IN the 2006 state election, Violet Yong, a greenhorn who contested under the DAP ticket, shocked political pundits when she beat veteran Barisan Nasional candidate and Pending incumbent Datuk Sim Kheng Hui with a comfortable majority of 4,372 votes. She was just 29 years old then. A law graduate from Melbourne, Australia, Yong returned to her hometown in Kuching to practise law in a private firm in 2001. That year also saw her joining DAP. In early 2005, some party leaders in the state lobbied for her to be a candidate. She spoke to StarMetro on her political journey and what keeps her going.
Question: Did it take you a long time to decide whether to be a candidate for Pending in 2006?
Answer: It took me a few months to think about it. During my younger days, I attended party activities with my father but I was never involved in front line work. It’s my parents’ dream that their children can contribute to society through politics one day. My family, relatives and close friends have been very supportive as well. What I am and have today are all because of their support. I also received a lot of guidance from senior party members over the years.
Q: Did anyone try to talk you out of it saying that you are too young or you should concentrate on your legal career and personal life?
A: The only discouraging comments from some friends at that time were that no matter how good I performed, I would still get criticised. There’s always criticism because I’m in the Opposition. It’s like that in politics. But I always tell myself and encourage my friends around me that if there’s someone capable in politics but does not come out, who will come out and help save our country and fight for better democracy? There must be some people willing to sacrifice. When I think of this, I think of party leaders like Lim Kit Siang (DAP advisor) who fight for a better country.
Q: What was your reaction, and how did you feel when party members nicknamed and introduced you to the people at political events as cili padi during the 2006 election?
A: It’s my principle that if I am to fight and speak for the people, I have to do it whole-heartedly and sincerely without fear or favour. Whenever I raise issues and give comments, it is based on facts and meant to be positive criticisms. Maybe that has earned me that nickname. Actually, there are many cili padi in the party. I’ve seen how other leaders in Peninsular Malaysia fight for the people. So, I see the nickname as a compliment and in a way, it gave me more encouragement to work harder for the people.
Q: What was it like to win Pending in 2006?
A: I didn’t expect to win. So, when the results came in, I was surprised. It proved that the people were hungry for change. I was also happy and honoured that the people had placed their trust in DAP and me to serve them.
Q: How do you find the job as an elected representative and how has it changed your life? And how do your cope with media attention?
A: I try to take it easy. It was a sudden change in my life and career. I was briefed to expect some of the changes. I’ve been very fortunate that I have good working relationships with government departments and agencies. This has helped me a lot in solving people’s problems. Sometimes, a problem is solved with just a phone call. For this, I’m very grateful.
I’m a ‘doctor’ — a social “doctor” every Thursday afternoon — listening and trying to solve people’s problems. The people can either see me that day between 2pm and 5pm or they can call me any time of the week if they have a problem. I don’t screen my incoming phone calls. I believe in being hands-on. If I am to help the people, I need to get their information and go to the ground for more details. Although I have an assistant now, Christina Chew, I still do most of the ground work myself.
I enjoy my role as an elected representative. I will continue to work hard for the people and do it with a sincere heart. That’s my principle. I really like to help others in need. I come from a medium-income family and have been through financial hardship myself particularly during my university days. My mother was a litigation clerk and baked cookies for additional income, while my father ran a small business at that time. I worked extra hours for my own living expenses in Australia as my parents could only afford to pay my school fees. So I know the difficulties of being poor and I do not look down on others.
I will find ways to assist anyone with a problem who comes to me. I believe in good deeds and in return, one will be blessed. The universe is like a globe that goes round and round - something that affects other people will affect me one day.
Q: Are you ready for another battle?
A: In DAP, all of us are always ready and we face the people everyday. So, we leave it to the people to judge us on polling day.
Q: What are the ups and downs of being an elected representative?
A: I feel happy when I see people’s problems solved immediately, but some problems cannot be solved because of government red tape and policies. I can’t please everyone and I have to be open to criticisms and scolding especially during State Legislative Assembly (DUN) sitting (laughs). In politics, there are bound to be people who like and dislike you. One of the lessons of being a politician is to have a thick face. This is particularly useful during DUN sitting. My face has to be thick and bullet proof (laughs) as I get bombarded left and right.
Q: Is there any moment when you feel you’ve done enough or not enough for the people?
A: Everyone and every party has limitations. As far as I’m concerned, when I play my role as an elected representative, I do it whole-heartedly, sincerely and with conscience to earn the people’s trust and respect. The end result is unexpected. Sometimes, there are things like sensitive issues or situation that I can’t do much to help.
Q: What do you miss most being just you - an ordinary person?
A: Being a public figure has restricted my personal freedom. City dwellers have high expectations of their elected representatives and I can feel everyone’s eyes are on me all the time and judging my performance. Due to time constraint, I’m unable to take up leisure activities as much as I like. I have to attend to my work as an elected representative, a lawyer and a committee member of some associations, and spend time with my family. I miss hanging out with my friends for lunch and dinner.