Leong Ngah Ngah: A Pahang Boy Through & Through

In October, The Rocket took a tour to the state known as the ‘abode of prosperity’, Pahang, and caught up with state DAP Chairman and State Assemblyman for Triang, Leong Nga Nga who shared his thoughts regarding the progress of DAP, Pahang and Pakatan Rakyat.

Full name: Leong Ngah Ngah (Leong Kam Fook)
Education: Malaysian Certificate of Education (MCE)
State DAP Post: State Chairman, Triang Branch Vice Chairman
Member since: 1978
State Assembly Representative since: 1990
Other Activities: Poultry farming
Age: 55


Please tell us briefly about yourself, where are you from and your current occupation?

I was born and raised in Triang, married in Triang and also contested as a candidate in Triang. I think I would even pass away in Triang (laughs). I am a Triang boy through and through.

I grew up in a very poor family. We were so poor we could not even afford to have bicycles, having to depend on walking to travel around town. Most of the time, we could barely afford new clothes. My parents were also illiterate. They saved and worked hard to ensure that I had an education.

In my younger days, I was a timber clerk and an insurance agent. I am now in the poultry rearing business with my family members. As for my family, I have a loving and helpful wife with five wonderful children.

Why did you consider joining politics?

Since my schooling days, I was always interested in politics. Particularly, I remember being influenced at a young age by what the People’s Action Party (PAP) was saying (when Singapore was still a part of Malaysia). They had ceramahs in Triang which I attended and it left a deep impression upon me.

Growing up, I began to realise that I was impacted by many things that the government did. I was unhappy with what was going on in the public sphere. I would say that I was one of the victims of the New Economic Policy. In my schooling days in Form 5, there were three classes in the school. Most of my classmates had good grades. Yet, none of us got into public universities. It made me angry with what the government was doing. I decided to join politics to make a change.

In particular why did you choose DAP? When did your political career began?

I chose DAP as it had a multiracial appeal. As I grew up in a multiracial environment, I felt comfortable being a part of a multiracial party. DAP was also against the unjust policies being practised by the government. As for my political career, I joined DAP in 1978 at the age of 23. I started contesting in 1986. I lost marginally then, by over two hundred votes. I contested again in 1990, and have won the election contests since then. My political career as a state assemblyman (ADUN) coincided with Tok Guru’s (Dato Nik Aziz Nik Mat) ascension as Menteri Besar in Kelantan at the same time. Yes, I have been an ADUN for 20 years.

How do you manage your many roles as a businessman, father and husband while taking the role of an elected representative?

I would say that I am blessed to have my family members and friends helping me in my business and political career. My wife and my cousin help to run the family business of poultry rearing. My children assist me on a part time basis with my political career, by providing some Internet and communication assistance to my service centre. It has freed me to concentrate on my duties as a full time politician. In the busyness of politics, I don’t forget about my family. I treasure them very much. They are first in my life.

What is the political landscape of Pahang now? Has it been affected by the March 2008 political tsunami?

I think there is a great change in the state. It is not just amongst the Chinese; even the Malays are feeling it too. They have seen opposition governments being installed not just in Kelantan, but Kedah as well. They see there is a new hope for the country.

For DAP, it is certainly a change of image. For many who voted DAP, they always thought that they were just supporting DAP because they were unhappy at the government and its policies. At long last, we are now part of the governing coalition in several states, particularly Penang and Selangor. There is now hope for the people that the future Pakatan Rakyat (PR) government will do much more for them than Barisan Nasional (BN) did. The people are prepared for change now.

What are the issues that concern Pahang?

For Pahang, the land issues take precedent. There are 17 state seats where FELDA schemes and its settlers form a substantial number of the population there. In the past, the government took good care of the settlers, providing adequate financial assistance and good facilities for them.

Now, however, the situation has deteriorated, and PAS has raised up public awareness regarding the manipulation in grading of the palm oil collected from the settlers by FELDA and the replanting system conducted by FELDA. Some of these cases have been brought to the courts for arbitration and the settlers have won some of them. Many FELDA settlers have responded positively to the highlighting of these issues.

For the Chinese, it is the issue of illegal land usage and renewal. For example, in Cameron Highlands, the Chinese farmers face difficulties in getting the titles to their land and renewal of the Temporary Occupancy License (TOL) on their land. The TOL has to be renewed every year.  Sometimes they are threatened that if they do not support BN, their license would not be renewed. Similarly, in Bentong, Raub and Triang, the people have been cultivating the land for many years but they have yet to obtain the land titles.

We have told them if the opposition forms the government, we would extend their TOL to 30 years or even give them the titles. They did not believe us then as we (DAP) were alone; now with PAS and PKR we stand a chance to form the next government and deliver on what we have promised. In addition, we have good and trustworthy leaders and good coordination amongst the parties.

For the people in big towns such as Kuantan, they are facing the issues of lack of job opportunities and sluggish economic growth. They hope that a new government can make changes to government policies and business environment where they can do business more comfortably.

What are the people’s perceptions toward Pakatan Rakyat? How is PR fairing in Pahang?

The people are beginning to believe that PR can be the alternative government and solve their problems. With the good governance shown by PR state governments in Penang and Selangor, the people can see for themselves the quality of leadership in PR. Though the problems in the other states may be different, but I think they believe that PR leaders are sincere to help them in Pahang. Also, we have no personal or conflict of interest problems in our ranks.

What are the chances of PR forming the Pahang state government in the next elections?

Today, I would rate our chances as approaching 50-50 in forming the next state government. After the March 2008 general elections, the Chinese are leaning more positively towards PR.

Now the Malays are opening up as well. In the recent months, PAS have been actively highlighting the issues in the FELDA areas. Here, the Harakah newspaper plays a very important role in the information dissemination process for the FELDA folks. The Malays may still buy Utusan Malaysia as their daily newspaper, but they do not believe it anymore. They know it is subverting the truth.

In the past, when UMNO attacked and used DAP as the bogeyman to scare the Malays, we were unable to defend ourselves. Now, with PAS actively organising ceramahs to explain the issues, we have a platform to explain and present our message to the Malays. We are able to reassure them that should PR come to power, they will not lose their rights. Only UMNO, MCA and MIC will lose their rights. We tell them that all this while, it is UMNO who are having all the rights, privileges and power. In other words, by voting for us, they are actually bringing the power back to the people.

DAP generally contests in the town areas, where the Chinese are predominantly represented so we do not foresee much difficulty in the urban seats. However, for PR to capture Pahang, the Malay voters will be crucial, as they form almost 75 percent of the total voters. We have to depend on PAS and PKR to reach out to the Malay voters. As for the Indian voters, DAP also has leaders who can reach out them.

In the past, many supported DAP to protest against the government. However many of the people used to worry that if there were too many changes occurring in the political scene, it would cause racial riots. However, since March 2008 things have changed. Now when DAP is attacked on the Malay issues by UMNO, we have PAS and PKR standing up to defend us. It reduces the chance of UMNO taking advantage to cause trouble for us.

What are the issues or challenges facing PR now in Pahang? How are the PR parties cooperating with each other?

Personally, I think Pahang PR has the best cooperation amongst the parties when compared with other states. We have been cooperating with PAS since 25 years ago. Even in 2001, when DAP left Barisan Alternatif, we were still cooperating with PAS in Pahang.

In 2004, when DAP contested alone in the general elections and PAS was criticised for its Islamic state stance, Pahang DAP maintained contact and cooperation with PAS. Our bonds with them remained strong even then.

In Pahang, I would venture to say that in every PR joint event, such as ceramahs and fundraising dinners, both DAP and PAS will be represented there. Personally, I would say PAS trusts us more now as we have stayed with them even through the tough years of 2004-2007.

As for the difficulties, I would say it would most likely be in the seat allocation amongst the PR parties in contesting the elections. But it is a common problem across the country. As for the Islamic state issue, I think it has been resolved at the national level. Today PAS is promoting the “Welfare State” and “PAS for All” concepts, which are acceptable to all races.

Even in the so-called contentious issues such as the usage of the word “Allah” and visiting of mosques by non-Muslim, PAS has openly stated that it is alright for non-Muslims to do so. In my opinion, the major obstacles have been overcome by PAS and PR.

What is the people’s perception of DAP? How do we attract more diverse ethnic and religious backgrounds to join the party’s struggle?

In the past we tried hard to recruit Malay and Indian members. But we encountered difficulties in doing so, as the Malays always had the impression that their best choices are UMNO, PAS or PKR. DAP was always seen as the fourth choice for them (after UMNO, PAS, PKR).

Today, PAS and PKR are supporting us. PKR have non-Malays in their parties, DAP too has Malays in the party. And with PAS planning to have non-Muslims as members, it has improved their image as a moderate party. But for organisation purposes, we (PR parties) prefer to concentrate on our areas of strength in recruiting new members. In the long term, we would concentrate on attracting Malays who do not agree with the appeal of PAS, PKR or UMNO.

Time will prove the appeal of DAP. We have Tengku Zulpuri Shah Raja Puji (Pahang DAP Deputy Chairman) as a good example. He came from a family with strong PAS links. His father was the former deputy commissioner of Pahang PAS and contested as a PAS candidate several times. But Tengku Zulpuri came willingly on his own to join DAP. With such examples, perhaps others with similarly strong political inclination and different backgrounds will also consider joining DAP.

Moving forward, what are the challenges for DAP to progress ahead?

I think we face many challenges and provocation from UMNO and MCA especially in regards to our cooperation with PAS. Many racial and religious issues are played up regularly to cause problems for both our parties and to trip up our relationship.

For example, regarding the speakers’ position in Selangor and Perak (which were held by DAP ADUNs); UMNO used that to frighten the Malays by saying they have lost political power when they voted for PR. We try to counter these lies by conducting ceramahs to explain the issues to the Malays.
As I see it, at the root of it all is the racial issues played up by UMNO and BN. If the national PR leadership can overcome this problem, Pahang PR can overcome it as well.