Sept 16 — Perak-born Ong Boon Hua, better known as Chin Peng, was one of the last leaders of the much-maligned Communist Party of Malaya which had waged a protracted jungle war with the government from 1948 until it laid down arms on December 2, 1989 in a three-way peace treaty with the Malaysian and Thai governments, known as the Hat Yai Accord.
Ong, who is survived by two children, had sought to return to his homeland since then but was prohibited by the Malaysian government.
He had lived a reclusive life in exile, mostly in Bangkok, Thailand, where he died earlier today, reportedly of old age.
Below is one of the last interviews granted by the then sickly Ong to selected media, in Bangkok in October 2009, after he had launched a court challenge against the Malaysian government to pave the road for his return home, legally.
His health was failing even then, and often, his speech was choppy and incomplete. For the sake of readability, parts of his answers have been paraphrased and placed in brackets.
Q: Besides visiting your parents’ graves, what else would you like to do if given the chance to return? Where would you like to go? Who would you like to meet?
A: Go to coffeeshop of youth in Sitiawan, have teh and roti kaya. Meet old friends and teachers who would be in their 90s now. Told some still alive. Just want to live a quiet life.
Q: Many Malaysians grew up not bothered about history and the only knowledge of you is learnt through history textbooks produced by the government which portray you to be the bad guy. Why do you want to come back to a country that does not welcome you?
A: I’m getting older and older. [Explains that as the years pass by, he thinks more and more about returning to settle down in the country he was born. Wants to be buried alongside his grandfather and father. Sees himself as third-generation.] It’s my birthright.
Q: Do you feel you are Malaysian or Malayan?
A: [Laughs] “The country is still the same. First, I’m Malayan. But since the country has changed to Malaysia, so I’m Malaysian. I can’t say I don’t want to be Malaysian.
Q: People have called you a communist, a bandit, a terrorist. But it seems like you still feel an affinity to this land. Please explain why.
A: We have to educate and let people know there is a group of people like me. I am a resistance fighter. [Believes that today’s public will “gradually” learn to see the other view as well after years of government propaganda.]
Q: Do you see yourself as a communist?
A: [Nods head] I am a communist.
Q: What do you mean by that? What is your understanding of communism?
A: Communism is an ideology. Being a communist is fighting for the welfare of poor people.
Q: The US president, Obama, once talked about spreading the wealth. Do you see that as communist?
A: [Laughs and nods head.]
Q: Were you supportive of setting up a republic and ousting the monarchy? Were you anti-royalty?
A: There were two stages. First, used to consider the sultans as stooges of the colonialists but later on realised gradually they were not.
Q: When did that happen?
A: The 1960s.
Q: What changed your mind?
A: If the sultan cannot carry out his duty, then I think we can... we have to exercise … or even sack the sultan. If the sultan does not serve the people well, what is the use of a sultan?
Q: You say you have been reading the newspapers on Malaysia. As a Perakian, you must have heard of the politics in Perak. Many people there are unhappy with the sultan for siding the Barisan Nasional government over the government they elected. Do you think the sultan has served the people in that case?
A: Perak sultans are not autocratic. That is not to say they are democratic either. But he has a close relationship with the ordinary people. [Adds that he does not know what the real situation was like then. Things may have happened behind the scenes to cause the sultan to decide the way he did.]
Q: Is your only reason to return to pay your respects to your parents at their grave? If yes, surely there are other ways. You succeeded in slipping in and out of the jungles and across borders for decades. The security at the borders remains lax, as seen in recent days judging from the way other fugitives like RPK [Raja Petra Kamarudin] and Noordin Mat Top manage to escape with impunity. Why make a big fuss over entering Malaysia. You previously lived in the jungle and moved up and down the country and across borders. If you chose to, you could enter Malaysia and live your life quietly.
A: You mean by smuggling in?
Q: Since 1989, have you been back to this country?
Q: What do you want to achieve through suing the Malaysian government? Is it to: (a) get legal recognition as a lawful citizen of Malaysia? (b) Get lawful recognition as someone who has contributed to the country?
A: [Nods head both times]
Q: Do you think you are blocked from coming back because of your race? Or because of what you symbolise?
A: If I’m Malay, it would be very much easier for me... Unfortunately, I’m not Malay.” [Adds that “Umno’s policy very much influenced by ‘racialist’” sentiments.]
Q: Not because you are not Muslim?
A: Very difficult for me to give the definition.
Q: Do you think the government owes you anything?
A: Owes me the right to go home.
Q: Nothing else? How about helping you to settle down as per the 1989 agreements?
A: My family will help me to settle down. Government no need to provide any assistance, not even financially.
Q: Strange you want to come home but you can’t when there are Malaysians who want to leave Malaysia. How do you feel about all this?
A: I think they feel they are being discriminated against. A lot migrated to Australia. My elder brother’s daughter studied in Autralia and settled down there. If I said I wanted to stay there, they would welcome me. Australia not as anti-communist as America.
Q: Ever thought of migrating there?
A: No. Because my home is in Malaysia.
Q: You’ve been fighting the Malaysian government for so long. How long more do you plan to continue the fight? How far do you plan to take it?
A: I have no intention to take bring the case to International Court.
Q: Why not?
A: I don’t see any hope the International Court can force Malaysian government to change their attitude. My only hope is that Anwar takes over. That’s the most realistic. If Anwar cannot, it’s hopeless. It has to be Anwar. The other political parties are weak. [Reference to Malaysian Oppposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.]
Q: Why say that?
A: I think you can see from the general election results. PKR won the biggest votes. [In reference to the 2008 Malaysian General Election.]
Q: Realistically speaking, what resources do you have at hand to pursue the case until you get your justice before calling it a day?
A: If Anwar takes over, it’s easy to talk to the government. [Says spoke to Anwar’s close friends, his financial supporters, Chinese Malaysians. Stressed they are “very close to Anwar”. They passed the message from Anwar promise to bring Chin Peng home to Malaysia.]
Q: Why do you think Anwar can do it?
A: Anwar is a man of his word.” Hopefully if Anwar takes over, he will allow me to come back. Other people, I’m not so sure.
Q: But he has changed positions many times in the past and he also failed to take over as promised last year?
A: He’s learnt the lesson over the years.
Q: What about Dr Mahathir? How do you see him? Feel he failed you?
A: [Feels Mahathir should have done something to bring him back all those years ago.] But I don’t know the real situation. Maybe he was under much pressure.
Q: So, is there a Plan B?
A: No. No Plan B. Have to persist to go back.
Q: Right now at this point, do you regret anything in your life that you did or did not do?
* Debra Chong, currently an assistant news editor at The Malay Mail Online, was among the last few journalists to ever interview Chin Peng.