Tony Pua, A Sign of Change or A Sign of Recalcitrancy for the DAP?
Last week, it was announced that blogger/technocrat/millionaire Tony Pua had sold his business and joined the Democratic Action Party, apparently as a special economic adviser to Lim Kit Siang, the Leader of the Opposition in Parliament.
I think this is definitely a good thing. There are huge benefits to be gained by having an Oxford-educated technocrat on the side of the opposition — and playing a major role, at that.
After all, as I have written in the past, what the opposition needs so badly are concrete ideas. More importantly, it ought to focus on concrete bread and butter issues — but still, policy wonks like me have a soft spot for technocrats. Having a young leadership full of technocrats can rarely be a bad thing.
Nevertheless, I must confess that I have my doubts about Pua's decision — even though it is one that I support. After all, to truly gauge whether the right thing has been done, we must not look at potential, but at results. Pua is unquestionably competent, but can he deliver the goods?
The main issue, as I see it, is whether the DAP is actively seeking to make itself more dynamic and to tone down its Chinese image. The fact that Pua is a Chinese counts against the latter, but I think this is a rather minor issue.
The more important issue is whether Pua signals change for the DAP, or the DAP signals change for Pua. Is the DAP interested in moving on from its old, traditional image as a stodgy party only interested in opposing for the sake of opposing, or is it going to remain as the government's toughest critic, but never an actual alternative government?
The reason a technocrat's arrival ought to be seen as good should be apparent. Well-educated technocrats aren't exactly the type to be content with sitting around and lambasting the government. I think they're more interested in changing things, and certainly, from what I understand of Pua, he is looking for change in our country and our society.
I truly hope that his joining the DAP signals a sea change for the party. Getting Pua on board was a real coup for Lim Guan Eng, the party Secretary-General, but if the DAP wants to be an effective party fighting for power to change the country, more technocrats must loom on the horizon for the party.
Even more importantly, these technocrats should not come from just the Chinese or Indian ethnic communities. It is shocking that a party which claims to fight for all Malaysians cannot elect a single member of Parliament from the majority ethnic group — the Malays.
The DAP has usually blamed the Malays for not joining it. But the junior Lim pulled out all the stops to court Pua. Surely he can do the same for a Malay technocrat or two?
What I fear, though, is that the DAP has just signed Pua for the sake of getting him, and that they don't intend to use this as a launching pad for changing the party's dynamics. If this is so, Pua's talent will have totally gone to waste, and to the great detriment of the country. Both Pua and the DAP have to work to deliver here.
Some opposition diehards have wondered why Pua did not join Parti Keadilan Rakyat instead. I myself do not know why this is so — perhaps because the DAP was the one who courted him? In any case, it is true that there is a bit of a dearth of technocrats in the PKR leadership (although they are by no means non-existent), and that the PKR could do with shoring up its image as a truly Malaysian party by recruiting people from outside the Malay community.
Still, those are arguments for the PKR to pursue Pua — not for Pua to pursue them. If the PKR chose not to nab him, it is their fault, and their fault alone.
It is my hope that both the DAP and PKR will start to seek out Malaysian technocrats who are amenable to working for change in our country's politics and society. As I've written before, there are two ingredients for change — ideas and ideals.
The opposition is overflowing with people who have ideals, but not necessarily ideas. Meanwhile, our society has a surfeit of people who lack both ideas and ideals. If the opposition wants to succeed in effecting change, it needs to mine the resources of technocrats who can provide both ideals and ideas.