It’s been a month since the rebirth of Malaysia as an exemplary democracy.
The results of the historic May 9 general election, which saw the defeat of the Barisan Nasional after six decades of uninterrupted rule, have enabled us to reset the direction of the country and its policies.
Just like during the birth of the nation 61 years ago, when Bapa Malaysia Tunku Abdul Rahman urged the people to strive to create a new nation, inspired by the ideals of justice and liberty, Malaysia has been given a second chance to become “a beacon of light in a disturbed and distracted world”.
In terms of news, there has never been a dull moment since the new Pakatan Harapan government took over.
Over the past weeks, the revelation of the staggering extent of corruption, blatant violations of public trust and brazen thievery of the country’s wealth has left us dazed.
The focus has largely been on Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s actions to restructure the credibility of our country’s key institutions after making a dramatic return as Prime Minister at the age of 93.
Not to be outdone, curious manoeuvres and media statements by Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, the Prime-Minister-in-waiting, have also been making the headlines at home and abroad.
But enough has been said and written about these two politicians who have loomed large over the country’s political landscape.
There is one giant of Malaysian politics who has not been given his due recognition towards na tion-building for more than half a century. The largely unsung hero is YB Lim Kit Siang, a selfless leader who has never wavered from his struggles for a better Malaysia.
The sacrifices he has made towards the country’s democratic ideals and the principles of justice and equality are immeasurable.
In spite of being repeatedly and unfairly punished by the powers that be, no one else can hold a torch to this 77-year-old for boldly and consistently voicing the views of the people, within and outside Parliament,
After the May 13, 1969 riots, he was detained under the Internal Security Act for 18 months.
In 1979, he was convicted of five charges under the Official Secrets Act for exposing a dodgy armament deal between the government and a Swiss firm. In the wake of the infamous Operasi Lalang arrests in October 1987, he was again detained under the ISA for 17 months.
For more than three decades, journalists of my generation have observed the trials and tribulations of the man fondly referred to as Kit by his friends and admirers.
Besides imprisonment, mostly without trial, Kit has also survived a host of health issues, including an eye ailment which nearly left him blind in one eye and an operation in December last year to remove a cancerous tumour on his left kidney.
Kit started out his political career in DAP as the national organising secretary, a position he held from 1966 to 1969 when the former journalist was the editor of The Rocket, the party’s news organ.
The doyen of the Malaysian Parliament was first elected as MP for Bandar Melaka, my hometown, in 1969 on a DAP ticket.
He won the renamed Kota Melaka constituency in 1974 before moving to Petaling Jaya in 1978.
The betrayal of his once protégé Chan Teck Chan, who defected to MCA, forced Kit to return to Kota Melaka and wrest the seat back for the party in the 1982 elections.
He moved to Penang in 1986, winning the Tanjong parliamentary seat for three terms, only to lose it in the 1999 polls due to Chinese dissatisfaction with DAP for its pact with PAS.
Kit returned to Parliament by winning the Ipoh Timor seat in 2004 and retained it for two terms.
In the 13th GE in 2013, he contested the Gelang Patah parliamentary seat against a formidable opponent in Tan Sri Abdul Ghani Othman, who came with a track record of having served as Mentri Besar of Johor for 18 years since 1995. Kit won with a resounding majority of 14,762 votes.
On May 9, he won Iskandar Puteri, the renamed Gelang Patah seat after the latest electoral boundary redelineation exercise with a majority of 44,864 votes.
Kit has served as a state assemblyman in Melaka and Penang – Kubu (1974–1982), Kampong Kolam (1986–1990) and Padang Kota (1990–1995).
He holds the record of serving as the Opposition Leader thrice over a span of 29 years. He has served DAP as secretary-general, chairman and party adviser and still shows no signs of slowing down.
In the run-up to GE14, all sorts of allegations were hurled at Kit, including accusing him of eyeing either the positions of Prime Minister or Deputy Prime Minister.
The claims, mainly from Umno and PAS leaders, were designed to drive a wedge between DAP and the other parties in Pakatan.
But the tactic found no traction among the voters.
The fact that Kit declined ministerial posts offered to him after GE14 reflects the true character of his leadership.
He is truly the epitome of “servant leadership”, the philosophy made famous by the late Robert K. Greenleaf in The Servant as Leader, an essay first published in 1970.
According to Greenleaf, a servant-leader focuses primarily on the growth and wellbeing of people and the communities to which he belongs. The servant-leader shares power, puts the needs of others first and helps people develop and perform as highly as possible.
At a time when politics is often trivialised and personalised instead of focusing scrutiny on the characteristics of leadership, Kit has consistently offered service to others without any thoughts of rewards or self-gratification. Malaysians owe a huge debt of gratitude to him.
Media consultant M. Veera Pandiyan is always inspired by this quote by Nelson Mandela: I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.