Kee Thuan Chye
The Tiger of Jelutong has died in a road accident. It happened at 1.10am this morning near Kampar on the North-South Expressway. He was on his way to Penang to represent a client in court. To practise the law as he had done for more than four decades. In army parlance, he died with his boots on.
Karpal Singh would surely not have chosen to leave us this way, and would have wanted to continue fighting the great fight for the good of the nation which he did untiringly in politics, but we have to accept that at least he never stopped.
He fought endlessly to uphold democracy and the Federal Constitution as a lawyer and a politician. And for his good work, they shut him away under the Internal Security Act (ISA), charged him with sedition, called him an enemy of Islam.
But he leaves behind a legacy that not only his wife and children can be proud of, but all Malaysians as well.
May he now rest in peace.
Karpal had been nothing but fearless. When the Government did things that were wrong, he told them to do it right. When Government policy and practices impinged on Malaysia’s well-being, he exposed them. If any party threatened the spirit and letter of the Federal Constitution, he staunchly opposed it.
In 2007, he wrote to former prime minister Mahathir Mohamad to ask him to make a personal apology to the Lord President and Supreme Court judges he had dismissed in 1988.
In 2013, he challenged Mahathir to respond to Tamrin Ghafar’s allegation that he was involved in the incident leading to the May 13 riots.
When Mahathir made the declaration in 2001 that Malaysia was an Islamic state, Karpal slammed him for doing it without legal backing. He said it contravened the five-bench declaration of the Supreme Court in 1988 that Malaysia is a secular state.
In 2012, he called on the Yang di-Pertuan Agong to invoke his power under Article 130 of the Federal Constitution to refer to the Federal Court the issue of whether Malaysia was a secular or Islamic state. “A country governed by secular laws is not an Islamic state,” Karpal reiterated. He also said the Federal Constitution did not state that Malaysia was an Islamic state, unlike Pakistan, Bangladesh and Iran.
He was also consistent in opposing the imposition of hudud, even to the extent of endangering the fragile relationship between his party and its Pakatan Rakyat ally, PAS. “I’ve time and again said that hudud ought not be brought into the country,” he asserted when PAS raised the issue during the 13th general election campaign. Despite the potential damage this could have done to the alliance, he stood by his principle.
He even demanded that PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim state his and his party’s stand on hudud and also on PAS’s fixation on setting up an Islamic state.
For his fearlessness, Karpal had to pay the price a few times. In 1987, during Operation Lalang, he was detained without trial under the ISA for supposedly inciting racial tension. He was shut away for 15 months.
That proved to be a challenging time for his wife, Gurmit. “The ISA detention in 1987 was … very unexpected and took a toll on my life,” she recalled. “The children were small then, a few of them were sitting for exams because it was near the end of October.”
Karpal was charged with sedition twice. In 2000, in the course of representing Anwar Ibrahim against his first sodomy charge and discovering that a pathological report had confirmed high levels of arsenic detected in Anwar’s body, he was hauled up for saying, “It could well be that someone out there wants to get rid of him … even to the extent of murder … I suspect people in high places are responsible for this situation.”
Was that even libellous, to begin with?
In 2009, he was charged with saying that the Perak Sultan’s act of removing Mohammad Nizar as menteri besar and replacing him with Zambry Abdul Kadir could be challenged in a court of law. He was found guilty in February 2014 and in meting out sentence last month, the court fined him RM4,000, which automatically disqualified him from continuing to be MP. He appealed the ruling and sentence.
But if we consider objectively what he said, it doesn’t sound seditious. It is a fact that the Sultan can be brought before the Special Court. There is provision for that. So what wrong did Karpal commit in stating a fact? Were his enemies trying to get him out of Parliament?
After that, it looked like the prosecution wanted more blood from him. It filed a cross-appeal seeking a heavier sentence. As the maximum fine under the law is RM5,000, it was obvious they wanted him to suffer more. “They want me in jail,” Karpal said. And he was probably right.
But shame on them. Karpal was 73 years old and a man confined to a wheelchair because of a car accident in 2005. What would imprisoning him have proven? Who would have derived satisfaction from it? There are so many others who truly deserve punishment but are out there running around free. What is the Attorney-General’s office doing about that?
When news of Karpal’s death broke out, a friend of mine SMSed me, “His enemies must be happy now.” I replied, “Or ashamed.”
But then I read The Malay Mail report about Perkasa Vice-President Zulkifli Noordin saying in a tweet, “The Kelantan PAS government wants to enforce hudud law with the help of Umno. Allah has killed off Karpal, who was the major opponent of its implementation!”
What a thing to say at a time like this. Karpal was the voice of conscience and righteousness. He fought on our behalf. He was the champion of upholding the law and democracy. And he never gave up. A lawyer friend told me this morning, “I’ve never met him in person but having him with us through the years fighting endlessly for justice was like having a righteous judge with us. I shed tears when I heard about the bad news over the radio this morning.”
Why did Karpal go on fighting? Just before his 70th birthday, Karpal told The Malaysian Insider, “I’m doing it for the country. At the end, that’s what it is for.”
MCA Public Services and Complaints Department head Datuk Michael Chong once said, “Karpal is one of those people who really calls it like he sees it. When he feels the Government is doing wrong, he will say it. But when he feels the Government has done something good, he will also give praise. To me, that shows he is doing it out of his love for the country. I respect him for that.”
Our Cabinet ministers talk much about patriotism, even about trying to impose it on Malaysians artificially through various means, including legislation, obviously oblivious to the reality that patriotism comes from within the individual. If they needed an example, they could look to Karpal Singh. He was a true patriot, notwithstanding what the blackguards of Umno and BN did to try to denigrate him.
Now that he’s gone, let’s see if they will finally acknowledge him as a patriot.
Ah, but perhaps what they say doesn’t really matter. They speak so much nonsense, anyway. Sensible people will be able to judge for themselves what is true.
For me, Karpal was a true son of Malaysia. And a loving husband, too.
As Gurmit, whom he had known since she was a child, recalled in an interview with The Star in 2006, “On my birthday on May 10, 1987, when Karpal was under ISA, I was feeling particularly down and lost, and went to his office. Suddenly, an assistant ran in calling, ‘Mr Karpal has sent you a letter!’ Inside the envelope was a little card with a drawing on it. It started off with ‘To my girl in blue …’ You see, I had a lovely blue frock when I was nine or 10 which I wore everywhere. He remembered that! That was the most beautiful thing he had ever done just to tell me he was still there and that he loved me! I don’t know how he managed to get that card delivered right on time.”
We shall miss the Tiger of Jelutong.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the book The Elections Bullshit, available in bookstores.