Two weeks ago, I paid a courtesy call to Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu. As a politician, Dr Lim's experience and achievements are broad and impressive.
Born on 28th May 1919 to a peranakan family, Dr Lim started his early education in an English medium school. His scholastic achievement was impeccable. He topped the gruelling Queen's scholarship selection examination for Her Majesty colonies in Asia and subsequently went to UK to pursue his degree in medicine. Until today, Dr Lim is known for his deep thoughts and philosophical assertions.
Soon when he returned to Malaya, the young Dr Lim was attracted by the Chinese struggle against the Japanese invasion and subsequently the World War 2. He left for China and worked as a physician to the United Chinese Front (KMT and CPC). It was in Chungking that he met his other half - Mrs Lim. His contribution to the resistant movement against the Japanese invasion was well recognised and respected in China but little is known about his pre-politics days in his own country.
After the war, Dr Lim returned to Malaya from Taiwan. He was quickly drafted into the Penang state legislation by the British colonial government. It was his role as a remarkable legislator that provided him with a solid foundation to venture into politics.
Leading to 1957 and a trouble brewing in MCA under the leadership of Tan Cheng Lock, Dr Lim who was then the chairman of POEM (Politics, Organisation, Elections and Membership) committee was asked to contest the chairmanship of MCA.
During the intermediate years between his entry into MCA and as a legislator in the Penang state assembly, Dr Lim founded the Radical Party which fought for the choice of all who live in Malaya at that time to call themselves as Malayans instead of a British subject or a Malay (Federated and Unfederated) subject. The idea of a Radical Party originated from his early student days in UK.
Dr Lim played a key role in the drafting of the federal constitutions and remained one of the two surviving persons who participated in the drafting committee. However, it was his dispute with the then prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman on the federal constitutions which led to his resignation from the MCA. Some factions in the MCA accused him of forgering a letter of support (handwritten) given to him by his one-time arch rival Tun Tan Cheng Lock.
Dr Lim left for England for a medical check up and resigned from the party through a letter sent from there. He returned to Malaysia and subsequently established the United Democratic Party - this time in the opposition.
UDP made important inroads into several local authorities in the country. The party even won a seat in Singapore at the 1964 general elections. Dr Lim was elected to the parliament representing Tanjung.
Prior to the general elections, the opposition parties included PAP, SUPP, PPP and others were trying to form a united coalition but failed. As a result, PAP sent its candidates to contest in the UDP stronghold of Penang but lost all their seats.
Eventually, the opposition parties came together after the 1964 GE and organised a mammoth Malaysian Solidarity Convention which was aimed at uniting all opposition parties (most of them were multiracial) to go against the communal centric Alliance Front which many of them saw as irrelevant.
On this platform, Lee Kuan Yew introduced and promoted his 'Malaysia Malaysian' vision which was not very different from Dr Lim's earlier call for a recognition and respect of personal decision for all permanent residents of Malaya to call themselves 'Malayans' .
MSC was seen as a formidable force and competitor to the Alliance. What happened to PAP aftermath is history.
However, a smaller alliance took shape in the form of Gerakan in 1968. Many Socialist Front leaders, Labour Party leaders, academicians, trade unionists and UDP leaders joined forces to form the Malaysian People's Movement Party or Gerakan. The late Professor Syed Hussin Alatas was made the founding chairman of the party.