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Sunday March 16, 2008

The Davids who beat Goliath

They were unknowns one day and the next, they were elected representatives. Some were raised in political families, others developed their political convictions at university while one was literally thrust into the elections at the eleventh hour. They will go down in history as the young and inexperienced ones who won against the odds and, in some cases, beat long-established incumbents. One thing these MPs and assemblymen have in common – they are all inspired and raring to change the political culture. Sunday Star speaks to some of these political novices who can’t wait to etch their mark on the local political scene. 

  • Loh Gwo Burne, MP of Kelana Jaya  

    Before the elections, newly elected Kelana Jaya MP Loh Gwo Burne hit the headlines when his video exposed the country’s biggest judiciary scandals, but he still had trouble getting recognised on his campaign trail. In fact, many did not remember his name, and simply called him the “Lingam video guy”. 

    Gwo Burne recounts how early on in the campaign, when he visited a popular night market in SS19 Subang Jaya, some of the people there were still unsure of who he was when he handed them flyers. He even had to reassure them that he really was the parliamentary candidate for Kelana Jaya, that it wasn’t a hoax. 

    “That was one of the most stressful things I had to do because I had to repeatedly explain who I was. It would have been nice if my face was splattered everywhere on the trees or anywhere for that matter so that people won’t think I’m an impostor,” he jokes. 

    Guests at a wedding having a look at their newly elected Seri Setia state seat winner Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad (third from right) and Kelana Jaya parliamentary winner Loh Gwo Burne (fourth from right).
    Gwo Burne confides that he was not supposed to contest in the 12th general election but his businessman father Loh Mui Fah, 58, was. 

    However, at the 11th hour, his father decided to give the place to him.  

    “Everything happened at the very last minute and I was shocked to learn that my name was given to PKR a day before nomination day,” says the 34-year-old. 

    However, he admits that it wasn’t really unexpected because there were subtle hints in the past that his father would prefer his eldest son to contest and would give him his full support. 

    “I was just shocked that he only told me at the very last minute and I admit I was a little nervous since there were no preparations made.”  

    What’s worse, he adds, they were given only four badges, six posters, several stickers and flyers and four caps to cover the entire area of Kelana Jaya by the party. 

    “It was a crazy train ride for all of us. We had to constantly take turns wearing the badges and caps,” laughs the youngest brother, Loh Gwo Fynne, 28. 

    Luck seemed to be on their side as his other brother, Loh Gwo Tynde, 32, found a printing house and managed to get the campaigning materials almost immediately. 

    “Although it wasn’t enough to beat the Barisan, the people have spoken. And it really doesn’t matter how many posters, flyers, billboards, TV and radio advertisements you put out there,” says Gwo Burne, who won the seat with 30,298 votes, beating BN’s Lee Hwa Beng (25,267) and Independent candidate Lim Peng Soon (1,895). 

    His father has no doubt about Gwo Burne’s capability.  

    “I told my children that I could not groom them to be the smartest, but they could be honest and straightforward. On these grounds, he is qualified. He might not yet be a good politician, but he has the qualities to be a good leader,” says Loh. 

  • Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, assemblyman for Seri Setia 

    The special assistant to Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim is already a well-known figure in cyberspace but for his campaign, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, 27, opted for a mix of the more conservative campaign strategies. 

    “It’s still too early to tell (about the impact of the Internet on my campaign) as I have yet to analyse the results in detail. My early forecast was that the Internet users were a growing but still relatively small segment. That was why although my campaign video was on YouTube, I also distributed them on VCDs,” says the political blogger. 

    Like many of the young politicians who emerged in the recent elections, Nik Nazmi has been politically conscious since young. 

    “I was influenced by my father who followed politics closely. The sacking of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in 1998 that led to the Reformasi movement gave me the opportunity to find a political platform that I believe is the right one for Malaysia to move forward: multiracial, progressive and looking to the future,” he shares, adding that he was active in British student politics while he was studying at the University of London, UK. 

    Nik Nazmi’s involvement in PKR started in 2001 when he volunteered for the party, and he has been active in the party since.  

    He clinched the Seri Setia seat with 13,838 votes, beating BN’s Seripah Noli Syed Hussin’s 10,975 by a 2,863 majority. 

    He believes that age is not a factor in his ability to carry out his responsibilities as an assemblyman. 

    “Of course experience helps. But on the other hand we also lack ‘the experience’ of being corrupt, of abusing our power – so that is of course good,” he notes, stressing that all new representatives face a steep learning curve regardless of their age,  

    “What should be the main evaluation is our agenda and whether we remain committed to fulfilling the agenda once we are in our job.” 

    Now that he is elected, he aims to work on eradicating crime to make his constituency safer, while providing more opportunities to the disadvantaged.  

    “We need to look at the broad socio-economic conditions that cause crime in order to solve the problem in the long term.” 

  • Elizabeth Wong, assemblywoman for Bukit Lanjan  

    It seemed like just yesterday when a friend quipped during a concert that she would not be able to enjoy them any more if she was elected to Parliament.  

    “I will have to think about it (going to concerts). But if either Muse or Depeche Mode come, I will have to make exceptions,” says Elizabeth Wong.  

    Elizabeth: 'I just want to do my work. I lead a simple and private life and I would like to keep it that way.'
    “I have always wanted to join a rock band but it looks like I have to KIV that for now,” adds Elizabeth, who plays the piano, violin and the guitar. 

    She contested under PKR and defeated one-term assemblyman Datin Paduka Yong Dai Ying for the Bukit Lanjan, Selangor, seat with a 5,155 majority in the recent elections. 

    “I didn’t expect to win by such a huge majority. I have been waiting for this for a long time. But it is one thing to have good proposals and another to make it work,” says the 38-year-old from Ipoh, Perak. 

    The eldest of three siblings also says that she will have to start wearing more sneakers from now, as she will have to walk around her constituency. 

    “I like heels, they make me look taller. But I guess I will have to run around a lot more from now,” says Elizabeth who studied fine arts. 

    She has also been told that dressing up is a must now with suits being on the agenda although she is still unsure about it.  

    “They might be just exaggerating but I will have to find out.”  

    A social activist who was also a parliament aide for Permatang Pauh MP Dr Wan Azizah, Elizabeth is planning on being a fulltime Adun (state assemblyman). 

    “I just want to do my work. I have a simple and private life and I would like to keep it that way. I shop at Carrefour and compare the prices of stuff. I am also affected by high prices, just like everyone else,” says Elizabeth, who enjoys photography in danger spots such as South Thailand, Acheh and Mindanao. 

    She also mows her own lawn, reads, does gardening and plays with her kitten Hong Mao (Red Cat). 

    “I hope I can continue doing all these things which keep me sane,” she says. 

    Having lived and having been involved in social activism in Australia and United Kingdom, she has met a lot of their MPs. 

    “They are very regular people. They take the bus or train to work and don’t live in fancy houses. I would like to model myself after that,” she says. 

  • Chua Tee Yong, MP of Labis  

    Chua Tee Yong recalls his trips to the parliament with his school and dreamt about being part of the action and debating on the big stage.  

    “I vaguely remember those trips. Although I never expected to be in parliament, the opportunity came and I am thankful for it,” he says in a phone interview. 

    “The opposition has a strong voice in parliament and I will have to be really prepared before each sitting,” he adds. 

    I did it: Chua Tee Yong in jubilant mode outside the Labis district council nomination centre in Labis.
    The son of former Health Minister Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek, Tee Yong defeated Dr Teo Eng Ching from DAP in the contest for the Labis parliamentary seat with a majority of 4,094 votes. And that was a good start.  

    “I am happy to be given this mandate by the people and will not disappoint them,” says Tee Yong, who has a two-year-old son. 

    Tee Yong is currently sorting out a few loose ends as he has resigned from his post as chief financial officer in a government-linked company. As someone exposed to the running of a company, he wants to ensure that the element of equality prevails.  

    “During my tenure, I want to make sure that there is the element of equality in the passing of the Bills. This also means equality in the distribution of wealth to the sexes,” he says. 

    His interest in politics began when he was in his teens. 

    “Party members would always come to the house to discuss various problems. That left a big impression on me,” he says. 

    Tee Yong also knows that comparisons with his father who had an excellent track record are bound to crop up, but he says that he is a different person. 

    “I admit that my dad has vast experience but I don’t believe that age or inexperience is a hindrance. Maturity, passion and commitment are more important,” he says, adding that listening is the most important skill. 

    Adversely, will the scandal, which beset his father, affect him? 

    “In the first place, everyone was aware of my dad’s track record and no one mentioned the incident when I was campaigning. It’s all in the past and is no longer relevant. There are other more pressing issues to be solved,” says Tee Yong, who hopes to make the MCA relevant to the community. 

  • Gobind Singh Deo, MP of Puchong  

    What took the second son of DAP chairman Karpal Singh so long to take that leap and run for the elections?  

    Ever since he returned from law studies in the United Kingdom in 1996, Gobind Singh Deo, 35, has been a familiar face around the courts and Malaysian political scene.  

    Team happiness: Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo being chaired by his supporters after it was officially announced that he was the winner for the Puchong parliamentary seat.
    And with the strong legacy of his father, it was always a question of when and not if for Gobind Singh to carve a place in local politics. 

    “After my father lost in 1999, the whole family decided to pool all our energy and resources to get my father re-elected in 2004. That’s why my brother and I didn’t contest then,” he tells.  

    This year has been a different story as three members of his family, including his older brother Jagdeep, ran and won in the recent elections. Gobind Singh received 35,079 votes, beating BN’s Lau Yeng Peng who got 22,486 votes by 12,593 votes. 

    Gobind dedicates his win to the women in his life – his mother and wife. 

    “My mother has been the backbone of our family. I remember when my father was detained in Operasi Lalang in 1987, we were all young; my youngest brother was only three months old but my mother was very strong and determined, taking care of all of us. Now, I see the same strength and determination in my wife Sangeeta, who has been very supportive of me, especially during the campaign. So this win is really for them,” he says.  

    Gobind joined the party in 1996 and is now the DAP National Legal Bureau secretary and DAP Johor Human Rights Committee chairman.That year, he also started his law career at his father’s legal firm Messrs Karpal Singh & Co before branching out on his own in 2006 to set up his own law firm. 

    The father of three says that he will continue practising law but is fully aware of the responsibility he carries as an MP. 

    “I realise now that in many ways I am the voice of the Malaysian Indians in Parliament but at the same time I have to work for all Malaysians,” he says, vowing that he aims to break people’s misconception that DAP is a one-race party. 

    The biggest change in his personal life, he says, is that he will have to spend less time at his law firm in Johor; he may open another branch in the Klang Valley.  

    Other than that, he notes, his life will not change much. 

    “Growing up in a very political family, I am fully aware of the responsibility. Even when we were younger, my brothers and sisters knew that whatever we did would have an affect on my family and my father’s political image, so we were always mindful,” he shares. 

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