Dr. Tan Chee Koon–A Model Malaysian without Fear or Favour

September 16, 2015

Dr. Tan Chee Koon–A Model Malaysian without Fear or Favour

by Dr. KJ John@www.malaysiakini.com

…the inability of today’s national leadership to provide truth-seeking with courage and conviction seems our greatest trust deficit in the country today. May we all learn from the life and legacy of this man: Dr. Tan Chee Khoon; May he ‘em-courage’ (or, put in courage) into all us to seek and speak the truth in love full of grace and hope.–Dr. KJ John


The late Dr Tan Chee Khoon used to write a column in The Star, ‘Without Fear or Favour’, which carried his byline. My column today is therefore to appreciate all who care and support Oriental Hearts and Minds Study Institute’s (OHMSI) efforts to honour the incredible legacy of this man. OHMSI is hosting the inaugural Lecture Series tomorrow. Those who want to join us just for the lecture can sign up for a minimal donation.

I first thank the Tan Chee Khoon Family for agreeing to allow OHMSI to develop and promote the better understanding of this great man’s legacy. Ambiga Sreenevasan, our inaugural speaker, is equally someone I truly admire and she wrote the foreword to my first book. She was also President of the Malaysian Bar when 2,000 lawyers marched in Putrajaya.

Finally, I have a team of friends in community who have joined OHMSI to make this work. Their labour of love is appreciated. Zunar (photo) has agreed to join the celebration with his artistic skills deployed for making us laugh about Malaysian political life. His work will be auctioned.

Ambiga’s lecture and all speeches will honour the man and the legacy he bequeathed us through his life and writings. All attendees will be given copies of the lecture after it has been delivered. Allow me to reflect and raise three questions why OHMSI decided to honour this man.

My first question: Why did he focus on national social concerns?

Why did Tan Chee Khoon pick without fear or favour as his first and only column title, out of which two of his books were published, after his retirement? He wrote weekly in The Star. More importantly, why did he even choose to write and express himself; after having spoken about all of them in Parliament?

Equally importantly, was he not a man of equal measure and stature as both the late Tunku Abdul Rahman and Dr Mahathir Mohamad? They both spoke and wrote while they were in and after national politics. Dr Mahathir has now gone even one step further. He still blogs at the ripe old age of 90. Writing and speaking is one healthy form of politics in any maturing democracy.

The late Tan Chee Khoon was born in 1919; at a time in the world, when issues about life and death were daily concerns. It was post-the First World War. My father was born the same year but in India. Our father came to Malaya but is still alive today at the ripe age of 96.

Any politician who writes is engaging with others in clarifying and expressing private and inner thoughts through such writing and publications. Any writing has the goal of influencing others. If then one is challenged, one really knows the core issues, and gets informed about the full set of concerns related to that matter.

My Second Question is: Why could he write Without Fear or Favour

I did some research with Star Publications and books published about the late Tan Chee Khoon to find out the real reason for this column title by the late Tan Chee Khoon. This is what I found; when Aliran gave him the Outstanding Malaysian Award in 1984. For Aliran, one of our earliest credible NGOs, this was what impressed them to consider and award him:

“To remain silent and know that a wrong has been committed is as much a sin as abetting that act of injustice. But to speak out in the face of stony silence takes a lot of nerve, integrity and commitment. These are precisely the qualities we admire in Dr Tan, qualities manifested in his many years of service to the nation.

“Malaysians should be proud we have in this fine man one who is courageous and unstintingly concerned; one bothered enough to take pains to write a weekly column that has served to educate and publicise issues of social concern. Although this increases the rancour of the powerful and unscrupulous, and jeopardises his own comfortable position, he has the satisfaction of knowing that he has done right.”

For that precise reason he was always and continues to be my role model.

My Third Question: Why does anyone speak such truths?

In the foreword to Tan Chee Khoon’s second publication, the late Sultan of Perak Sultan Azlan Shah (photo) wrote:

“Tan Sri Dr. Tan’s writings emanate from a background of rich experience in diverse areas, not forgetting of course his long involvement in the political field. There is a growing consciousness in our society of individual and collective rights and all matters happening amongst and around us.

“Tan Sri Dr. Tan, in language clear, concise and easily understandable by the man of the street, delves into current affairs, contemporary events of topical interest, and indeed into virtually everything controversial or otherwise that affects our society generally. In doing so he stirs our interest in seeing them from different perspectives and so stimulates discussion and consideration of things that confront us from time to time.”

The editor of the second Tan Chee Khoon book called ‘Malaysia Today: Without Fear or Favour’, Raj Vasil, wrote about the legacy of the man and his writings:

“This made the role of a person like Tan Sri Dr. Tan that much more valuable and critical. He occupies no official position and enjoys no political party backing. His only assets are his integrity and his commitments and the trust reposed in him by the vast majority of Malaysians. He has virtually become the unofficial ombudsman, questioning and probing the policies and actions of the political rulers and the bureaucracy.”

Aliran of Penang also wrote in their Outstanding Malaysian Award:

“Dr. Tan had many a time found it necessary to stick his neck out, so to speak, to publicly expose certain unjust actions in order that a wrong could be redressed. When many others around him were cowed or had remained indifferently silent as their interests were not affected or because by speaking up they would lose favour with the rich and powerful, Dr. Tan Chee Khoon had the integrity and courage to point out that unjust act had been committed.”

My conclusion

Having admired the man since 1972 when I first saw him in action in Parliament, I have come to my own conclusion that his legacy is one about what convictions one holds about truth matters; and why one can be driven by such truths by even often discarding personal comforts and concerns for political correctness. This also explains why political correctness is now no more needed.

Therefore, and consequently, the inability of today’s national leadership to provide truth-seeking with courage and conviction seems our greatest trust deficit in the country today. May we all learn from the life and legacy of this man: Dr. Tan Chee Khoon; May he ‘em-courage’ (or, put in courage) into all us to seek and speak the truth in love full of grace and hope.

4 thoughts on “Dr. Tan Chee Koon–A Model Malaysian without Fear or Favour

  1. Dr.Tan Chee Koon, as member of parliament for many years, spoke without fear or favour during his era, had changed in comparison with the political environment under different leaderships in the 21st century. Today, Malaysians fear with their lives like whistleblowers coming out to express the truth of issues of corruption and political wrongdoings that are of national concern. The new sedition laws are designed in a wide scope that comments by criminal lawyers and law professors over certain issues were subjected to seditious punishment under the police actions. How far can we go from here with suppressible behaviour without space to voice out by the people?

  2. Pingback: On 4 March in Asian history | The New ASIA OBSERVER

  3. Pingback: On 4 March in Southeast Asian history | The New ASIA OBSERVER

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