RIP, Tun Dr Lim!

November 25, 2010
Tun Dr Lim's son Lim Chien Aun

Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, the father of modern Penang, passed away at his home in Hillside, Taman Bungah at 9.07pm last night surrounded by his family.

Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu

The former Penang chief minister was brought home at about 7pm from Penang Hospital, where he had been warded following a stroke about a month ago.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng said Dr Lim would be accorded a state funeral.

Tun Dr Lim, 91, who served as Penang Chief Minister for 21 years, was a towering leader who presided over the remarkable economic transformation of the state.

Dr Lim, whose name was synonymous with Penang politics and its development from 1969 through the seventies and eighties, had not given a single interview since retiring.

He led a simple life despite a political career spanning 39 years, resolutely refusing awards and titles until his retirement when he finally accepted a Tunship. He can also claim the distinction of a political life quite untouched by scandal or corruption.

Tun Dr Lim’s body will lie in state at Dewan Sri Pinang from Friday until Sunday for members of the public to pay their last respects. Gerakan president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon said the funeral Sunday would be held in accordance with federal protocol in cooperation with the state government.

“The family members and funeral committee will be consulted on the matter,” said Dr Koh, Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, who paid his last respects today.

The cortege will leave for the Batu Gantung crematorium at noon on Sunday, according to funeral committee member Tan Sri Khoo Kay Por.

Rapid Penang will provide three free shuttle buses from Tanjung Club, Penang Swinming Club and Sandy Bay to the house for those wishing to attend the wake, starting at 4pm Thursday.

Dr Lim’s son, Chien Aun, said the family was still waiting for the state government to provide details of the state funeral for his father.

Tun Dr Lim's son Lim Chien Aun

“We have spent two to three days with him and it is only fair that we allow the state to take over tomorrow to give the public a chance to pay their respects,” he said.

Dr Lim was born on 28th May 1919 in Penang. He attended Penang Free School, where he was the King’s Scholar in 1937. He later obtained a degree in medical and surgery from the University of Edinburgh, in Scotland, in 1944.

He founded the Radical Party in 1951 which won the first municipal council elections in George Town and was appointed to the Penang Local Council.

In 1954, he joined MCA and in the March 1958 party elections, he challenged Tun Tan Cheng Lock and won the presidency with a majority of 22 votes.

Tun Tan Cheng Lock

After the victory, he called an extraordinary general meeting to amend the Constitution consolidate the power of the Central Committee. This was met with strong opposition by Tun Tan Siew Sin and his supporters.

Tun Tan Siew Sin

Although the proposal was passed with a single-vote majority, the move left the Party split. At the same time, the MCA under Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu also had severe political differences with the then Prime Minister Tunku Abdul Rahman.

Tunku Abd Rahman

The crisis worsened especially on the eve of the 1959 general elections when Tun Dr Lim demanded 40 parliamentary seats and also wanted to make Chinese an official language.

The Tunku increased the seats allocated to MCA from 28 to 31 but this was rejected and their relationship worsened.

Despite defeating the late Tun Tan Cheng Lock for party presidency in 1958, he quit MCA a year later following differences with Umno over the allocation of parliamentary seats in the 1959 general election.

He formed the United Democratic Party in 1962 and co-founded Gerakan in 1968. When campaigning for the 1969 General Election, Tun Dr Lim spoke at the Esplanade with other Gerakan leaders. Then he shared his vision of developing Penang into a dynamic state with the expansion of industrialisation and creation of jobs. He promised to create 90,000 jobs if returned to power. The vast majority of the voters who eagerly attended this gigantic rally were skeptical that such an enormous target could be attained. Looking back now, it is no secret that Tun Dr Lim surpassed his target. His successful economic transformation of Penang turned the state into a leading centre of global electronic manufacturing that paved the way for Malaysia’s industrialisation.

Lim Chong Eu (on the left, being hoisted) alongside Syed Hussein Alatas (bearded) during Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia's victory in the 1969 Malaysian general election.

A bold and high-thinking pioneer of his generation, he earned his place in history when the Gerakan party snatched Penang from the Alliance in the May 1969 general election, leading to his appointment as the second Chief Minister of Penang.

In this election, the Alliance lost its two-thirds’ majority in parliament for the first time. In fact, the Alliance failed to win the majority of state legislative assembly seats in Kelantan, Perak, Selangor, and Penang. Sadly, ethnic violence erupted on May 13, three days after polling, and changed the course of the history of Malaysia. When he took over as Chief Minister of Penang, the state was going through a difficult period after the withdrawal of its free port status, with unemployment rising to 16.4%.

The pragmatic Dr Lim saw it fit to join the Barisan National coalition in 1973 which Tun Abdul Razak had set up with the participation of most other opposition parties, including PAS, SUPP and PPP. That decision by Dr Lim resulted in splits within Gerakan, with many leaders leaving the party. However, the shrewd and strategic decision enabled him to power Penang from a struggling free port into a modern and developed state.

Tun Abdul Razak

He implemented the Free Trade Zone concept in Penang – the first state to do so – wooed foreign investments and built one of the largest electronics manufacturing bases in Asia, earning Penang the tag as Silicon Valley of the East.

Dr Lim also presided over Batu Ferringhi’s transformation into a tourism belt, cleared pre-war houses to build the iconic 65-storey Komtar and built the Penang Bridge.

In 1980, Dr Lim stepped down as party president, saying there were “many young and promising leaders in the party just as capable to hold the post”, and was succeeded by (Tun) Dr Lim Keng Yaik in 1980.

Tun Dr Lim Keng Yaik

Dr Lim continued to serve as Chief Minister of Penang but retired after losing the Padang Kota state seat to DAP’s Lim Kit Siang in the 1990 general election. In the Malaysian General Elections of October 1990, a crisis arose as Gerakan had fewer seats than UMNO in the Penang State Assembly. The crisis was resolved when Tun Dr Lim Keng Yaik, the then president of Gerakan, was able to convince the then Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohammad to allow an ethnic Chinese person to continue on in the role of the Chief Minister. Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon was appointed as chief minister.

Dr Lim’s parting message to the party then was to “always remember its roots and humble beginnings”.

After retiring from politics, he led an intensely private life, made a clean and complete break from politics, declining to comment on issues, and became a passionate horse breeder. He turned his attention to business as chairman and adviser to several large corporations. In 2007, he was named founding chancellor of Wawasan Open University in Penang.

As news of Tun Dr Lim’s death spread, Malaysian political leaders from both sides of the political divide paid tributes to the great satesman.

In his blog, former Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad wrote that except for Tun Razak, Tun Lim contributed most to the formation of the National Front, the coalition which succeeded the Alliance, ruled and developed Malaysia until today.As a nationalist, as a friend, as a compatriot,  he felt saddened by the passage from this life of Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu.

Dr Mahathir Mohamad

MCA party president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek described Dr Lim as one of the greatest Chinese leaders of the nation.

“His demise is a loss to the nation. Because of his visionary leadership, Penang became one of the earliest states to see rapid transformation.

“By setting up the Free Trade Zone, he successfully attracted a significant inflow of foreign direct investments,” he said.

Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek

DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang tweeted: “Penang and Malaysia have lost a great son. Though opponents in political electoral arena, I always have highest respect for Lim Chong Eu’s political struggles and integrity.”

Lim Kit Siang

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, Gerakan president and former Penang Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon said: “Malaysia, Penang and Gerakan have lost a great statesman and visionary. Tun Dr Lim was rightly the father of Industrialisation for Malaysia.”

Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon

Koh credited Dr Lim as one of the founding fathers of the nation, having participated actively in the drafting of the Federal Constitution.

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, who is away on a business trip to Hong Kong, extended the state government’s deepest condolences to Dr Lim’s family.

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng during his visit to Tun Dr Lim at the Penang Hospital

DAP chairman Karpal Singh said Dr Lim was a man who commanded respect and one who would be missed by the people of Penang.

Karpal Singh

Tun Dr Lim will be remembered as a dynamic leader who held his ground against his critics, including those within the Barisan Nasional, such being his fortitude and much respected stature. To that degree, Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu’s Penang was never a brow-beaten but proud and admired state within Malaysia. Tu Dr Lim has left an indelible mark on the socio-economic and political scene of Penang and Malaysia.

Dr Lim leaves behind wife Toh Puan Goh Sing Yeng, sons Chien Aun and Chien Cheng, daughters Pao Yen and Pao Lin, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

A photo of Tun Dr Lim and wife Toh Puan Goh Sing Yeng

May he rest in peace.

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