by Chung Hosanna
She was eight when her famous father was arrested under the Internal Security Act and by the time he was released, ten-year-old Kasthuri had been exposed to a world of politics that would seal her fate in the years to come.
As party members rallied around the Patto family during those two years of Operasi Lalang, the Democratic Action Party became like family to young Kasthuri. After all, her parents were party stalwarts who met and courted through DAP involvment.
Over the years, seeing the friendships forged over common struggles and party solidarity ignited in Kasthuri Patto a love for politics.
After five years working as a microbiologist, Kasthuri applied for a job in the Selangor State Government. She was successful and worked under State EXCO for Local government, Research and Development, Ronnie Liu for two years.
Today, the 33-year-old microbiology graduate serves as Lim Kit Siang’s poltical secretary. It has been a journey for Kasthuri to go from working in a medical lab to the DAP national headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, but the Ipoh-born lass takes it in her stride.
Kasthuri describes her tenure working for the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) Selangor State Government as challenging. “We had to clean up a lot of ‘rubbish’ left by the previous State Government. You would be shocked to discover what 50 years of corruption and destructive policies has done to Selangor.”
In 2008, three quarters of the local councils finances were in the red. For instance, Klang Municipal Council was embroiled in a massive financial turmoil, running RM40 million worth of debts.
Today, many local councils have strengthened their financial standing through careful spending of public funds under PR. For instance, the Petaling Jaya City Council increased its reserves from RM80 million to RM191 million in just two years.
After three years of PR’s prudent fiscal management, Selangor’s state reserves in 2011 amounted to RM1.9 billion. According to Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim, the amount is the highest achieved by the state over the past 28 years.
Proud to Witness Selangor’s Turnaround
Kasthuri describes other succeses by the PR Selangor government that many residents are unaware of. For instance, the state pays for the first 20 cubic metres of water amounting to RM11.40 for each consumer in Selangor, Kuala Lumpur and Putrajaya.
“Before the policy was introduced, BN said that giving away free water to the people would bankrupt the state in half a year. But we defied the odds. It has been four years now since this policy was implemented succesfully,” Kasthuri says.
PR has also increased the government allocation to non-Muslim houses of worship. “Under BN only RM880,000 was given annually, how can this figure be enough for all the numerous churches, temples, and non-Muslim religious associations in Selangor?”
This year, PR has allocated RM12 million due to overwhelming requests for funding from temples and churches. PR has also given land and assisted the religious bodies in various issues such as relocation. For Islamic Affairs, a special fund has been set up by the Selangor government for the maintenance and repair of mosques and suraus.
Kasthuri said that this is just a small snapshot of the changes that the PR government has brought. She believes that these results are a preview of how well PR can manage the nation if given the opportunity to form the federal government.
Women, Arise to Your Destiny
As a young emerging female leader on the forefront of Malaysian politics, Kasthuri praises the level of female political participation as compared to a decade ago. “It is very encouraging to see women arise and fight for what they believe in.”
Kasthuri says, it is thanks to the contributions of the generations of women before her, that women like herself can seize opportunities available today.
She believes that the journey for women’s empowerment is moving in a positive direction. “No doubt, women of this generation are more (politically) active than before. But this is not enough.” says the eldest of two siblings.
When asked if women should be given incentives to take part in politics, or whether nature should be left to take its course, Kasthuri supports field-levelling measures.
Women must be given equal opportunity and also incentives to become frontliners, she says. In her view, the DAP manifesto to have at least 30% female composition at decision-making level in the party is a reasonable course of action.
“Before, the adage was said that ‘behind every sucessful man is a woman’. Today, it should be said that ‘behind every successful man is an equally succesful woman,’” she quips.
Inspired by her father’s aura
Clearly, Kasthuri’s famous father had a great influence over her. A former ISA detainee and tireless champion for fundamental liberties, P. Patto’s passing at the age of 48 in 1995 cut short the political career of an illustrious politician tipped to be the next Secretary General of DAP.
Being raised by a famous political figure comes with its pros and cons. For Kasthuri, it meant that she was exposed from a very young age to a life of politics that would shape her destiny. Her father often brought her along during his official duties.
On the other hand, P. Patto’s work often took him away from home. “When my father came home from his various travels and responsibilities, we felt that the family was finally complete. You could feel his aura in the home,” Kasthuri says.
She reveals a private side of her father, the famed parliamentarian and fiery orator. Patto was also a fastidious collector who prized his collections of coins, bottles, magazines and books. He taught his children to look after things well, a life lesson Kasthuri carries with her.
“I don’t want to just be P. Patto’s daugher. I am interested to be a part of the larger part of the political process, to be part of the party’s machinery,“ says Kasthuri, soft-spoken but firm.
In a changing political climate where women fight for respect and strive for freedom, Kasthuri Patto may just be given the chance to prove her mettle and fight the good fight on her own. –The Rocket