Will Teluk Intan vote for the way forward?

Kee Thuan Chye
22nd May 2014

Without considering the ethnicity of the candidate, whom would you rather have represent you in Parliament – an intelligent, energetic, winsome 27-year-old woman with a pristine political record and a dream of bringing about racial unity in Malaysia, or a politically experienced 53-year-old man who has won twice and lost twice over four general elections in the same constituency he is now contesting yet again, been a deputy minister for one term, and is president of Gerakan, a Barisan Nasional (BN) party that has fallen by the wayside?

Next question: Of the two candidates, the victory of which would send out a more positive, significant and healing message to the entire nation? Which would bode better for Malaysia’s future?

Next question: If you were voting in the upcoming Teluk Intan by-election, would you vote for change and the potential for politics that transcends race, or would you vote for the same old brand of politics which somehow ends up being race-based?

Would you vote for the DAP’s Dyana Sofea Mohd Daud or BN’s Mah Siew Keong?

Dyana represents the new breed of politicians who are smart, rational, progressive, who eschew racial politics, who argue with facts instead of sentiment. This breed began with the likes of Nurul Izzah Anwar, Tony Pua, Rafizi Ramli, Liew Chin Tong, Gobind Singh, Anthony Loke, Teo Nie Ching, Saifuddin Abdullah, etc. Carrying on from them are people like Zairil Khir Johari, Ong Kian Ming, Darrell Leiking, Yeo Bee Yin, Kasthuriraani Patto, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Wong Chen … they shall inherit the future Malaysia.

Dyana is the daughter of an Umno member who has served the party for years, but she herself decided to join the DAP. “I did it because I felt Malaysia needed a new kind of politics,” she said. “The only way forward for our country (is) to break (the) model of racial politics.”

She is probably right in also saying she will be on the right side of history for joining the DAP – “For its principle of multi-culturalism. For its principle of standing up for all Malaysians, regardless of race and religion. For its principle of doing what is right, despite the risks and repercussions.” It may not look this way now, but in the future, when history is re-visioned hopefully with more accuracy, it is those who have struggled for what is right rather than those who have been perpetuating an archaic and corrupt system who will be considered heroes.

Right now we are at a crossroads between going down the same old path that could lead to stagnancy or striking off to the road not yet taken, towards a new hope and potential change for the better.

In a way, the Teluk Intan by-election provides a step towards this hope and change. Will its voters take the way forward?

The DAP has taken a risk by fielding Dyana in the by-election. She is a Malay standing in a Chinese-majority seat. Many of the Chinese voters are elderly people who may fall prey to BN’s fear-mongering about PAS’s hudud. Besides, as the incumbent, the DAP didn’t need to risk losing its seat. Fielding someone like Hew Kuan Yau a.k.a. Superman would have assured it of victory.

But risky as it is, the move is also a masterly one. It pushes the election parameters and provides a worthy litmus test of whether Malaysians still vote along racial lines. It shows the DAP to be a party that comes up with new ideas that make bold statements.

That Dyana is the political secretary of party veteran Lim Kit Siang may have determined the gambit – because we know Kit Siang to be a compulsive risk-taker. At the 13th general election (GE13) last year, he led the DAP’s onslaught on BN’s fortress, Johor – and succeeded. But when he first announced it, some people thought it was suicidal.

One suspects that a good amount of calculation must have been done before deciding on the risk. Party strategist Liew Chin Tong was the brilliant prime mover of the Johor onslaught; he could perhaps be behind the Teluk Intan one as well.

Already, the strategy has proved effective. Umno is rattled. It is also rankled by the fact that the daughter of an Umno member who has supported the party for a long time is pro-Opposition, worse still a DAP candidate. From Shahrizat Abdul Jalil to Mohd Puad Zarkashi, Umno’s bigwigs have since coughed up their bile against Dyana and her DAP connection. Even old-timer Mahathir Mohamad has chipped in.

In fact, Umno started feeling uneasy from the time the DAP announced Dyana as its candidate. Wanita Umno Chief Shahrizat drew first blood when she said she pitied Dyana for being made use of by the DAP and claimed that Umno should get credit for what Dyana is today!

How thick the Umno mindset is! One person who should take credit for Dyana is her own mother, Yammy Samad. Her response to Mahathir is a gem. “I give my children the freedom to choose what is right and wrong. She is an adult, and can think for herself,” Yammy said. “Even for her choice of husband I give her the freedom, this is just about choosing a party … She may want to marry a Malay, Chinese or Indian if they suit her. If I force her, and if it ends up in failure, then what is the point?” Yammy Samad is one cool mother!

At the nomination centre last Monday, Shahrizat again picked on the young lawyer by telling her not to be a “traitor”. Why did she say that? Apparently because Dyana is a Universiti Teknologi MARA (UiTM) graduate. OMG! What has that got to do with being a “traitor”? But wait for Dyana’s retort: “I would never become a traitor to Malaysia, don’t worry.” Well said!

As long as she serves the people, how could she be a traitor? Just because she serves under the DAP? Come on, Shahrizat! You are looking only at race, Dyana is looking at the entire country. I should say that by thinking as you do, you show yourself to be a traitor to non-Malay citizens; you’re only thinking of and serving a section of the people and discounting the rest. That’s subverting the country’s well-being, my dear.

Compare Sharizat’s thinking about UiTM to the more intelligent thinking of Dyana’s: “UiTM is also built with taxpayers’ money.” Absolutely. Taxpayers are not comprised of only Umno members, so why should someone’s university dictate the choice of their political party? See how much more sense Dyana shows than the ageing veteran?

She also says, “I strongly believe in the ideals of justice, equal opportunity and good governance.” Would we ever have the privilege of hearing Shahrizat say the same thing? Perhaps when UiTM is opened up to all Malaysians to finally deserve its funding by taxpayers. But should we hold our breath till then?

Meanwhile, Seputeh MP Teresa Kok says if Dyana wins, it will also be a victory for the “Malaysian First” concept. She’s right. This is the way forward, not the reactionary ethnocentric stance of groups like Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia (Isma) and Perkasa. That’s passé. Malay First, Chinese First, Indian First … that cannot work for the good of the nation. Only fools refuse to see it.

But can Dyana win against her opponent, Mah? He’s a veteran. He’s a local boy. He’s been MP of Teluk Intan for two terms. It won’t be easy.

He is fishing for votes by saying that if he loses, he won’t be made a senator, to go through the back door way of becoming a Cabinet minister. On the other hand, his colleague, Gerakan Adviser Chang Ko Youn, is selling the idea of the “golden opportunity” for Teluk Intan if Mah should win and is made a minister. They are hedging their bets!

But so what if Mah is made a minister? That will be good only for him. How would it benefit the people of Teluk Intan? As a minister, would he have direct access to ready funds for Teluk Intan? If so, he should put it in writing that he would make such funds available for development there – and sign it. Right now. To be fair, he should also add the penalty he would pay in case he failed to deliver.

Besides, what can Gerakan do in the Cabinet today that it has not done for decades as a participant in government? If the people had felt Gerakan was worth its salt in government, at GE13 they would have voted in more Gerakan MPs instead of only one. The party contested 11 parliamentary seats but won only at Simpang Renggam. Does Gerakan deserve one more seat to match its tally of two won at GE12 in 2008? For what purpose? The perpetuation of old politics?

Dyana is right to say she is the “underdog”. But Mah also says he’s the “underdog”. Both are being strategically modest. The way it looks, it’s going to be a close call. Dyana would be banking on youths and women to support her, while she has Kit Siang’s track record to improve her odds. He is like a master trainer of thoroughbreds; several of his former political secretaries have gone on to be winners, even political stars. But Mah has BN’s mammoth machinery behind him, and that may be powerful enough to push him to victory.

Whatever happens on May 31, we still have to hand it to the DAP for taking the brave and risky route. And Dyana will be remembered for a long time to come for her intelligence and impressive EQ, demonstrated in her response to the Photoshopped image of her in a bikini, stupidly circulated early on to smear her campaign. She will be someone to watch out for. She has idealism and no experience of being corrupt. She is a symbol for racial unity. She belongs to the present and future.

And so the final question: Will the people of Teluk Intan show good sense and foresight by voting for the way forward?

I hope the question is purely rhetorical.

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the new book We Could **** You, Mr Birch, now available in bookstores.

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