By Geraldine Tong
Jun 21, 2015
MALAYSIANS KINI Edry Faizal Yusof is a Malay who speaks near-perfect Chinese. But suggest it as a reason for his joining DAP, a Chinese-majority political party, and he noticeably bristled at the thought.
“People always say ‘oh you speak Chinese, no wonder you joined DAP’. But that has nothing to do with anything,” Edry insisted.
For Edry, now a coordinator for DAP mouthpiece Roketkini, it has never been a race thing, but more of an ideology thing.
“When I first started considering getting involved in politics, I did my research and found that DAP and its ideals suited me best. That’s why I joined them,” he explained simply.
But he has not always been interested in politics, he admitted.
Right out of university, he got heavily involved with the NGO Islamic Renaissance Front (IRF), while juggling a day job as a graphic designer in a small company.
He accepted a job offer from IRF a few years later, turning his night-time activism into a full-time occupation, tirelessly pushing the idea of reform in Islam.
“I fell in love with activism (back then). I used to think NGOs were the backbone of change,” he admitted.
Eventually though, Edry got slightly disillusioned with the life of an activist.
“A lot of people in NGOs try to stay away from power because they think power corrupts. But power can be useful. You need power to make changes,” he mused.
“Yes, NGOs are the backbone of change, but I think the real battlefield is to confront the people in power directly and the way to do that is through politics,” he added, stating that’s when he began to ponder joining a political party.
“I didn’t even consider DAP at first. I think for most Malays, DAP doesn’t really come into their consciousness,” he said, noting that he had plenty of friends in PAS or PKR but only a handful in DAP.
While talking to his friends, it occurred to him that he knew very little about DAP which prompted him to do research on the party.
When he finally approached the party to join them as a member, he was offered a job at Roketkini instead, as DAP parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang’s translator.
“I was expecting to get a (membership) form, but instead I got a job offer. We have a saying in Malay that goes “pucuk dicita, ulam mendatang,” he said.
Now, not only is Edry the coordinator for Roketkini, he is also the chairperson of the DAP Bandar Utama branch and Subang DAP Socialist Youth (Dapsy), and a Selangor DAP committee member.
Healthy democracy, secular state
The ultimate goal for Edry is a “much more democratic Malaysia.”
“At the very least, I want to see a healthy democracy where people can change the government as they want,” he said thoughtfully.
It’s not as if he wants the opposition to win just because he’s from an opposition party; the point is that’s how a healthy democracy works.
“Not necessarily I want DAP to win and then rule for another 100 years. Any party, even DAP, which comes into power and eventually does not serve the people, if we need to change it, just change,” he explained.
The idea of a secular state also appealed to Edry, which is one of the main reasons that prompted Edry to join DAP, a secular party.
This ideal seemed a bit odd, considering he came from an Islamic NGO, but while working in IRF, Edry realised that even the IRF’s progressive ideas are limited.
Talking about different discourses in Islam is fine, but in the end, it still degenerates into a shouting match of whose interpretation is the right one, he groused.
There must be a bigger picture, he thought, and he found it in secular politics.
“It’s not about a matter of religion, it’s about the well-being of all people – what people need to eat, not what people need to believe.
“Yes, I am Muslim, but I don’t think we have to force our religion into the realm of power,” said Edry.
He immediately clarified that regardless of his belief in a secular state, his number one priority is still a healthy democracy.
“It’s useless to have anything else without a healthy democracy, because a secular state can still be just another tyranny,” he said.
Stigma to joining DAP
While his personal circle of friends and family mostly reacted quite mildly to Edry joining DAP, he readily admits there is still some stigma attached to a Malay who joins a Chinese-majority party.
He has however discovered he can soften the blow by revealing it through layers of questions and answers.
“I have to slowly lead them up to the revelation, starting with I’m just working in a news portal and ending with, it’s a DAP news portal,” he said.
He only has to do this with strangers or older Malays though, he said, pointing out that his family and friends didn’t seem particularly affected by his decision.
In his younger days, Edry said he used to write outrageous statements on certain issues on his social media accounts, so when it came to light that he had joined DAP, his friends were mostly unfazed.
“They probably think, ‘Oh you’re already going to hell, where else can you go?’” he joked, bursting into laughter.
‘Lazy bunch of rappers’
In another surprising facet to Edry, activist-turned-party-member, his simmering passion since he was 16 years old has always been hip-hop music.
At that age he wanted to try out several ventures within the hip-hop scene, but he couldn’t afford a turntable for DJ-ing and he quickly found out he didn’t have the talent for breakdancing nor graffiti drawing.
“That’s when I realised I do have a way with words and I started to learn how to write rhymes,” he said.
His musical breakthrough happened when he and his brothers recorded a song titled ‘Ushahidu: Budak-budak Zaman Sekarang’ (Kids These Days) on a whim. They posted the song on Myspace under their group moniker ‘5forty2’ and it quickly went viral.
“It got to a point where my friend sent me a link to the song, not knowing that I actually recorded it,” he remarked.
The success of that song in the underground scene completely blindsided Edry because he said it was a result of him and brothers being bored and deciding, “Let’s ‘kutuk’ (criticise) those we think are ‘poyo’ (uncool).”
For them, this is something they’re doing out of passion and interest, not for money or fame.
His group 5forty2 has evolved over the years, expanding from just him and his brothers to include several friends as well.
At one point, they even collaborated with infamous rapper and filmmaker Wee Meng Chee, popularly known as Namewee (photo) on a song titled ‘Wake Up!’
They got popular enough that people started asking them when they were going to release a full-fledged album. The fans got their consolation prize in the form of a demo released in 2010.
“What they don’t understand is that we’re just a lazy bunch of rappers,” Edry laughed.
But he admitted it has gotten more difficult to find time to record new music because of his constantly busy schedule in DAP.
“The other day I did my first gig in a very long time and it made me restless to make new music again. I need to force myself to make time for my music.
But for now, my top priority is the party (DAP),” Edry said.
MALAYSIANS KINI is a series on up-and-coming politicians and activists.