On 2 March, Penang Chief Minister and DAP MP for Bagan Lim Guan Eng hosted a private dinner in honor of the Penang state DAP veterans. There are over 120 veterans in the state who have been party members for over 30 years. Of the number, about 70 turned up that night for a time of reminiscing, celebration, and looking forward to the future.
Present during the dinner were DAP Parliamentary Leader Lim Kit Siang, Penang State Chairman Chow Kon Yeow, and other Penang reps including Wong Hon Wai (Air Itam), Ng Wei Aik (Tanjong MP), Steven Sim (Bukit Mertajam MP).
Lim Guan Eng thanked the veterans for their contribution and faith in the party even during the lean years.
“Those days, we cried until we had no tears. Now, after 30 years of fighting, we are the government in Penang. I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for staying with us and believing in us.”
Lim said he respected the veterans sacrifice and contribution for staying 30 years in an opposition party, for daring to dream an impossible dream against all odds.
“If we persevere, we can achieve what we fight for. We believe that all Malaysians have a right to be treated fairly. That’s what enables us to carry on,” he said.
Years in the party: 33
As a student, Tanasekharan had the chance to listen to many political ceramahs particularly during the 1978 election. Hearing Lim Kit Siang’s speeches, he was very impressed with the ideals and believed that the party could offer a better future for the country.
Later, he joined the party because he believed in the party philosophy. Tanasekharan says DAP is a party that addresses all issues from a Malaysian perspective and does not just champion the rights of one race.
“During my time there were only four public universities in Malaysia, so the chances to get a place in university were slim, especially for non-muslims. At that time, DAP already foresaw the need for more universities to be built,” he explained.
See it through
“Many people asked me, “why do you join a sinking ship?” At that time, joining an opposition party was something taboo. I received an earful from many of my friends when I joined the party. But I continued to persevere over the years.”
Tanasekharan stayed with the party through wins and losses over the past thirty years. He stood as a candidate twice and lost, in 1986 in the Batu Uban state seat and in 2004 in the Batu Kawan Parliament seat.
The party faced a crisis in the 1990s during the “KOKS (Kick out Kit Siang)” era when there were challenges to the leadership. Referring to that dark period, Tanasekharan says that the party could have been destroyed if the members did not make the right decision.
“I am glad that they made the right decision. At the time of crossroads, making the right decision will make all the difference in history,” he said.
The veteran hopes that in five years time, Pakatan Rakyat can capture the federal government. Pakatan Rakyat has shown that it can govern with good management, offering better services and reducing corruption, Tanasekharan says.
“Some of our policies have been previously unheard of. Such as the RM100 cash gift to senior citizens. We are proud to contribute to the people’s welfare and see the result of our hard work over the years.
“The people can now see a new perspective, one of good governance and administration. They know that UMNO is playing the race card for its own survival.”
My advice to the new generation? Party unity is important. We are a democratic party, but that is not an excuse to destroy the party.
We must earn the respect of the people. If we are fighting among ourselves, we will not be able to do that. We must show the voters that we are matured politicians who can remain united and can earn the voters’ confidence.
Jenny Yeoh Chooi Tee & Lee Pi Cheang
Age: both 63
Years in the party: 35 & 33 respectively
Jenny joined the party two years after her husband, they are both in the Padang Kota branch. She believes in the party struggle and constitution, the fight for a just Malaysian society.
“I run a kindergarten and I always believe that we must offer a better future for the next generation. We were very disappointed in 2013 when Pakatan Rakyat lost the election. Although in terms of votes we had won the majority, but in terms of seats we lost. This is because of unfair delineation. In our system there is no such thing as “one man one vote”, says the feisty grandmother.
“I believe in the future of my children and grandchildren. At the end of the day whether we fail or succeed as a society depends on leadership. We want strong leadership in this country, not BN leadership.”
She added that her family are happy with how Pakatan Rakyat administers the Penang state. She hopes for a future Malaysia that is non-racial and more united. Most of all, she hopes for a government that does not play politics with education.
Lee Pi Cheang
In 1982, Lee stood in the Padang Kota state seat against (then- Chief Minister) Lim Chong Eu. It was a hard fight. They had expected to lose, but hoped to keep their deposit, he told us with a laugh.
“At that time, people were not prepared to change. They were afraid of instability that might take place, because the BN government kept harping on it,” Lee explains.
Lee said that his then-employers, a Swedish company, were very supportive of his choice to stand in the election. The company allowed him to take 16 days unpaid leave. In face, his colleagues and friends collected money to assist him in the campaign.
That year was one of the lowest ebbs of DAP’s political struggle. The party held only two state seats in Penang (Peter Dason and Teoh Teck Huat).
“My mindset going into the election was that, I must carry the party flag. It was not a battle between me and him (Chong Eu) but it was about our policies against BN’s. However, the people of Penang could not accept this at that time,” Lee recalled.
“I think they knew that the BN government was not good, but they were afraid to vote against them. In my time, people were scared.”
Lee told us that during that era, the government used May 13 to frighten the people. It told the Malays that if they lost power, there would be violence and bloodshed. They would also throw money in order to obtain votes and hold on to power.
The role of the media
In comparison, Lee says that these days, the younger generation is exposed to information on the internet.
“They are not afraid like we were,” he marvels.
However, Lee points out that the print media is unfair and biased. In any country where the government wants to maintain power, it will control the media.
“Newspapers such as The Star are one-sided, but we have no choice because it is the only English-language daily.”
The government does not want the people to be politically active, Lee says.
“They will use the news to influence the people. The sickening part is that whey will use the media to ensure that they hold on to power irrespective of whether society supports them.”
“The government hopes that our children will not get involved in politics. But all of my family are not afraid to vote against the government. As parents, we fight for our children. Having gone through the experiences we have, we know it is time for change.
We have to keep on changing for the better. The government is central to future policies and in managing our resources. We are blessed with many natural resources, but if corruption continues, our country’s resources will be depleted in ten years’ time.”
Lim Hock Seng
Joined DAP in 1974
Oon holds the distinction of being the oldest veteran present at the dinner on that night. When he joined the party in 1970, there were hardly any members in Penang.
“Nobody wanted to join the DAP back then!” he tells us frankly. “Many people criticised my decision to join the party, they called me a fool and said that I was wasting my time.”
The former coffee shop worker decided to join DAP as he could see the vision of bringing change to the nation, even then. He was actively involved in party activities and led the Bukit Mertajam branch.
When speaking of his past challenges in politics, the wheelchair-bound veteran maintains a steely gaze wrought from years of perseverance. “They tried to bring us down, but we never gave up,” he says.
“My principle in life is to persevere. No matter how people make fun of me, I will not stop believing in what is right. I believe the DAP can bring change to the people, and I have lived to see them keep their promises.
“Bukit Mertajam was once a MCA stronghold. Although they were in power, their service track record was bad. They would not help complainants. This made the people very disappointed and bitter.”
Oon hopes to see more new blood being groomed in the party to take over the leadership in the future and grow the party, guiding it to federal power.