HE sings, plays the guitar and has hordes of fans. If he wasn’t in politics, this young man could easily be a rock star.
But despite the frantic pace of work and stress, Kerk Chee Yee, 26-year old assemblyman for Air Keroh, Melaka, and the youngest state executive councillor in the country, is happy with his choice of vocation.
The son of the late Kerk Kim Hock, former DAP secretary-general and ex-Kota Melaka MP, he chairs the state’s Communication, Multimedia and Youth Development and Sports Committee.
Just two months into the job, he ended up in the hospital with a viral infection but even while being there, he managed to persuade the doctors to let him attend two important functions.
One week before his admission, I had a chance to meet Chee Yee at a Hari Raya open house.
In between incessant requests for selfies from his fans, both the young and the old, he relates how much his life has changed since being appointed state exco member.
“Social life? None. It has been so hectic that I don’t even get to see my mum. By the time I get back, she’s asleep. She has to set the alarm at 6.30am so that we can have breakfast together,” he shares, noting that his mother has been worried about his health.
Showing the packed diary on his phone, he says his schedule was so tight that skipping lunch and dinner has become the norm.
It must be a case of déjà vu for his mother, Mook Kwai Mei – his father joined the DAP in 1986, when he was 30.
Chee Yee says he has started his stint in the state government by learning how the previous administrative system worked and its nexus with politicians.
As this had been the dynamics for 61 years, he feels it might take some time to resolve the underlying problems, especially to change the deeply entrenched mindsets of the civil servants.
During a recent dialogue, however, he seemed to have won over many when he spoke about the directions and policies he planned to implement in communications and multimedia.
“I was told that in the past, the priority was to please the government and the guideline was ‘saya yang menurut perintah’ (obeying instructions). They were surprised when I spoke about allowing freedom of expression and sharing of views and opinions,” says the former investment banker who studied Accounting and Finance at the University of Melbourne.
Recalling his entry into politics, he says he asked his father for permission to work for DAP as a volunteer in March last year, expecting the general election to be called four months later.
“He was against it, perhaps thinking that I would end up going through the same adversities that he had experienced.
I said I would be able to do a lot for the youth by being a volunteer. Eventually, he relented and let me become a volunteer,” he recalls.
Chee Yee soon became a full-time staff and in August, he was appointed political secretary to Lim Kit Siang’s political secretary, a post his father once held.
“My father went through many hardships. I know how hard he had to fight,” tells Chee Yee, who is determined to carry on his father’s legacy.
As described by party supremo Lim, the senior Kerk had led a life filled with obstacles and battles, up to his courageous fight against cancer.
“My father always talked politics to me, even when I was a young boy. I still feel his presence and his guidance. I think of him every single day,” says the young politician, who many say reminds them of his father.
When offered to contest for the Air Keroh seat, Chee Yee was excited that the party had placed its trust in him, but was also apprehensive as it was not a safe seat after the latest constituency delineations, he says.
“I was also more familiar with the party in Kuala Lumpur where I was based in, than in Melaka, my hometown. I was expecting a small team to help me in the campaign.
“I was overwhelmed when about 300 people of all races and backgrounds – from students to retirees – volunteered. None were party members. I was very touched by the response,” says Chee Yee.
They said they saw it as a battle for all Malaysians, he notes: “It made me realise, when people believe in the cause, any fight can be won.”
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