P051 – BUKIT GELUGOR
The lion still roars
Roar! The Tiger of Jelutong has spoken! Even though he is currently the Member of Parliament for Bukit Gelugor, his legacy in Jelutong has cemented the impression of him as a formidable politician not to be trifled with. His name itself strikes fear into the hearts of his political opponents and he has proudly proclaimed that he “can never be bought!” at the Second Pakatan Rakyat National Convention.
Karpal Singh, DAP National Chairman, is a legend in not only the political world but in the legal field as well. His innovative case arguments garnered him praise from many – even his biggest critics. He is also recognized as one of the most well-known lawyers in Malaysia. Even those who are not familiar with politics will know Karpal Singh.
As a student in Singapore, Karpal was very involved in student activities. He was called to the Bar in 1969 but was unable to get a job in Penang and thus joined a firm in Alor Setar, Kedah. He started his legal firm in 1970 and is well-known for his expertise in the field of litigation.
Among his most high-profile cases include defending Australian drug trafficker Kevin Barlow who was executed in Malaysia in 1986, along with New Zealander Lorraine Cohen and her son Aaron, both of whom escaped the death penalty. Karpal’s popularity as a lawyer began after he fought for the pardon of a 14-year old who was sentenced to death for possession of firearms.
He joined DAP in 1970, citing the party’s multiracial stance following the race riots in 1969. “I knew something had to be done. Something has gone wrong,” he remarked.
He was due to contest the 1974 general elections in Penang, but withdrew after his father passed away suddenly. However, following the persuasion of DAP national organising secretary Fan Yew Teng, Karpal ran for the Alor Setar parliamentary and Alor Setar Bandar state seat. He won the state seat.
Karpal became a household name thereafter. He remains modest and feels that without the DAP, he would not be as accomplished as he is today.
Sadness fills the veteran politician when he describes what Malaysia has turned into, “Malaysia is now a police state. During Tunku Abdul Rahman’s time, there was still freedom of speech and expression. Today, we couldn’t even get a permit for our 45th anniversary dinner.”
He remarks that BN is now an organization that exists to protect the elite. The unconstitutional Perak power wrestle was a particularly painful experience.
“In 2008, the people had given us their mandate to rule five states, the way BN later bought over some assemblypersons was unconstitutional!” Karpal says.
Karpal Singh makes it a point to visit his Bukit Gelugor constituency often, even though he is physically immobile.
“My greatest challenge was not in politics nor in the courtroom, it was becoming immobile.” Karpal was involved in a serious car accident in 2005, which left him wheelchair-bound.
“I can’t even raise my hand to wipe the sweat off my brow but I can assure you, my mind is still good,” he says with a smile.
“I was fortunate to have children who were independent and an understanding family,” Karpal says. Together with his wife Gurmit Kaur, Karpal has five children, four of whom are lawyers. “Parliament makes laws and laws are interpreted in court, lawyers make good politicians,” he quips. Two of Karpal’s sons are also involved in politics. Jagdeep Singh Deo serves as Assemblyperson for Dato Keramat, Penang and Gobind Singh Deo is the MP for Puchong.
Of the future, Karpal warns that BN must be prepared for ‘inevitable’ change. “No matter how much they resist, the people will fight on,” he says.