CHIN PENG, A MALAYAN NATIONALIST.
(Tommy Thomas is a senior lawyer
based in Kuala Lumpur Malaysia
AS A LAWYER FOR CHIN PENG, and the Malayan Communist Party (MCP) in their recent unsuccessful litigation before the Courts of Malaysia, I am deeply saddened by his death in Bangkok on September 16, 2013 at the ripe old age of 88, and call on the Malaysian Government to honour the 1989 Peace Treaty with the MCP by permitting his burial in his birthplace, Sitiawan, next to his parents.
Posterity will remember Chin Peng as ONE OF THE GREAT LIBERATION FIGHTERS of the second half of the 20th century.
Indeed, he led an armed struggle AGAINST TWO IMPERIALIST POWERS:
- the Japanese from December 1941 to August 1945, and
- the British thereafter until 1957.
HISTORY WILL CONSIDER CHIN PENG IN THE SAME WAY AS HO CHI MINH and SUKARNO, who led nationalistic campaigns against French and Dutch imperialism.
Treating Chin Peng as a major contributor to Merdeka does not in any way detract the equally worthy contributions of Founding Fathers like Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Abdul Razak, Tun Dr Ismail, Tan Cheng Lock and V. T. Sambanthan.
Appropriate analogies would be the different roles played by:
- General George Washington and politicians John Adams and Thomas Jefferson to the American War of Independence in 1776, and
- peaceful non-violent campaign of Gandhi and Nehru,
in contrast to the armed struggle of Subhas Chandra Bose which led to India’s Independence in 1947.
All of them were TRUE PATRIOTS.
Leading scholars of modern Malayan history and politics, including Professors Jamie Mackie, Anthony Reid, Anthony Short and Wang Gung Wu, attended a Symposium with Chin Peng at the Australian National University in Canberra in February 1999 which resulted in the publication of a book entitled Dialogues with Chin Peng: New Light on the Malayan Communist Party, edited by C. C. Chin and Karl Hack.
In a dialogue session on MCP’s role in Merdeka, Chin Peng was quoted as stating:
“But we didn’t experience defeat in forcing the British to grant independence to Malaya. Without our struggle, I don’t think the British would grant independence to Malaya. Or it will be many years later. According to Sir Robert Thompson (the British counter-insurgency expert whose services were later sought by the Americans in the Vietnam War), before he passed away, he admitted we at least accelerate the Merdeka for 10 to 15 years. The BBC people told me. Unfortunately, I don’t have the chance to meet him." (Pages 234-235].
One of the most contentious issues during the 5 rounds of negotiations between the Malaysian Government and MCP, under the auspices of the Thai Government, held in 1989 in Phuket, was MCP’s role in achieving Merdeka.
In his My Side of History, published in 2003, Chin Peng stated:
"Would Britain have granted independence to Malaya as early as 1957 had the military activities of our guerillas not been a factor in the equation? This was explored at length during the private negotiating sessions. Finally, Rahim Noor, speaking in the Malay language from notes in a fully recorded meeting, made the announcement that Malaysia did not deny or dispute MCP’s contribution to the struggle for independence. As to the extent of this contribution, he went on, there was no need to argue the matter in this forum. It should rightly be an issue left for historians.” [Page 490].
Hitherto the ORTHODOX HISTORY OF MERDEKA has by and large been written by the victors: hence, IT IS UMNO and ALLIANCE-CENTRIC.
Hardly any mention is made of, let alone proper acknowledgement given, to others deserving of praise like Onn Jaafar, Burhanuddin Helmi, the Malayan Democratic Union (MDU) and other non-mainstream figures.
We hope that THE TRUE HISTORY OF MERDEKA WOULD BE RESEARCHED AND PUBLISHED IN THE COMING DECADES. . We are confident that in such an endeavour, CHIN PENG WILL TAKE HIS RIGHTFUL PLACE AS A MAJOR NATIONAL ICON.
At a personal level, representing Chin Peng is one of the highlights of my career.
His charm, easy-going manner, sense of humour and humility left an indelible mark on the legal team, led by Malaysia’s leading barrister then, the late Raja Aziz Addruse (who we also deeply miss and fondly remember) and also included Chan Kok Keong and Leong Cheok Keng. Chin Peng graciously hosted us in Bangkok.
ONE OF CHIN PENG'S REQUEST IN THE BALING TALKS OF 1955 with Tunku Abdul Rahman was for the Malayan Government TO REVOKE THE BANNING OF THE MCP AND TO ALLOW IT PARTICIPATE IN THE DEMOCRATIC ELECTORAL PROCESS, thereby giving the voters of Malaya an opportunity of accepting or rejecting MCP as a legitimate political party.
That request was wholly unacceptable to Tunku, and DISMISSED OUTOF HAND.
He returned to the jungle to resume the armed struggle against the colonial power.
Chin Peng truly believed and practised the principle that those who make peaceful change impossible, make violent change inevitable.
In 1959, the State of KERALA IN KERALA elected the first Communist Party in the world in free, fair and democratic elections. In the next 50 years, Kerala’s communist party has been defeated and re-elected on numerous occasions. Never has it not left office peacefully when the electorate rejected it.
HAVING MET CHIN PENG, no doubt in his twilight years when he appeared as everyone’s favourite grandfather, I am convinced that had Tunku agreed to permit the MCP and Chin Peng to participate in Malaya’s general elections, the first one held in 1959, and had MCP been elected, and had Chin Peng come to power, he would have voluntarily relinquished power if MCP had subsequently been defeated in the polls.
It is MALAYA'S TRAGEDY that such a possibility NEVER occurred.
I hope the Malaysian Government will be compassionate in permitting Chin Peng’s burial in his motherland, a country which he loved so much, and for which he fought two imperial armies far more powerful than his own guerilla force.
May his soul rest in peace.
September 17, 2013.
Tommy Thomas - Profile
Tommy Thomas was called to the Malaysian Bar in 1976, Mr. Thomas started his career at one of the largest law firms in Malaysia before being invited to join its partnership in 1982.
In a career as a Barrister spanning over 35 years, Mr. Thomas has had the privilege of appearing as counsel in landmark cases in various branches of the law; in all the courts of Malaysia, from the magistrate’s court to the Privy Council in London, which was Malaysia’s highest court until 1985.
Mr. Thomas has had more than 120 reported cases and countless unreported cases.
He has been singled out as one of Malaysia’s leading litigation lawyers by numerous independent international publications including The Asia Pacific Legal 500, Which Lawyer, Who’s Who Legal (The International Who’s Who of Business Lawyers), Commercial Litigation Lawyers of Asia and Chambers Asia.