Why we still need vintage Kit Siang

COMMENT | It was the afternoon of Feb 12, four days before Chinese New Year.

I walked into the pharmacy of the Dermatology Department of Kuala Lumpur Hospital’s specialist wing to collect medication for my eczema (a condition that makes one’s skin red and itchy). It is a once-in-two-month ritual for me.

And guess who I met as I entered the dispensary – the DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang himself.

He was sitting there, fidgeting on his mobile and waiting patiently for his number to be called to collect his medication. Lim joined the queue like other patients.

A VIP from the opposition who does not expect any special treatment in a public hospital but waiting in line like everyone else. How exemplary!

I greeted Lim and sat next to him, exchanged pleasantries, enquired about his recent health scare and also chatted about politics, naturally.

Why would I write about Lim Kit Siang today? So much has been written about him. Lim is such a well-known public figure. Who do not know this most recognisable face of DAP?

My reason in picking Lim as a subject here is due to the recent outburst by Dr Tan Seng Giaw, the long-time Kepong MP, dropped by DAP as a GE14 candidate.

One can understand Tan’s unhappiness and disappointment at being sidelined by the DAP but his recent salvos against his party clearly dented the public respect he had had during his glorious days as a DAP parliamentarian.

Actually, I sympathise with the good doctor and the way his four-decade political career ended in such a manner, with so much bitterness and anger. (Coincidentally, Tan is a skin specialist. He could help with my eczema and Lim’s too.)

If only Tan were able to accept his fate gracefully and remain loyal to the DAP even after being dropped, things could have worked out differently. He would surely be given another prominent role by the party.

I wish to take on two issues highlighted by Tan.

One, Tan was quoted by Sin Chew Daily as saying that “He (Dr Mahathir Mohamad) makes everyone small and wraps them up so that he can put them in his pocket”.

Let me rebut this quickly. I think, Tan, making everyone feel small is not as bad as making everyone look like an idiot and thinking that everyone is stupid, like the man in Putrajaya whom you have declared that there is “nothing to tie him to the 1MDB scandal”.

I feel inclined to think that Tan is a politician who believes that stupidity is not a handicap. Let me leave it at that. Continue reading

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Respect the office or respect the individual?

By Francis Paul Siah

COMMENT | Let me tread with caution again in this article touching on Malaysian royalty. I must state for the second time that I’m sharing my thoughts and views here with the utmost respect for the Malay rulers and members of their families.

Yes, this is a sensitive and touchy subject but I have been very much encouraged by the words of Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim stating that “people have the right to give their own opinions”.

In recent days, the Tunku Mahkota Johor (TMJ) has three Facebook postings which were widely read and debated in the social media.

I have commented on his first posting in which he launched a thinly-veiled threat against Dr Mahathir Mohamad by telling Johoreans not to be misled by a certain “forked tongue” individual in the coming general election.

My message to TMJ was that “many find his wading into political territory on the eve of a very important general election quite unacceptable and that the timing of his comments was absolutely wrong”.

But it was TMJ’s second posting in which he clarified what he actually meant in his first statement which I find most interesting.

It tells a lot about how the various royal households operate and what their concerns and priorities are as the head of their respective states.

I’m not sure whether any Sarawakian or Sabahan has ever broached this subject in writing or in speech but there is always a first time.

I am a Sarawakian and I only have a governor, not a sultan. The governor of Sarawak is my head of state and he is appointed by the Yang di-Pertuan Agong. But many of us are aware that isn’t exactly how it works. Continue reading

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But we need a ‘forked tongue’ to save Malaysia

By Francis Paul Siah

COMMENT | The unwritten rule for writers when touching on royalty is to accord our royal households with decorum and respect, irrespective of whether we agree with their views or not.

The editors at Malaysiakini are also experienced and responsible souls who know where to draw the line when treating stories about royalty.

So let me tread with caution here as I refer to the recent “forked tongue” posting made by Johor Crown Prince Tunku Ismail Sultan Ibrahim on Facebook.

I think it’s unfortunate that the Tunku Mahkota Johor (TMJ) has launched a thinly-veiled attack on Dr Mahathir Mohamad and warned Johoreans not to be duped by a “forked-tongue” individual.

If TMJ could accept my honest views on his remarks, then let me say that I do understand the disillusionment and animosity that his family has towards Mahathir.

Somehow, they could not forgive the former prime minister for limiting their power during the 1988 constitutional crisis. Mahathir is still treated with disdain by some royal households, and understandably so.

So I have to conclude that TMJ’s views were personal and not so much aligned with the overall interests of the rakyat. Not this time.

TMJ was doing so well in the past when he spoke up for the people on many issues, ticking off politicians, including ministers, in the process. He is an outspoken prince and is well respected and loved, not only by Johoreans but also by Malaysians at large.

TMJ’s presidency of the Football Association of Malaysia, although a brief tenure, is another of his notable contributions to the nation.

Indeed, Mahathir has done well by declining to comment on TMJ’s tirade against him except to concede that the prince’s remarks would affect the opposition coalition with regard to capturing the state in the general election.

However, the former prime minister claimed that it would have a positive effect and boost Pakatan Harapan’s standing among the people. Continue reading

Posted in MoCS (Sarawak)

Ambiga has a major political role to play

By Francis Paul Siah

COMMENT | Rafizi Ramli emailed me a ‘thank you’ note the very same day my article, ‘Why I’m impressed with Rafizi Ramli’, was published in Malaysiakini on March 13.

The Pandan MP, whom I do not know personally, wrote: “Hi Francis. Thanks for your kind words in Malaysiakini. Very rarely people write so glowingly about me kah3. I am not the type who pays attention to flattery, but yours was not. It was kindness on your part and for that, I appreciate it so much.”

Well, that was thoughtful on Rafizi’s part. He took the trouble to send a ‘thank you’ note, even to a stranger. I have never met the young MP.

I believe Ambiga Sreenevasan, like Rafizi, is not one to pay much attention to flattery too. I am not about to flatter Ambiga here nor to glorify her. Ambiga and Rafizi are two public figures who are above personal glorification. Certainly, they are not egoistic. That much I dare say.

I observe people from afar these days – notably political leaders and civil society leaders. I’ve also learnt to be inconspicuous if I intend to do that, and with a certain degree of success.

You see, when you praise those, either in speech or in writing, whom you do not know or hardly know, people will have little or no reason to criticise you.

Hence, I do not keep company with big shots, unlike in the past. Granted, I do have several political leaders, including Sarawak ministers, as friends on WhatsApp and that’s about it.

In observing people, I’ve also learnt that their immediate reactions to different situations can be giveaways as to their true thoughts and feelings. But what I really look for are humility, decency, trustworthiness, wisdom and leadership qualities, especially if one is aiming for public office.

In Ambiga Sreenevasan, I see a woman who is humble, bright and above all, trustworthy. She is also able to articulate her thoughts well. Her messages are generally well received, perhaps even by her detractors.

Ambiga is a much-lauded civil society leader today because she cares for her country and fellow Malaysians. Although not a politician, she joined the Pakatan Harapan ceramah circuit occasionally, declaring that she was on the side of those who earnestly wanted to see a better Malaysia.

Mind you, a blind follower Ambiga is not. In the past, she has held differing views with even opposition leader Anwar Ibrahim on certain issues and she was not afraid to speak her mind. She is a woman who is not intimidated by powerful men. That is the strength of a real leader. Why, I think Ambiga could even handle US President Donald Trump.

Unlike Rafizi, I do know Ambiga personally. She was the Bersih chairperson from 2011 to 2013. The Movement for Change, Sarawak (MoCS) which I head is an endorsee NGO of Bersih. I used to attend Bersih meetings chaired by Ambiga and I once accompanied her to submit a memo to Suhakam.

Of course, I was also grateful to Ambiga when she publicly supported a “Red Rally” organised by MoCS in Kuching in 2011.

When she announced her decision to step down as Bersih chair in 2013, I recall her saying “Two years is enough. No one should lead Bersih for more than two years.” Continue reading

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Those eyeing two seats are selfish and greedy

By Francis Paul Siah

COMMENT | This is not a new issue. It has been bandied about many times and not surprisingly, the “one candidate, one seat” proposal is being debated again on the eve of the 14th general election.

We have heard of the intense infighting among component parties from both sides over seats. In some cases, anger had flared during meetings over seat negotiations and such outbursts were widely reported.

And we all know why such ugly episodes occur again and again. There are just not enough seats to go around. Too many new wannabe candidates emerge at the dawn of every election, eyeing almost the same number of seats available.

There are only a total of 222 parliamentary and 505 state assembly seats up for grab in GE14 – that is going by the electoral rolls used in GE13. Exclude Sarawak’s 71 state seats as the Hornbill State holds its state polls separately.

However, we can expect some additional seats once the new redelineation exercise gets through the current sitting of Parliament.

BN has a total of 13 component parties, Pakatan Harapan has four. Add in PAS, PSM, PCM and the other splinter parties in the peninsula, either pro-BN or pro-Harapan, and we can easily round up the total number to 25.

Over in Sabah and Sarawak, there are easily more than 10 opposition parties that are likely to field candidates in GE14.

Except for PBDS Baru, the smaller opposition parties in Sarawak have been pretty quiet up to now. Perhaps they are exhausted after having failed in many previous elections or they could be quietly strategising on the best moves to partake in GE14.

But the same cannot be said of their counterparts in Sabah. The opposition there is in one hell of a mess. There are just too many generals within the opposition camp. Too many parties are forming too many pacts, each trying to outdo each other.

I’ve said in a previous article that Sabah is the opposition’s to lose. Now, I think there is very little chance of an upset, not with the fragmented opposition that we see in the state today.

On the “one candidate, one seat” proposal, I can recall that it was the late DAP chairperson Karpal Singh who spoke up aloud for it. He even took it before the party’s CEC in 2012 and it was later confirmed that the DAP adopted the proposal but it was not fully implemented.

Last month, Sarawak Chief Minister and PBB president Abang Johari Openg (photo) announced that no one in PBB who is already an elected state rep will be contesting a parliamentary seat.

Abang Jo and PBB are aware that there are just not enough seats for so many qualified candidates in the party. So they have to share and make many happy. A very wise decision by PBB indeed!

Let’s now take a look at the other parties. Continue reading

Posted in MoCS (Sarawak)

Is DAP happy to ‘kill off’ PSM’s Jeyakumar?

By Francis Paul Siah

COMMENT I think I’ve read and heard enough over the past few months to have a better understanding of the intense animosity between leaders of Parti Socialis Malaysia (PSM) and certain quarters in Pakatan Harapan, the Perak DAP in particular.

It’s quite clear to me now that many Bersatu, PKR and Amanah leaders are more than happy to accommodate PSM within the opposition coalition for GE14. The main stumbling block is perhaps the DAP leadership in Perak.

Now, my reading could be wrong here and the Perak DAP could accuse me of being bias. I’m prepared to accept that.

But I have a question. Who has been gunning down PSM’s incumbent Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj in the media? Notably, DAP Perak chief Nga Kor Ming and his staunch party ally, Sungkai assemblyperson A Sivanesan.

And it’s not difficult to understand why. Perak DAP wants Sungai Siput back and A Sivanesan is eyeing the seat.

So like babies fighting over their mother’s milk, Nga (photo) and Sivanesan must come up with “grandmother’s stories” to find fault with PSM and Jeyakumar in order to justify their claim on Sungai Siput.

I have never been to Sungai Siput and I concede I do not know the constituency at all. But there is one thing I know for a fact.

Jeyakumar was the only candidate who could dethrone MIC supremo S Samy Vellu from his political bastion while other DAP candidates had failed. Even the DAP’s most popular Indian leader at one time, the late P Patto, could not shake the MIC giant.

Yes, I would give that credit to Jeyakumar. He deserves it.

Since being elected as Sungai Siput MP in 2008 on a PKR ticket, Jeyakumar has been an exemplary legislator. I’ve been told that he is a regular attendee in Parliament and has also been working tirelessly on the ground. As a doctor, Jeyakumar is known for his free medical services in his constituency. Continue reading

Posted in MoCS (Sarawak)

Want to contest? Got money or not?

By Francis Paul Siah

COMMENT | The main reason for the dispute over seats among political parties is that there are more candidates than seats.

The quarrels over seats from both sides occur before every election and at times, it can be so intense that those jostling for seats would unashamedly, stupidly even, bring their quarrels into the public sphere.

It is as if they want the public to judge who is right or wrong. Little do these quarrelsome politicians realise that people are laughing or even sneering at them for their silly public displays of greed for power.

If you want more seats for your party, irrespective of whether you deserve or are worthy of them, isn’t that greed for power?

Leaders of political parties must realise the public, in general, have had enough of such quarrels over seats. They had seen and heard enough during past elections. Sadly, this is now happening again in the run-up to GE14.

I was involved in seat talks among the opposition parties in Sarawak during the 1996 state election and the 1999 general election for the then Barisan Alternatif coalition. I can vouch here that it was not a very pleasant task.

I can recall the many times I asked myself: “What the heck am I doing here when others come to the negotiating table with conditions? A negotiation has to start with a clean slate.”

You see, there is always the political animal within us. We can agree today but after sleeping on it, we change our mind tomorrow. And we would be ready with all kinds of reasons or excuses for our U-turn.

Such indiscipline among politicians must be nipped in the bud.

Seriously, I wouldn’t be surprised to see multi-cornered fights in many seats come GE14 because there are people who are adamant on contesting as they think they are the better candidate. Personal glorification is a normal human reaction perhaps, but one that is totally selfish and lacking the team spirit.

Now, let me be blunt and ask all these wannabe candidates: So you want to contest? Do you have the money? Continue reading

Posted in MoCS (Sarawak)