Infernal Ramblings
A Malaysian Perspective on Politics, Society and Economics

Jeff Ooi and Change for the DAP and Malaysia

Written by johnleemk on 2:30:46 pm Jul 31, 2007.

Some might recall an article I wrote five months ago, entitled Tony Pua, A Sign of Change or A Sign of Recalcitrancy for the DAP? At the time, Tony was the only Malaysian technocrat of a new generation who could be seen in the top ranks of the Democratic Action Party, causing me to pose the question of "whether Pua signals change for the DAP, or the DAP signals change for Pua."

The jury may still be out on that question (a metaphorical jury, of course, since Mahathir Mohamad abolished the real thing in Malaysia over a decade ago), since (as many a historian is supposed to have said), it is too early to ascertain the historical impact of the French Revolution.

However, I am pleased to suggest that the initial verdict is a positive one. Today, I was very happy to be one of the reportedly hundred-strong crowd that welcomed Jeff Ooi, probably the most prominent socio-political blogger in Malaysia, into the ranks of those striving to use the ballot box and Parliament to effect change in this country and give us the independence we never got.

I can't say I'm a huge fan of Jeff. I find that he does have a sensationalist streak to his writing, at times — I was not impressed when I found out he was seriously accusing the New Straits Times of making a juvenile joke about a former Prime Minister, rape, and a pop star through its search engine.

But there's no denying that Jeff's heart is in the right place, and that he is the kind of competent technocrat we need managing this country. I am very glad that a man like him is now in contention to run for Parliament, and do more than blog.

At the press conference after Jeff and the DAP leaders made their statements — as an aside, the DAP Selangor chairman is quite youthful, so he has time to brush up on his English, which would be an asset if he hopes to run this country one day — I was one of those who asked Jeff a question.

I pointed out that he was the first politician I had seen who has made a substantial issue out of education on his platform. Tony has always been huge on education, but after his entry to politics, he has continued to confine his attention on education to his non-partisan blog, while he hammers on other issues in his political blog.

For Jeff, things seem reversed — he has never struck me as being an advocate for education, and yet in his interview with Malaysiakini the day before he officially announced, and again in his statement today, he made substantial remarks on the need to reform our education system. (I wonder if he read my brief on why education is the most potent untapped political issue out there.)

So, I asked Jeff, what policies does he have in mind, exactly, for education reform? To my surprise, he did not seem able to answer the question (indeed, he later told me it was one of the hardest he had to field), but after a brief pause (and apparently quickly conferring with the DAP leaders), he told me he would be giving an interview to Oriental Daily tomorrow or the day after, and that I was welcome to peruse the interview for the answer to my question. (Um, not a big help, since being a banana I don't read Chinese — though I'm hoping to change that.)

After another pause, Jeff went on to speak about his experiences in the school system — about how his early life moulded his Malaysian (as opposed to communalist) outlook. He did not elaborate, but I got the impression that this would mean Jeff would push for a stronger emphasis on national schools, as opposed to the national-type schools, which are by de facto racially segregated. Jeff was quick, however, to refer to the issue of language, speaking on the need for competitiveness at the global level — something I took as an assurance that in his view, neither English nor Mandarin deserve to be marginalised as they both presently are, especially in the national schools.

Still, that was quite a disappointing answer. Maybe Jeff did not have his policies drawn up yet, which isn't surprising, since the DAP does have a track record of opposing for the sake of opposing, rather than governing. (As many have noted in the past, just look at their press releases, where from the title alone, you can see that they are just responding to what the government puts out.)

Nevertheless, on the whole, I came away quite encouraged by the sincerity of the DAP in changing itself by bringing in more technocrats like Jeff. But despite this, as I remarked back in late February, unless these Chinese Malaysian technocrats in turn work to bring in technocrats from all parts of the Malaysian community, the DAP will never be able to paint itself out of the corner of Chinese chauvinism it is stuck in.

Jeff blames the mainstream media for this, but sometimes I think the DAP is not helping — the two languages used at the event by the emcees were English and Mandarin, with the only Malay in sight sprinkled in largely by Jeff throughout his statement.

But nevertheless, I am hopeful. After the event, I had lunch with Tony Pua, Lim Guan Eng, Khoo Kay Peng, and Jeff himself. I do not know if they were putting on a show for me (which I doubt — I'm not that perasan), but Guan Eng did make a big deal of how they were trying to "change" the party.

Tony himself told me that we can expect to see two or three high profile non-Chinese join the DAP in the coming months. I don't know who they are, but I hope to high heavens that they are Malay, for if they are, it would mean that the DAP is on the right track to becoming a Malaysian party.

I've been picking up hints from a variety of sources — now including possibly subtle hints on their blogs themselves — that Haris Ibrahim and Rocky may be next. Hm, I wonder what the friendly kak Nuraina Samad would say. Come to think of it, she may be a good catch for the DAP too, considering she seems to have a command of Chinese.

But enough political speculation — this is not my area of expertise, and I will leave this to the experts like Raja Petra (though I would advise him to avoid constitutional law). The important thing is, we may be in the process of seeing the DAP being reborn as a party for all Malaysians, and a party of ideas capable of governing the country. I cannot say for certain whether this is so, and I doubt anyone there today could totally confidently say this, but the feeling was truly electric — there seemed to be a sense that this could be it, that this could be the breakthrough Malaysians need to see democracy and a change of government. That the days of opposing for the sake of opposing are over, and that we are now seeing the rise of a two-party system.

Of course, this now raises the question of Parti Keadilan Rakyat. I don't want to criticise PKR, because I personally know many PKR members and leaders, and they are good, brilliant people — many of them are the types I would want to see governing this country as well. But I sense that these people are being frustrated and stifled in PKR, to a degree that I cannot find so readily in the DAP.

This doesn't mean that there isn't room for both of these parties, but it does indicate that PKR has a lot of work to do in its internal management, just as the DAP has its task cut out for it to eradicate the old paradigm of being the permanent Chinese opposition party. And, hopefully, some day in the future (which I really pray is not too distant), we may see a new flag rise on the political scene and over the government (courtesy of Tirath):

DAP rocket merged with PKR eye
Hidup Malaysia!

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