GE13: When it comes to Fong Po Kuan, it’s best to read between the lines

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  • Thursday, 18 Apr 2013

SHE made heads turn in Parliament though she is not exactly star material.

Despite speaking in a monotone, Batu Gajah MP Fong Po Kuan was a good elected representative, from her regular attendance in Parliament to speaking up on issues and her fiery debates.

Nicknamed xiao la jiao (cili padi), the former three -term MP (1999 - 2013) sees her political career almost coming to an end now.

At 40, the Universiti Islam Antarabangsa law graduate recently announced that she will not defend her seat, citing personal reasons for her decision.

While it is rare for politicians to announce their exit, Fong’s statement nevertheless has failed to make headlines this time around.

In the last general election, she made a U-turn after her decision to quit made screaming headlines such as “Fong Po Kuan drops bomb shell on nation”.

Well, the lukewarm response this time around is not surprising. In fact, Fong’s last term in Parliament was nothing like the first two.

She was literally drowned in a sea of Opposition MPs, including younger ones such as Tony Pua, Nga Kor Ming, Teo Nie Ching and Nurul Izzah Anwar.

The new breed was also very eloquent.

Fong, meanwhile, opted for a makeover, trading her “high-school” look — blouse, skirt and jacket — for pastel-coloured corporate suits.

At one point, she even permed her hair only to revert to her original straight hair later.

Whatever the case, the fact remained that Fong’s voice no longer resonated inside the hall.

The confident-looking Fong might have continued to strut in the Parliament lobby but she no longer commanded attention like she used to.

“She was just at the right place at the right time,” said a five-term Barisan Nasional MP, when asked to describe Fong’s position before and after the 2008 general election.

Making her debut in Parliament in 1999 at the age of 26 — and being the youngest MP — the freckled face cili padi found herself in a very different era during the last term.

Well, such is the harsh reality of politics, and it is always about who can fit into the game plan.

Being 40 is young for a politician. Many in this age bracket have yet to get a chance to contest in a general election.

And this time, we are even seeing a first-timer who is 68 — Tebrau parliamentary seat candidate Khoo Soo Seang.

Seventy-year-old Datuk Yap Pian Hon is making a comeback by contesting the Serdang parliamentary seat.

He first contested in the elections in the late 1960s, long before Fong was born.

In recent years, Fong has become some sort of a recluse in her party, her DAP detractors saying she could not get along with Perak DAP chief Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham and secretary Nga Kor Ming.

But there is perhaps more than meets the eye.

Married to Johor DAP secretary Tan Chen Choon since January 2008, Fong’s biological clock has long been ticking. The couple is said to have plans to start a family.

Her comrades in their 30s are already mothers — former Subang assemblyman Hannah Yeoh has two children and former Serdang MP Teo Nie Ching has an eight-month-old baby.

Yeoh is expected to defend her seat while it has been reported that Teo, dubbed a rising star in DAP, is contesting the Kulai parliamentary seat in Johor.

Fong, whose track record includes defeating MCA’s senior leader Datuk Seri 0ng Ka Chuan in the 2004 elections, does have a national appeal.

I wonder if the leadership has considered fielding Fong in a seat in Johor then.

Tan was said to have eyed a state seat in Johor — Bentayan or Jementah — and some are quick to assume that Fong intends to retire from politics and join him in Johor.

Tan, who is from the insurance industry, is a newbie after the DAP leadership confirmed that he would be contesting the Jementah seat yesterday.

Well, politics, as some people say, is the game of the impossible, and it will not be shocking if Fong springs another surprise this time around.

Tan also hinted to reporters in Johor yesterday that his wife was unlikely to end up a housewife.

After all, when announcing that she would not defend her seat, Fong was quick to add that she still wanted to help Pakatan Rakyat in the general election.

Politics is also about reading between the lines.

Moreover, cutting short her political career to help campaign for her husband in Johor sounds too much of a sacrifice on Fong’s part.

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