by Opalyn Mok
Malay Mail Online
January 10, 2016
GEORGE TOWN, Jan 10 — Steven Sim Chee Keong was relatively new in DAP when he first stood for elections in 2013 for the Bukit Mertajam parliamentary seat and won.
Prior to that, he was the Seberang Perai Municipal Council councillor and had been helping his predecessor Chong Eng and later, Berapit state assemblyman Lydia Ong Kok Fooi with party matters.
Ever since he won the seat, the 32-year-old has been using technology to try and improve governance and delivery to the people, particularly his constituents in Bukit Mertajam.
He is the one behind the introduction of a user-friendly application called “Citizen Action Technology” for the public to lodge complaints to the local authorities.
He also wrote a book titled The Audacity To Think: An Invitation To Rethink Politics which is his take on political concepts based on his experience.
It is hard to imagine that this young energetic politician used to be a chocolate entrepreneur before calling it quits to continue his studies in computer science.
Here, Sim shares his journey from being a diehard fan of Tun Mahathir Mohamad’s to a DAP leader.
In his own words:
My first memory of politics was the 1999 general election and I was 16 or 17. At that time, my parents being good old Penang Chinese voters had this funny strategy of voting Opposition at national level for check and balance and voting for the government at local level for development. At that time, I was a through and through Mahathir boy, growing up in the Mahathir era. I told my mother, why are you voting for Lim Kit Siang, he’s a bad guy. So that was my earliest political memory, telling off my parents for voting the Opposition.
Then the second major encounter in politics was when I was in my second year at university. I was roped in by a lecturer… critical thinking and communications lecture, for the student elections. One of the reasons he called me in was because I was articulate in class. He invited me to take part in the student elections. Of course, being a lecturer, he was pro-university. So I didn’t begin my political experience with the Opposition.
The third experience officially initiated me to politics… it was after I graduated and came back to Penang, to my hometown even though KL is much more lucrative. So I came back to work in the corporate sector, in a large MNC, for two years. And I had a very good learning experience. It was quite a successful stint, I would say. After two years, I decided to get involved socially because I was active in university. I decided maybe I should join a political party… but seeing it as a social organisation… giving me a platform to play a role in society.
Guess what, the first party I went to was Gerakan. Actually, coming from my background, I’ve always been a pro-Mahathir boy. At that time, we saw Gerakan as the conscience of the government… and Gerakan was filled with a lot of intellectuals. So I went to Gerakan HQ, I remember specifically, and for some reason, somebody there scolded us, saying why you come on a weekend, come back on Monday. But we are working people, how to come back on Monday. We were there to join the party. This was two years after I graduated, around 2007. The next thing, I wrote to DAP through their website, telling them I wanted to volunteer and contribute. Then I was surprised that within days Chong Eng wrote back to me and within less than a week or so, we decided to meet. I remember I met her at a coffee shop in Bukit Mertajam and I remember telling my girlfriend that “my god, their car is even worse than ours” and she’s an MP, a YB. So I offered to help her with her IT stuff. That was my first role, I assisted her to do up her blog and we were the first to set up the Twitter account for her, in 2007. So I joined DAP before 2007 and when elections came in 2008, because there were so few of us, I was so new and yet I was also asked to give ceramahs. That was how I started my political career.
I never looked back since I joined the party. One of the best things I get from this corporate world is how it’s evidence-based, it’s data driven, and I’m an engineer. I think that is what we need in politics. That’s what I always try to do. I think politics needs more engineers now. We have too many lawyers and economists and political scientists and social scientists, all these are good and necessary but we need more engineers, in the sense that, because for us engineers, all products are not just words and graphs and charts, all products are very tangible that users can actually test.
I was never a reader when growing up, I went to university with two books; the Holy Bible and Rich Dad, Poor Dad, both were gifts. I came back from university with 300 over books and most of it were not my course books. One of the first books I read was a biography of Gandhi and it was very inspiring and after that, Nelson Mandela. I’ve always been inspired by leaders, leaders who don’t just lead but leaders who change the way the world is, change the way that things are being done, my latest one is about Bill Clinton. Because of Hillary, I’m reading about Bill Clinton. I think he’s a brilliant politician, very genuine.
I’m not in politics because I need to survive, I’m in politics because of certain things I want to do so I work harder despite not depending on politics to so-called cari makan.
I think, to me, I want to leave this world, knowing that I’ve done something, that I’ve made my mark. It may not be in a big way like Nelson Mandela or Gandhi but at least, deep down, I know I’ve made my mark, I’ve done something. Last few years, I know I’ve introduced new things, I’ve changed how things are. We totally changed how the local council responds to people and how the people interact with the local council.
Today, I’m introducing participatory budgeting. Enough of rhetoric, perhaps in a small town like BM, I can afford to do this experiment. BM can be the launchpad for real things that change the way things are, not more of the same. Moving on, this is what I want to do, at a larger scale, at the state level, at the federal level. The fire is still there from the first day.
I’m looking to use my experience as a computer engineer, in technology, bringing my experience from corporate sector to complement what I do. What I’ve been doing has those elements, computer, science and technology. I’ve never been somebody who is keenly aware of power but I’m someone who believes in leadership and if that is what is needed to improve governance, then I will continue to be in politics. In fact some people say I am quite blur when it comes to power struggle which is true in a way, for better or worse. I’ve never been in that race. There’s just so much work for us to do.