IN 1968, a group of motley of intellectuals, left-wing politicians, trade unionists and educationists formed a party that would be syonymous to Penang’s political landscape for the next 40 years.
The Malaysian People’s Movement Party (Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia) under the charismatic leadership of Professor Syed Hussein Alatas, Dr. Lim Chong Eu (later Tun), Dr Tan Chee Koon (later Tan Sri) and V. David would wrest power from the then Alliance in the 3rd General Election.
Gerakan, as PGRM is popularly known, found itself in the driving seat in Penang and with the burden of expectations weighing on the shoulders of Dr Lim Chong Eu, he did the unthinkable and worked with Gerakan’s political foes because he knew Penang would not survive without the support of the Federal Government.
Penang, in 1969, was very different. It was about to lose its free-port status, unemployment was at alarming levels and it was in an economic morass. By the sheer force of his convictions and personality, Dr Lim convinced a majority of Gerakan’s state assemblymen that working with UMNO and Tun Abdul Razak was the only way Penang could move once again. As expected, all did not agree with Dr Lim and that led to an eventual chasm that resulted in many senior leaders leaving Gerakan including Professor Syed Hussein, Dr Tan Chee Koon, V. David and others.
Gerakan’s cooperation with UMNO and Tun Razak set the stage for the formation of an enlarged Alliance that was transformed into Barisan Nasional.
Back to Penang, under Dr Lim’s 22 years stewardship, Penang grew from strength to strength. By the 1990’s, manufacturing would constitute 59% of Penang’s economy. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) in Penang between 1980-89 amounted to RM 4 billion that was a significant amount in that time. The initial eight companies that were courted by Dr Lim in 1972 that we known as the eight pioneers were Intel, AMD, Fairchild Semiconductors, AVAGO Technologies, OSRAM, Bosch, Renesas and Clarion. Their belief in Dr Lim and Gerakan’s leadership of Penang laid the foundation for Penang’s economic transformation.
The Bayan Baru industrial zone was developed and the Penang International Airport was enlarged to ensure it become one of freight hubs of the region. Roads and highways were built including the Jelutong expressway (now the Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu expressway) and the Penang Bridge.
On the socio-economic side, Dr Lim ensured that sufficient public housing was built including the famous Rifle Range Flats. A host of cross subsidy mechanisms were employed to ensure that housing remained affordable and within reaches of the average Penangite. By the end of Gerakan’s term in 2008, hardcore poverty was down to 2% and efforts were constantly taken to ensure that the lower-income households received aid from the state.
Gerakan also led on education and facilitated the formation of the Penang Medical College that has now produced many fine doctors in concert with the Royal College of Surgeons, Ireland. Gerakan also established its own university, the Wawasan Open University together with the Yap Chor Ee Charitable Trust.
One article will not suffice to share all of Gerakan’s achievements but I am proud that my party has left a mark of Penang that can never be erased despite the political headwinds.
On 8th March 2008, many Gerakan members went to sleep wondering how the party that worked tirelessly to develop and transform Penang could be unceremoniously dumped from power. The incumbent Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon also lost his bid for a parliament seat.
Many predicted that the end of Gerakan was nigh. Commentators and pundits’ openly asked how the party that had Penang as its raison d’etre would survive without Penang. As we say in Gerakan, Penang is the party’s soul. But we regrouped and persevered, our conscience was clear that we had done our best but politics is tough and democracy can be painful for those who lose. But in true Gerakan style, we handed power to the new leadership led by the Democratic Action Party (DAP) with grace and dignity, and confident of our place in Penang’s history.
Despite the drubbing suffered by Gerakan in 2008 and 2013, the party remains committed to Penang because we share an interminable bond with the people of Penang. Let’s not forget that DAP lost 10 elections in a row before they assumed power in Penang.
> The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.