Saturday, April 17

My influences in politics – from the 1960s to present day


A former US senator Paul Wellstone had said: “Politics is about the improvement of people’s lives. It’s about advancing the cause of peace and justice in our country and the world. Politics is about doing well for the people.”

George Orwell had also said: “In our age there is no such thing as ‘keeping out of politics’. All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia.”

Most politicians today endeavour to aim for the earlier quote when they first enter the arena of politics, but the majority usually end up living the Orwellian nightmare.

It is true that even for the most ardent fence-sitter, sooner or later he has to take a side, make a stand, form an opinion, or speak his mind — unless he is a robot.

I was born into a very political family. One could almost say that politics ran in the Ong bloodline. Ong Ewe Hai my great-great-grandfather first set foot in Sarawak in 1846 at 16, from Singapore where he was born in 1830. He had to start his venture into business at such a young age as his father Ong Khoon Tian died when Ewe Hai was only seven, thus he had to support his family from an early age.

After setting up business with a local chief and establishing a successful trading business, he struck up a close relationship with the first White Rajah, Sir James Brooke, who made him a Kapitan Cina (head of the Chinese community.) Ewe Hai’s son Tiang Swee was to follow in his footsteps and became the next Kapitan Cina as well. In turn, his son Kwan Hin took over and it was his eldest son Ong Kee Hui who became very active in politics. Kee Hui founded Sarawak’s very first political party in 1959, together with Stephen Yong Kueh Tze, Chan Siaw Hee, Yeo Cheng Hoe, Khoo Peng Loong, Charles Linang, Song Thian Cheok, Pemancha Salau, Wan Mohdzar Tuanku Mahmud, Ee Ghim Yam, Abang Dris Sanaun, and William Hardin, among others. It was called the Sarawak United People’s Party, or SUPP.

I was only nine years old and in Primary 3 at St Thomas’s School, the school that all my ancestors including both my parents had attended. Although a few of my uncles and other relatives got involved as well, my parents, due to their status of being civil servants, could not. But even as a very young boy, I could remember and had sensed the excitement and the many hush-hush family gatherings and meetings during those early days – it felt unlike anything I’ve experienced hitherto – the mysterious goings on with strangers coming and going as we all lived within the so-called Ong family compound, scattered into four separate family residences in close proximity.

However, I was to experience my own personal introduction into the world of politics during the second Sarawak district council elections held in 1963, when I was aged 13 and had just started Form 1. I was completely enthralled with the exciting election campaigning emerging from my Uncle Kee Hui’s house; and had stayed up late for the results when they were being announced!

The excitement was palpable and the disappointment in the losers’ faces was heart-breaking. I can never forget the tears shed by one rural seat candidate, who had lost his seat narrowly. It had touched me immensely even though I had only known him for a few days prior to that night.

That night has stayed in my memory for a very long time, to this very day.

From then on, I followed the politics of the country avidly. Although I never joined any political party then, nor am I a member of any today, I very strongly supported my uncle’s party, SUPP, for a very long time.

However, my uncle never approached nor asked me to become an active member of his party. It was only after the late Tan Sri Datuk Amar Stephen Yong took over the reins of SUPP in 1983 that I was personally asked to join the party under his mentorship: it took me 48 hours to decline his offer, and the reason I gave him was that I had valued my private personal family life more versus what would bound to be a very public life if I were to take up his offer. He understood and had accepted my response. The person he approached next eventually became the next mayor of Kuching.

My personal sympathies and support towards my uncle’s party slowly, but surely, eroded after 1997, as I became disillusioned by what was happening to the party and the directions and decisions it took over the preceding years.

However, having said that, I continued to support certain politicians in SUPP who were personal and family friends, among whom was Datuk Song Swee Guan, who eventually became Kuching South’s first mayor in 1988 and the Speaker of the Sarawak State Legislative Assembly for the period from 1996 to 2000.

It was somewhat telling that around the time Swee Guan was active in SUPP, I had expressed a renewed interest in joining the party. However, he wasn’t as enthusiastic about the idea as his advice to me was: “The time is not right; the party is currently being controlled by the Mandarin-speaking faction, and they are very clannish and there are too many power-hungry cliques within the party – so as an English educated professional, you would have a hard time making any headway in the party without a mentor or a strong sponsor behind you.”

It looked to me like a case of wrong timing – in 1983 when I was much sought after I wasn’t keen to be involved; but when I had felt a calling years later, the party scenario had changed so drastically that I wouldn’t be able to make a difference. Politics, as they say, never stands still.

Today, looking back through the years, I reflect upon my personal political heroes.

Besides my uncle Ong Kee Hui and Stephen Yong, I have always admired and held in very high regard the likes of the Tunku Abdul Rahman, Tun Hussein Onn, Tun Ismail, Lee Chong Yew, Tan Chee Khoon, Tan Siew Sin, Lee Kuan Yew, Lee Hsien Loong, Stephen Kalong Ningkan, James Wong Kim Min, Adenan Satem, Tra Zehnder, and Lim Kit Siang.

At one time or another, political parties like Gerakan, SNAP, DAP, and PKR had ideals which I felt were truly Malaysian and had catered to all races and had risen above racial and religious idiosyncrasies.

Today you may ask who do I support?

On a personal front, I support Dato Sri Dr Sim Kui Hian, See Chee How, Baru Bian, and Datuk Amar Douglas Uggah. I find it rather difficult to support any political party per se.

I would like to conclude with these two quotes from famous men on politics:

Henry Kissinger had said: “Ninety per cent of politicians give the other 10 per cent a bad name.”

Mahatma Gandhi had concluded that: “Anyone who says they are not interested in politics is like a drowning man who insists he is not interested in water.”

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