979, a relative of mine advised me that it was time for me to retire from politics on the ground that I had already reached the height of what I could possibly achieve in Malaysian politics as an Opposition leader, having been elected MP three times and held the post of Parliamentary Opposition Leader for five years, apart from being detained for 17 months under the Internal Security Act and tried and convicted on five charges under the Official Secrets Act.
My relative warned me that I could not go any higher unless I was prepared to sell my soul and betray my principles, and that it would be wise to withdraw from the political arena when one has reached the height before any fall - and to concentrate on building a legal practice and making money.
I would have spared myself and my family a lot of pain if I had started to fade out of politics in 1979 as advised by my relative. Guan Eng’s persecution, his detention under the Internal Security Act in 1987, his release in 1989 with me as the two detained for the longest period under Operation Lalang, his prosecution under the Sedition Act and Printing Presses Act, conviction, imprisonment, disqualification as Member of Parliament and disenfranchisement of his civic and political rights are intimately related to the fact that I am his father.
But I would not have been able to live with myself if I had started to fade away from Malaysian politics 20 years ago in 1979.
My relative’s advice was sound and right, if one was in politics for position’s sake. Taking into account the reality of Malaysian politics, it was not possible for a non-Malay Opposition politician to go very much higher and it would be quite wise to wind down’s once political activities and turn one’s energies to build a professional practice which would also be able to secure a firm financial foundation for oneself and the family.
But I had never entered politics merely to become an MP or State Assemblyman. Getting elected was just means towards the ends of striving for a just, fair, equal, democratic, united and prosperous Malaysian society.
In the sixties, seventies and even eighties, the DAP’s greatest battle
was to break the hardening mould of a nation-building policy
based on assimilation rather than integration and many DAP leaders paid
a heavy price to assert and establish that Malaysia is a multi-racial,
multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious nation which must be
fully reflected and represented in the
The Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad had publicly admitted a few years ago that the Barisan Nasional government had originally wanted to implement a policy of assimilation to build a Malaysian nation but had later realised that this was unsuitable for a plural society like Malaysia and that it should be by way of integration.
This is a measure of what the DAP had succeeded in the first phase of our political struggle.
The DAP is now engaged in the second and even more important phase of our political struggle, to create a new Malaysia with a paradigm shift where Malaysian politics will not be so dominated by race and religion but issues-centred as on questions of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.
The biggest battle for DAP and Malaysia is in the future and not in the past.
Although the DAP, together with other Opposition parties in the Barisan Alternative, failed to break the mould of Barisan Nasional political hegemony by ending its uninterrupted two-thirds parliamentary majority in the recent general election, we had forged a great beginning for a new politics and a new Malaysia of justice, freedom, democracy and good governance.
In the last general election, it was the Barisan Alternative which preached and practised Malaysian nationalism which transcends race and religion while it was the Barisan Nasional which resorted to the debased the politics of race and religion to perpetuate the colonial formula of divide-and-rule among different races.
Although the Barisan Nasional won only 56 per cent of the national vote, it was able to retain its two-thirds parliamentary majority by securing over 75% of the parliamentary seats because of a most unfair and undemocratic electoral system.
It is most unfortunate and even tragic that the Barisan Nasional government is not prepared to respect and recognise the significance of the 44 per cent of the national vote which supported the Barisan Alternative and start the process of national reconciliation and healing the wounds which had been created by the dirtiest election campaign in the nation’s history.
The events of the post-election period have shown that the Barisan Nasional
government is not only unprepared to respond positively to the cries
for political, economic and social reforms but it is taking the
country towards an even darker age in terms of accountability, integrity,
justice, democracy and human rights. Such events include:
These are among the reasons why the final term of Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister could be the most dangerous times for Malaysian nation-building as all external checks-and-balances have been dismantled while there are totally no countervailing forces inside UMNO and Barisan Nasional to give him a reality check.
I feel I still have a useful political role to play to mobilise public opinion and forces against such a bleak political scenario.
Emerging from the agony of the past two months, I look forward to the twin challenges of firstly, the DAP total revamp and secondly, the consolidation of the Barisan Alternative to better strive for its common agenda of creating a Just Malaysia.
I am confident that the new DAP Secretary-General Sdr. Kerk Kim Hock, who will be responsible in spearheading the total revamp of the DAP, will be able to carry out this important ask of party reform and I will render every e assistance and advice.
I had said before that my decision on my political future has nothing to do with my plan to go abroad on a sabbatical for higher studies - which will depend on two factors: availability of placement and funding. As this matter is still in a very exploratory stage, I have nothing to say further at the moment.