ON the desk of Dr Xavier Jayakumar is a photograph of one-time foe Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
Dr Xavier laughs when asked what it’s like serving under Dr M.
“If not for him, we would not have won the elections. People believed in him, (Datuk Seri) Anwar Ibrahim was in prison and we were lacking in leadership that could unite the coalition. We didn’t have any icon and he came along at the right time.”
Dr Xavier began his career in the dental profession, working for the government service in 1980, just before Dr M began his first stint as prime minister.
“He is completely a different man now. Really into bringing reforms. I have known him so long as a figurehead of this country and I can see the changes. I think he is really interested in putting this country back on the right path.
“He wants to make sure the people are not cheated again. We have to have a leader who is firm in order to follow through the promises. He is the right person to move forward at this time.”
Dr Xavier confirms that “Dr M II” is the kind of boss who listens to those under him. “He believes in listening to everyone’s views before making a decision. And we will usually follow. He is strict, and he feels that as ministers, we should be very careful with how we spend the ministry’s funds. We must be transparent and accurate.”
Still, as a PKR man, one of the issues on the agenda is the eventual transition of federal leadership to Anwar. Dr Xavier says his party is in no rush. “It has been said again and again. We will wait for the two years. It may be earlier, time will tell.”
It’s been a whirlwind 100 days for the newly sworn-in minister.
“I remember on May 9, mine was one of the first results and I said to my wife, OK girl, we have to plan the move to Parliament and sit on the opposition backbenches, which is a change after being part of the Selangor government. Suddenly, I was asked to go to Sheraton, and even then I was still blur that we might have won. It was only nearly midnight that it became glaringly clear that it could be a historical win. We only declared our win in the early morning hours and I was in the palace later when Dr M was sworn in,” he recalls.
“It’s a great feeling. I never expected to be a minister, or ever part of the federal government. This is a privilege and honour.”
Along with Human Resources Minister M. Kulasegaran, Communications and Multimedia Minister Gobind Singh Deo and Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department in charge of National Unity and Social Wellbeing P. Waythamoorthy, Dr Xavier is part of the largest ethnic Indian representation in Cabinet.
“It is not necessary to see everything through a racial lens,” he stresses. “In the past 10 years in Selangor, we did programmes that MIC was not able to do, and yet we were not an Indian party. We were PKR and DAP together, and we proved that you need not be a race-based party to bring about social changes for a particular community. It cannot always be seen as an Indian issue, so let one of us handle it.”
He believes they are going into a different paradigm, “where for national social issues, Pakatan will work together to look after the needs of various communities”.
But people have not gotten past this way of thinking, he concedes.
“Under Barisan Nasional this (racial-based) was the way of thinking. There is time for change, Pakatan Harapan itself is a huge shift in the type of government.
“The changes will come. You have to be patient. People are so indoctrinated by race and religion.
“We all have to fly the Malaysian flag. There is a new awakening and it should come with unity. We are rejoicing with a new government, having gotten rid of the old kleptocratic regime. This is a way of moving forward.”
Is there a danger that while PKR is the coalition’s biggest party, it could be outmanoeuvred by the more racially-slanted Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia of Dr Mahathir?
Dr Xavier doesn’t think so.
“In the last elections, we were all using the shared flag of Keadilan. That was a great move. Now we have decided to go under the Pakatan Harapan logo. This sees us working together. Also, while PKR and DAP are multi-racial, Amanah and PPBM have associate members who are non-Malays.
PKR’s free-for-all internal democracy has not met with universal understanding among a Malaysian public used to dominant leaders and subservient followers. Dr Xavier sees it as a strength.
“I think we are the most democractic party of all. We let everyone speak. We don’t have rules. You look at the list of people contesting the party elections now, it’s so open. Even those who have just joined are allowed to run. We have one member, one vote and e-voting with tablets, I think it will be succesful.”
He is not worried about potential factionalism building around strong characters like Datuk Seri Azmin Ali and Rafizi Ramli, but doesn’t quite agree with candidates presented as a bloc.
“All political parties have factionalism. The extent to which it goes is important. We are all members and we want to see the party grow. We have a huge opportunity, the people have given us the mandate. This is a chance to show our abilities at governance and leadership, and how our leaders speak and behave is being watched.
“I don’t believe that we should have a team. People campaign on strengths and track records. By forming a team you are forming divisions in the party. What happens if some win and some don’t? Now Anwar has the chance to lead us and it’s long overdue. He should be a guiding light for us, working towards a vision for the party and the people.”
It may seem that Dr Xavier lives and breathes politics. After all, his daughter Sangeetha is also active in PKR’s Youth wing, while his wife’s older brother is former Sungai Siput MP Dr Michael Jeyakumar Devaraj of Parti Sosialis Malaysia.
However, there are sides to Dr Xavier that one might not suspect.
“I miss my hobbies. I have a serious passion for working with wood. I carve and create pieces out of driftwood. I used to spend my time like that,” he shares.
“I am also more of a sportsperson. In my younger days I was very active. Nowadays, I am more into rugby, and I think it can teach anyone discipline.
“It’s rough and tough but has respect for rules. I am a great lover of the All-Blacks (New Zealand’s rugby union team).”
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