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Singapore’s second most stubborn man dies at age 81

Posted on 08 June 2012

“I think until the day he passed away, he still believed strongly that what he had done previously is something that’s right.” – Dr Lim Hock Siew’s nephew, Lim Yee Ming.

This week Singapore lost a piece of its history when Dr Lim Hock Siew, a founding member of the People’s Action Party died of renal kidney failure.

As Singapore’s second-longest political prisoner after Dr Chia Thye Poh, Dr Lim was detained for 20 years under the Internal Security Act (ISA) but never once budged on his principles even if it meant his release.

His life

Born in 1931 in a poor neighbourhood, Dr Lim spent the world war two years helping his dad sell fish in the Kandang Kerbau market and later graduated from Raffles institution before studying medicine at the then-University of Malaya. He was the only English-educated child in his family of 10 children.

Like students in Singapore today, Dr Lim recalled most of his friends being indifferent to politics back in his days; they were afraid of being arrested — by the British — and preferred to pursue degrees and jobs.

But being badass as he was, he plunged into campus activism, becoming a founding member of the University Socialist Club (USC) in 1953, which sought to fight for independence against the British colonialists.

That same year, he met the recently graduated pro-socialist Lee Kuan Yew, who helped to defend eight students who wrote an article in the USC journal Fajar, as they were being charged for sedition by the British.

The students won the case and a few months later, the PAP’s socialist, anti-colonial constitution was born.

Grandfather (C) looking more blur in younger days

Dr Lim Hock Siew in his younger days

Fast forward a few years, the PAP was split in 1961 when the English-speaking folks and the Hokkien speakers could not agree. (We’re grossly generalising here, read the full history to see what happened). Dr Lim founded the Barisan Socialis party together with speechmaker extraordinaire Lim Chin Siong and Singapore became, effectively, a two-party state.

The turning point came in 1963 when half of the Barisan, together with more than 100 left-wing activists and journalists, were arrested and detained under a security exercise known as Operation Cold Store which aimed at clamping down on communists and communist sympathisers. The Barisan contested in the 1963 general elections that year missing its key members, including Dr Lim — the PAP won, and the rest is history.

Refusing to budge

While in prison, Dr Lim refused to sign any statement admitting his wrongdoing even if it guaranteed his release. Instead, he called for the unconditional release of himself and his fellow detainees.

About 9 years into his detention, he was asked to sign a statement committing to support the democratic system in Singapore, and to not participate in politics. He refused, pointing out that the two demands were contradictory: if the first was true, then there would be no reason for him to be deprived of his right to the second.

Dr Lim was released from detention on 6 September 1982 under the condition that he would concentrate medical practice.

“So, the main democratic right (to participate in politics) is a fundamental constitutional right of the people of Singapore. And no one should be deprived of their right and held to ransom to extort statements of contrition of repentance and contrition,” he said, at a book launch on 14 November 2009.

So stubborn he was, that even after suffering from kidney failure in 2009, Dr Lim insisted that he had to continue his medical practice. And so he did, seeing about 30 patients a day after a six-month recuperating spell, working half a day everyday.

Cooler than you

Dr Lim holds a special place in the country’s history, too often driven by hard pragmatism and material progress. If Lee Kuan Yew was the engine driving Singapore’s economy growth, Dr Lim was the heart locked away in Whitley detention centre, having no place in the growing concrete, urban jungle. Even when the walls closed in, and as he watched his son grow up from behind prison walls, he never once went against his conviction and his vision for the nation — that participation in politics, no matter your ideology, is a fundamental constitutional right, and no one should be forced to agree otherwise.

As we look forward to grow beyond what has already been achieved materially, Singapore could do well to revisit the heart of its founding fathers, before the nation was blindsided by the need for progress without a soul.

This post was written by:

- who has written 268 posts on New Nation.

Joey is an intern at New Nation. He hopes to be as funny as Belmont one day and get laid at least twice a month.

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  • Visakan Veerasamy

    Thanks for sharing.

  • Sin Pariah

    May Singaporeans continue to soldier on in our quest ….. standing on the shoulders of those who came before us, such as Dr Goh Keng Swee, Dr Toh Chin Chye, Dr Lim Hock Siew, Mr Ong Teng Cheong, and many others – even though they may not see eye-to-eye on everything.   

  • Chow Chee Hello

    Thank god Lim Hock Siew was prevented by Lee Kuan Yew from implementing pro-communist China policies. Otherwise, today Singapore would be full of PRC Chinese.

    Let’s be grateful that has not happened.

    • Truthsayer

      You are a fool. The entire “communism” crackdown is a ruse by LKY to wrest power from his political opponents. Since you enjoy hanging around non Chinese so much, get the fuck out of Singapore and move to Indonesia.

    • Truthsayer

      You are obviously a paid PAP troll. Tell Jason Chua to get his rabies shot.

  • Ralph Mouth

    It’s a classic case of incarceration as with Mandela, LKY did the same to Dr Chia Tye Poh, but with the late PMs policy in motion, Singapore might as well be PRC.
    Having said that, there were also good MPs from the PAP, but of course fear is a way of imprisonment.

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