STATE DAP chairman Chong Chien Jen learned a painful lesson in humility.
The Bandar Kuching MP had been roundly critised, and deservedly so, for his outrageous remarks in condemning the playing of the national anthem in cinemas.
His remarks had placed him in a bad light and tarnished his reputation.
Chong is known to be a vibrant Opposition figurehead in Sarawak for bravely tackling people’s issues.
He was at the forefront of condeming corruption, critising what he perceived as cronyism and nepotism among the elites of the ruling power, fighting for the rights of the natives in land issues and generally playing an important role as check-and-balance here.
However, last week on the Malaysia Day celebrations Chong posted on his blog – an offensive statement critising the move by the government to play the NegaraKu before the start of movies in the cinemas.
Chong also used words that were offensive and disrespectful.
Members of the public and politicians alike reacted with horror to his statement and condemned him.
He apologised on numerous occasions after being blasted from all fronts and deleted his postings.
Two days ago, Chong had formally apologised and told reporters in Kuching that he admitted his mistakes.
“Even though it is my opinion that it is inappropriate to play the national anthem in a place of entertainment like cinemas, I realise that I had expressed my opinion inappropriately.”
Chong stated this in acknowledgement of going overboard with his comments.
Now that he had eaten the humble pie, Chong still has the task to restore his public image.
He will be surely be taken to task by his fellow MPs in Parliament in the coming Dewan Rakyat sitting later next month.
And at the next state or general elections, this issue would definitely be used against him by opposing politicians.
On controversial public figures, Chong is not the only politician who had gone overboard in his words or actions.
Two months ago, Miri MP Dr Micheal Teo Yu Keng from the Parti Keadilan Rakyat confronted workers of a developer hired by the state authorities to construct a road in the city centre.
He was angry because the road was built right in front of his clinic.
Dr Teo confronted the workers, shoved the supervisor and verbally abused him in full view of the people.
What sort of example was he giving to the rakyat?
For an elected representative to behave like a rowdy, emotionally-charged man who cannot control his temper, it reflects badly on his position as the Miri MP.
Community leaders are expected to behave at all times.
The office they represent requires them to be model of good behaviour, nothing less.
Politicians, aspiring politicians and social activists can learn from the silly antics of some of our statesmen.
Their eagerness to look like heroes through cheap publicity stunts made them look like fools instead.
Two years ago, people in Miri were entertained to some sort of a drama by social activist Peter John Jaban from Free Sarawak radio network who staged his own abduction in the city centre.
In the thick of all this was DAP assemblyman for Piasau, Alan Ling, and Dr Teo.
Ling and the MP were photographed on each side of Jaban while leaving the airport in a hurry.
They looked like “guardians” protecting Jaban.
The drama, as it unfolded, saw Jaban going missing after he entered the city centre, allegedly abducted by unknown people.
Online reports and comments from politicians swiftly followed.
One comment, from a veteran Opposition politician in Kuala Lumpur, even suggested that the “laws of the jungles in Sarawak” are being used against Jaban because he was behind the many reports that had exposed wrongdoings in the Taib administration.
These politicians and online commentators were so quick to jump the gun and pull the trigger.
As it turned out less than a day later, Jaban admitted that he staged the act.
He claimed that he was afraid he might be brutally treated by the police, that was why he staged the drama so that he could go into hiding.
The London-based Free Sarawak radio later admitted that Jaban was in good shape and in subsequent reports, he was even seen moving around freely in Miri.
Ling, Dr Teo and Jaban all ended up losing a lot of credibility in the drama.
Politicians, whether from BN or from the Opposition parties, must realise that there is a need to limit these sort of publicity because of the real danger of being interpreted by the public as attention-seekers.
Social activists and Opposition politicians have their roles to play in society, and important roles too.
They provide crucial check and balance to the ruling administration.
However, these social activists and Opposition politicians must not resort to needless publicity to get public attention.
Remember what happened to Bruno Manser?
The Swiss social activist who spend many years fighting for the Penans’ rights ended up in oblivion after he carried out a silly stunt by attempting
to parachute into the then Sarawak Chief Minister Tun Abdul Taib Mahmud’s residence in Kuching with a sheep in hand, claiming that he wanted to make peace with Taib.
He was promptly packed off to the airport and sent out of the state and country on the next available flight.
The act had damaged his credibility and Manser had attempted to get back into Sarawak later.
It was claimed that he went missing again in the jungles of Sarawak, until this day, and his fate is still unknown.
Social activists and politicians who have real good cause to pursue or some sort of noble crusades to uphold must remain focus on their tasks – without drawing unncessary attention to themselves.
There is a need for them to remain credible in the eyes of the public if they want to be effective in bringing about the positive changes and improvements in society that they are propagating.
The motive of public figures who seek cheap publicity to generate public attention to themselve are questionable.