A giant passes away

The former Chief Minister of Penang, Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, passed away last night. Even though the passing is expected, since a person at his age who had a massive stroke is quite unlikely to recover, I am sure most Penangites will still  feel sad .

There is no doubt that he was the main moving force that has totally transformed Penang from a sleepy entrepot  with practically no industrial base into the Silicon Valley of Malaysia.

I grew up in Penang in the 60s, and that time life was difficult. The economy then depended heavily on being an entrepot, importing commodities and re-exporting them. The trade then was mainly rubber and tin. The only factory of note then was perhaps the Eastern Tin smelting company located along Dato Kramat Road.

On the retail side, businessmen survived on selling tax free goods to visitors from mainland and South Thailand, being a free port at that time. But business was slow after the tax free status was removed.

Dr Lim then was the chief of a small party called United Democratic party, the UDP.  Even though the party was small, it was able to win a few seats in the 1964 elections, and had the support of many opposition-minded Penangites over the then Socialist Front (Bull Head Party, as the local called it then). In 1968, he joined hands with a few academics and some of the leaders from Labour Party ( a component of the Socialist Front) to form a multiracial party called Parti Gerakan rakyat Malaysia, a people’s movement for Malaysia. He in fact brought the whole UDP into Parti Gerakan and the former ceased to exist after the formation of Gerakan.

In Penang, Parti Gerakan depended heavily on the machinery of the dissolved UDP. With only 300 die hard cadres, Gerakan was able to defeat the Alliance Party to form the Penang State Government in 1969.

The joy of victory was however short lived, for a few days after the ’69 election, racial riots broke out in many areas in Malaysia, Penang being one of them. That event came to be known by all Malaysians as May 13, a tragic and black day in Malaysia.

The political landscape in Malaysia  changed after May 13. Racial awareness was heightened. NEP was introduced to provide affirmative actions to certain ethnic group which was far behind economically. It must be said that the economic situation then was very different, and many people at that time did agree to have this affirmative action to help to address the economic inequality. NEP  was later skewed by politicians with their own agenda but that was another story altogether( I have repeated spoken out against this policy in this blog). The intention then was noble, to eradicate poverty irrespective of ethnicity and to restructure society to have a more level playing field for all.

It was in this context that the late Dr Lim brought the whole Gerakan into a new coalition known as BN as a founding partner. I think there were many reasons for this move. One of the reasons was the development of Penang. Without the cooperation between Federal and State, lots of projects could not be implemented , and the grand plan that he has for Penang could not be achieved with the party continuing remaining as an opposition. On top of that, he believed  that racial confrontation could best be avoided by working together rather than against each other.  We must also not forget that he stepped down as party president in 1980, passing the baton to another Dr Lim,  and concentrated instead on the development of Penang.

He did bring development to Penang. Penang was totally transformed and big multinationals began moving in and set up bases. Motorola, Intel , AMD, etc etc you name it, yo see it…. The free trade zones became a model for others to emulate.  His legacies included the Penang Bridge, Komtar (once the tallest building in Asia) and of course a totally changed economic structure based on industries instead of just commerce. If ever there is a politican who could really change the life of people for the better, Tun DR Lim Chong Eu must be counted as one of them.

His passing is. although expected,  still a sad day for all Malaysians especially those who are from Penang.



15 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. klm
    Nov 25, 2010 @ 14:59:31

    There is no doubt that Penang owed its status as Silicon Island to Lim Chong Eu. As noted by Lim Chong Eu, when Penang got into the electronic industry, the govt had no idea what the business was all about. All they cared was that it was cheaper to create jobs in the electronic industry than in the agriculture sector.

    It is also sad to note that the mentality of the govt with regards to this industry has not changed. It is also a sad thing that Lim Chong Eu was not given a bigger role in the federal to help in the economic development. Things would probably be different. He could have move Malaysia a few steps forwards in the electronic business and Malaysia could be like Taiwan.


  2. CYC
    Nov 25, 2010 @ 15:18:56

    This is the man that makes a difference between Gerakan and MCA. His towering personality and achievement dwarfs MCA into an insignificant entity though larger in size of memberships. May he reincarnates into a towering Malaysian again, my wishful dream.


  3. Dr Hsu
    Nov 25, 2010 @ 16:13:20

    This is the person who epitomised the idea of an expanding cake . He believed that if the cake is made expanding, everyone would be prosperous. The politicians nowadays fight only for their share of the cake, and not so much for expanding the cake.


  4. Dr Hsu
    Nov 25, 2010 @ 16:27:01

    If he had remained as president of MCA and not outmaneuvered by Tun Tan Siew Sin and his group, he would have made a very good finance minister and Malaysia would perhaps be very different… No one after him in MCA could really stand up to the hegemony of the big Brother…He was really a man of principle.


  5. CYC
    Nov 25, 2010 @ 17:28:37

    What more is there in Gerakan to cherish after the passing of this iconic leader, Dr Hsu ?


  6. petestop
    Nov 25, 2010 @ 18:20:36

    Hard to find leaders of such calibre and forward looking visionary nowadays.

    Unfortunately our politicians are still bogged down by racial politics after 50+ years of independence, no doubt perpetuated by UMNO and its cohorts in the BN.

    If Gerakan have stick to its original founding principles, nobody would have kick them out of Penang.

    Unfortunately Koh Tsu Koon is the leader to set Gerakan back to its roots, neither are there many upcoming leaders insight, due to the politics of patronage.
    Good people like our good doctor here, will probably never get a shot at the
    top leadership, as he will not curry favors nor work the patronage system.

    This is the unfortunate result of many opportunist coming into Gerakan once they
    are in the ruling coalition, many looking for “kan tau”.

    Likewise, we also starting to see it in DAP.

    Therefore, it is always good to send a political party into the wild once in a while
    to remind them of who is the boss, the People.


  7. disgusted
    Nov 25, 2010 @ 20:53:34

    (Quote): “……send a political party into the wild…” (Unquote)


    You are a very kind person. I would say, “diapers” should be thrown into the trash bin” with the “use and throw” modern business concept.

    Or simply put, after eating “chili padi” what comes out after digestion. Flush it.


  8. sammy
    Nov 27, 2010 @ 00:49:07

    Tun Lim was more than a CM or a leader in Gerakan. He was an icon to us Penangites, a simple man, from a generation of people who worked hard for something and not expect free help and ‘tongkat’ like the generation of now.

    A passing of a great man and I will always remember him during my father’s visits to meet him during CNY at his residence when I would toddle along and the pictures taken with Tun. I would always be in awed in his presence as I was in Tunku’s great presence…too bad I never felt that when I met KTK or the great mamakutty..

    I hope the new generation in Penang would remember what he did and the contributions to the Pearl of the Orient.


  9. Tak Tak
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 09:47:57

    Lim Chong Eu’s oral history http://www.penerbit.usm.my/pen2006/SSU/LICEbi.html


  10. wassup
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 17:46:26

    …but still, he joined BN and thats it, the whole nation of Malaysian chinese was officially under BN’s rule.

    Bring development to Penang or is it something waiting to happen? I loathe the phrase ‘..bringing development to so and so’, it’s like discrediting the people who slug it out and toil to half death while the towering politician takes the credit. Common …. please la..

    My condolence to the family though.


  11. disgusted
    Nov 29, 2010 @ 17:59:48

    Waasup, I fully agree with you.

    Also some politicians in power also claimed, “the government brought stability and unity”…..BUT the fact is that IT IS the government policies that DIVIDE the people and yet “IT” has the cheek to claim credit.

    As if we, Malaysians are eternally fighting with each other and THIS BENEVOLENT government came in to bring PEACE. Would you say, the “Pigkasa” brings unity?


  12. petestop
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 13:21:28


    Humans are corruptible, politicians (and political parties) especially.
    It is too idealistic to think that the political parties we support will
    forever be true to their mission and principles.

    It is up to us the citizens to provide the check-n-balance with our vote.

    Although the recent Selangor DAP election does give an optimistic
    feeling abt the way the DAP grassroot is rejecting the tainted
    politicians (even if it is claimed ignorant blunder) and elevating
    the one true to their principles. Even the Unity Team endorsed
    from top down, individually did not secure any Top 5 votes,
    indicating the DAP grassroot is sophisticated enough in rejecting
    potential patronage system developing (like the infamous
    MCA “cai dan” system).

    There are many good (and smart) Gerakan folks, we have to admit,
    and they wanted the same thing for Malaysia. Only thing is that
    they compromised one too many of their principles at the
    direction of UMNO, which is why we need to send them a
    very strong message by kicking them out of Penang.

    It is without doubt that BN, under direction of UMNO, is perpetuating
    the racial divide, and despite the NEP original objective,
    the identification of race by economic activities and region is
    even more pronounced now then ever, after 50+ years rule.

    Therefore Gerakan, as they are part of BN, have to be give a
    big ZERO on this point. KTK, the backdoor minister, does not
    even have the credibility as an individual, especially accepting
    the backdoor ministership (after saying he won’t), how do you
    expect he will in turn give credibility to Gerakan to turn around
    the 50+ years of failure perpetuated by BN ??

    Unfortunately Gerakan have been corrupted by the patronage
    system, thus a good man like Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, will never
    again rise to top leadership in Gerakan, unlike in the olden days.


  13. Dr Hsu
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 16:10:16

    I agree with petestop that if Dr Lim CHong EU is 50 years younger, and decided to enter politics now, he would not have climbed up to become the head of is party..

    Gone are the days where meritocracy, morality and capability decided a person’s rise in politics. Nowadays, when you join in a party, you have to be president’s man to have any chance of moving up. In every party election, there will be menu where those anointed by the top will get elected.

    With the culture of patronage, the party president will promote people aligned to him to CC, the statechairman will promote people to his state committee and so on.. In 2008party election, I was not on any menu, and i must be one of the very few over the last decade who got elected without being member of a faction.. BUt to be fair, there was no pressure to stop members from voting me either even though i was not on any menu.

    In the old days, politicians sold their houses to fund their campaign/activities in their quest to attain their aims and their ideology. They used their own money to travel and to organise actitivities.

    I am glad to say that so far, all my travels around the country on party afffairs, all the activities organised by me are all funded from my own self and my own members ‘ pockets. We may not be able to match those in Chong Eu’s era, but at the very least, we do not play politics of patronage nor lobby for any funds or any positions nor any titles…..

    We may not be able to move up, but it does not matter to us, since this is not our aim.. We just want a platform to voice out our stand and that of the people on the ground…That is why I have always stressed that the group of us (myself and those who are with me) are not politicians , since we do not play politics..But to be fair, not everyone would be able to fund their own travels and their own activities, many of them are just salaried men..

    There are many old members in my party like this, using their own money for the cause which they believe, and they receive nothing and aspire nothing back from the party.. These are the good people, which are still aplenty all over the country…

    Unfortunately, this type will sooner or later fade away from the scene…

    On any point, i suspected that if DrLimCE was still the head of the party after 2008, he would have taken the party out after 308.. I spoke to a few exMPs of the party, who are now in the 60s and 70s, they were asking what is Gerakan still doing inside BN?


  14. disgusted
    Nov 30, 2010 @ 18:58:54

    True, Petestop. I agree. As a matter of fact, there are also good people in all the BN parties but they will never rise to be leaders (which is also a good thing for themselves) but bad for the nation.

    But our “complaints and grouses” day in day out and for months on end remain the same as if we are ants unable to climb out of the empty condensed milk tin.

    Citizens can do only so much to provide checks and balances…look at the useless anti-corruption agency closing cases faster than the blinking of our eyelids. Look at the stink of a former state MB using tax payers monies for luxurious tours and nothing happens.


  15. A true Malaysian
    Dec 04, 2010 @ 00:32:21

    It’s hard to find a BN politician without controversy, the late Tun Dr. Lim Chong Eu inclusive.

    First, he won Penang on opposition ticket, but join BN a short while. Why?

    Second, his brother is the architect of Komtar. Why?

    But, relatively, he had lesser controversy than other BN politicians, and by virtue of he not easily gave in to Umno, he is still a respectable statesman.

    To me, Alex Lee, Goh Cheng Teik and Paul Leong are Gerakaniers that without controversy.


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