Dear classmates, comrades, relatives and friends,
I thank all of you who have come from far and wide to do me honour on the occasion of my 75th birthday.
My classmate Michael Ong emailed from Canberra his apologies for not being able to be with us.
He said: “The spirit is willing but the body is weak. With increasing painful left knee joint and painful feet, not to mention forgetful ‘Seniors moments’ I am not confident in my ability to travel alone. Judith too is getting frail.”
A timely reminder in particular to all my classmates of the frailty and brevity of life.
”Anyway woke up early and composed the following acrostic for the occasion. If I may say so, it seems to me that your political struggle is like a love affair with the country and reminds me of a love poem learnt during schooldays – “Life In a Love” by Robert Browning.”
This is the acrostic – i.e. a series of lines or verses in which the first letters when taken in order spell out a word – “LKS Duty Before Self” which Michael penned:
LKS Duty Before Self
Lim Kit Siang serves and strives to
Keep faith with a daring dream dreamt
Since schooldays for all Malaysians
Defiantly devoted despite personal pains you
The struggle to achieve a Malaysia
Yet to be born fearlessly fighting the good fight
Bedevilled and berated by enemies and
Even erstwhile temporal fellow travellers
Fallen for fishy fame and luring lucre
Ovations sought nought in your oratory but
Resisting a repressive regime
Embedded in its corporate corruption
Still you soldier on relentlessly
Even in the evening of your life
Leading and challenging all citizens to
Find fulfilment in a new Malaysia
I am humbled by Michael’s acrostic. Michael is right. My ups and downs, trials and tribulations in the past 50 years were a labour of love – of a Malaysian patriot answering the national call to help realise a united, harmonious, democratic, progressive and prosperous Malaysia that can be an example to the world for our success in multi-racial, multi-religious, multi-lingual and multi-cultural nation-building and capable of world-class political, socio-economic and educational achievements.
These were the aspirations of my classmates who left High School Batu Pahat after Form V in 1959.
It was this call to make Malaysia a nation all Malaysians can feel proud that was the motive power why I ended my journalistic career in Singapore to return to Malaysia to begin my political work to achieve the Malaysian Dream.
That was 50 years ago. My political work is as long as the life-span of the Democratic Action Party, which was formally registered on March 18, 1966 although it sought registration more than five months earlier on Oct. 11, 1965.
The 13th General Elections, the 11th contested by the DAP, is the highwater mark of DAP – where DAP secured 38 MPs and 95 State Assembly seats out of a Pakatan Rakyat total of 89 MPs and 229 State Assembly seats. These figure do not include the 12 State Assemblymen and women DAP won in the 2011 Sarawak State General Elections, which will bring the total number of State Assembly representatives to 107 – a figure we would never have dared to visualise when we started 50 years ago.
But the hope of Malaysians for political change was not realised in the 13th General Elections although Pakatan Rakyat won 53% of the popular vote, and two years after the general elections, the hopes of the people were crushed when Pakatan Rakyat ceased to exist.
However, in the past six months, Malaysians can again hope and root for political change and the realisation of the Malaysian Dream with formation of Pakatan Harapan with the coming together of DAP, PKR and Parti Amanah Negara.
The year 2015 had indeed been an “annus horribilis” for Malaysia.
But the events of the past 50 days portend that the year 2016 will overshadow 2015 as an even worse “annus horribilis” for Malaysia.
In the sixth decade of our nationhood since the achievement of Merdeka in 1957 and the formation of Malaysia in 1963, Malaysia has lost its way.
In the heady days of Merdeka in 1957, the people in the country had high hopes and aspirations.
When Malaysia was formed 53 years ago in 1963, our country was second in Asia after Japan in terms of economic development, prosperity and per capita income, wealthier than other Asian countries including South Korea and Taiwan which were poorer and more backward at the time.
But over the decades, Malaysia lost out in the race of economic competitiveness and educational excellence and by the nineties, Malaysia had been left behind with the emergence of the Asian economic tigers comprising Singapore, Hong Kong, South Korea and Taiwan while Malaysia could only aspire to be the next Asian tiger.
But these hopes of Malaysia to become the next economic tiger were never realised with the Asian financial crisis in the 1990s – and today, Malaysia is even further behind the economic tigers as well as at risk of being overtaken by other countries in Asia, Africa and South America.
Our only “accomplishment” appears to be in the field of corruption, where Malaysia is named third in the world’s “worst corruption scandals in 2015”, dropped four places in Transparency International’s (TI) Corruption Perception Index (CPI) 2015, and at risk of being overtaken by China and Indonesia in TI CPI within a decade.
Today, bogged down with a multitude of political, economic, good governance and nation-building crises which had been described as the making of a “perfect storm” to hit the country, Malaysians have lost the self-confidence to re-make the world that we had displayed in earlier decades.
When I saw the film “Ola Bola”, what struck me most was that we have lost the national unity, togetherness, cohesion, solidarity and oneness which had united not only the football team, but all Malaysians, in the quest for a place in the Olympic football finals in 1980.
This also brought back memories of the outpourings of the national spirit when we ruled the world in badminton in the fifties and sixties.
These national celebrations over our sports accomplishments have not only become few and far between over the past few decades, marking another serious Malaysian decline in another field of human endeavour, with Malaysia falling from a top football nation in Asia half a century ago to be ranked No. 171 in the FIFA rankings – 38 places away from the rock bottom in the FIFA rankings of 208 members.
Malaysia today has instead become more polarised than ever on race and religion, causing of low national achievements and accomplishments in every field of human endeavour.
I agree with Datuk Nazir Razak that corruption and racism have undermined Malaysia’s nation-building efforts.
Or as former Minister, Datuk Paduka Rafidah Aziz recently posted in her Facebook, lost were the years when Malaysians went in groups to each other’s houses, and there was no hang-ups about our multiracial society, when we respected each other’s religion and sensitivities and no one injected into our lives the notion of being different.
Malaysia must get out of this rut we have been stuck in the past few years, which the twin mega scandals have combined to pull us down deeper and deeper into the abyss.
Malaysians must find and restore our self-confidence to compete with the rest and the best in the world. We must rediscover our greatness as Malaysians.
On my 75th birthday, my only wish is to see a realignment of progressive political forces to save Malaysia and to keep faith with the Malaysian Dream of an united, inclusive, moderate, democratic and prosperous Malaysia.
I want to thank my wife, Neo Yok Tee and my family now with seven grandchildren, and in particular my two sons, two daughters and two daughters-in-law, Guan Eng and Betty, Hui Ming, Hui Ying, Guan Choon and Siew Swan, for their solid support – despite hardships and travails – in my half a century of quest for an united, harmonious, plural, democratic, progressive and prosperous Malaysia!
I want to end by also thanking all Malaysians regardless of race, religion or region who have supported this quest in the past half a century and I invite all to let us jointly journey on in this quest for a Malaysian Dream.
(Speech at his 75th birthday dinner at Equatorial Hotel, Penang on Saturday,20th February 2016 at 10 pm)