The fact that I had never met the man personally did not stop me from developing a profound admiration for his fighting spirit. In the past 15 years especially, the borderless Internet has made access to news and information far easier, and I enjoy thoroughly watching Karpal’s public speeches and listening to his uplifting messages that he was hammering home.
Most importantly, coming from a generation when legal practice was highly respected and in which lawyers and judges must work strenuously, arduously and judiciously to prove their worth, Karpal has clearly left a deep imprint in Malaysian society.
In any mature and healthy parliamentary democracy, the tragic and untimely passing of an outstanding lawyer and also a formidable parliamentarian who has contributed tremendously to upholding the true spirit of law and constitution as well as to the democratic process would rightly deserve a full and proper acknowledgement by the state, and parliament would be recalled so that fellow lawmakers could have an opportunity to pay tributes to an experienced and well respected statesman.
But Karpal was not born in the United Kingdom, Australia, Canada or New Zealand but Malaysia. Be that as it may, one can take comfort in the fact that the Tiger of Jelutong himself would have no regret being born a true son of Malaysian soil and fighting a good fight for a country that he held dear.
Karpal’s powerful legal arguments, unshakeable sense of principle, impeccable command of the English language and, needless to say, sacrosanct adherence to the secular basis of the Malaysian consitution are largely unmatched by others. Without belittling those who are in the legal fraternity, the Tiger is indeed a tough act to follow.
It is already public knowledge that Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh have been the twin pillars of the Democratic Action Party. With Karpal's departure, Kit Siang’s journey to a better Malaysia has become all the more lonely.
Karpal’s role in Malaysian politics can never be underestimated. Despite the readily available young blood in the party, I would say none has his acute sense of constitutionalism and legal insight as of now. As Malaysia is on the verge of democratic change, a senior and experienced lawmaker who is fastidious - almost to the point of being dogmatic - about the rule of law would be badly needed, whicn makes the untimely demise of Karpal all the more lamentable.
Never partisan and communal
What distinguishes Karpal from other politicians - be they from the BN or Pakatan - is that he is never partisan and communal in terms of political view. One hardly heard him talking about ethnicity, race or religion, for his leitmotif has always been the constitution, the constitution and the constitution.
And it is this unassailable conviction and unswerving determination that prompted him to support Mahathir Mohamad in curtailing the powers of the monarch in accordance with the constitution back in 1993, their political differences notwithstanding. And the same Karpal would have no qualms in chastising PAS whenever the latter was (and still is) bent on implementing hudud.
As for those who are quick ot accuse Karpal of being anti-Islam, they would do well to know the man once represented a group of Muslim girls in Singapore who wanted to have their headgear on in school. As far as Karpal was concerned, it mattered not if one was Muslim or else, or Chinese or Indian, but whether one's rights were enshrined in the constitution. Bravo!
I must admit I myself have in the past misunderstood Karpal when it came to the Islamic state issue, criticising him for seeking to upstage his coalition partners by tackling the PAS leadership head-on.
In retrospect, it is clear that the presence of Karpal in Pakatan has been a wonderful and immense blessing to the country, for only he would have the valour to speak up when the politicians and the masses were on the wrong side of the constitution. It is this unique quality that has earned him the respect of both Mahathir and Nik Aziz Nik Mat, PAS’s spiritual leader.
Yes, I am truly wrong to have once considered Karpal to be in the same league as other political publicists, but I am certain the good man would just laugh at me and move on to the issues that should deserve his utmost attention.
Rest in peace, Karpal. You have given your best and will be sorely missed. We are doomed to failure as a nation if we do not rise up against the bigots and safeguard secular constitutionalism as you have valiantly done. I will mourn now no doubt, but I will make sure I emerge stronger, braver and wiser thereafter.
After all, being proud of and thankful to you is not enough, for your biggest legacy would be that we all become inspired by you to take up the cause and fight on fearlessly for a better Malaysia. So long!
Written by JOSH HONG who studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.