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Farewell, Fan Yew Teng

By Liew Chin Tong
DAP MP for Bukit Bendera

[THE ROCKET] Fan Yew Teng possessed a martyr’s unfailing idealism which allowed him to remain ever-smiling in the face of a political fate which most others would regard as troubling. He left behind great intellectual food for thought for all of us.

In the infant years of the Democratic Action Party, Fan Yew Teng was its most important scribe and ideologue; he was also its most dazzling rising star aside from Lim Kit Siang.

Prior to his political career he had distinguished himself as the leader of the National Union of Teachers (NUT) and the editor of its organ, The Educator. In 1969, the then-27-year-old Fan was elected Member of Parliament for Kampar and was instantly confronted with the impossibly difficult political situation in the wake of the May 13 Incident. At that time, the Secretary-General Goh Hock Guan left the country on a self-imposed exile, while Lim Kit Siang was detained under the Internal Security Act.

Decades later, on 17th August 1998, Lim Kit Siang welcomed Fan Yew Teng back to the DAP fold after a 20-year hiatus and told the audience: “We had been comrade-in-arms in the DAP in the 60s and 70s in the battle for a Malaysian Malaysia.  In fact, Fan exercised the powers of DAP Secretary-General even before me.”

This came about when in October 1969, Goh Hock Guan resigned from his post as the Secretary General under pressure that he would otherwise be detained under the Internal Security Act. While officially appointed the third Secretary General of the DAP, Lim Kit Siang was then being held at the Muar Detention Camp. Hence Fan Yew Teng was made the acting Secretary General instead. Fan guided the party through the crisis to emerge with its influence intact. As Ipoh Barat MP M. Kulasegaran puts it, it was Fan Yew Teng who kept the party from breaking in the oppressive post-May 13 climate.

As the Editor of The Rocket, Fan approved its publication of a speech by the then Penang DAP chairman Dr Ooi Kee Saik in which Dr Ooi welcomed Lim Kit Siang’s release from ISA. This article led to Fan’s conviction in 1971 under the Sedition Act, which he appealed and won. The Privy Council and the Supreme Court ordered the High Court to rehear the case. Meanwhile, Fan had in 1974 defeated SP Seenivasagam of BN for the Menglembu parliamentary seat. When the sedition trial was reheard, Fan was once again found guilty and subsequently stripped of his parliamentary seat. He later left the country for further studies. Unable to accept the DAP’s stand on the People’s Action Party at the Socialist International convention, Fan left the DAP.

Although I had only met Fan once and spoke to him on the phone once, I have read many of his excellent articles published in the PAS organ Harakah. I learnt of his deteriorating health when I met his wife Noeleen Heyzer, who is an Under Secretary-General of the United Nations and his daughter Pauline, in June 2010 in Singapore.

That memory crossed my mind as I, along with the rest of Parliament, rose to our feet to observe a moment of silence for him. I asked myself what would have happened had his idealistic political dreams not been cut short prematurely by the sedition conviction. Would his political journey have changed? Would the DAP have been different had we not lost him? Could Malaysian history have been rewritten by a DAP emboldened with Fan among its ranks?

In the memories of those old enough to remember him, Fan Yew Teng shone radiantly, dazzling onlookers with his brilliance before his light was snuffed out all too quickly. One can’t help but mourn the loss of such limitless potential; Fan was not the first to fall at the hands of the Regime, nor would he be the last. He fought the good fight in his short but incandescent life, at the end of which Fan Yew Teng left us an inspiring legacy of idealism. [THE ROCKET]