In this (May) edition, the Rocket spoke to Kota Melaka Member of Parliament Sim Tong Him and heard his thoughts and views on Melaka issues, Pakatan Rakyat’s appeal and the challenges confronting DAP.
Tell us about yourself, please.
I was born in Melaka. I came from a big family of 12 siblings. My father was a detective; he was constantly on the move throughout the country. As a result I spent most of my childhood years moving around, I have studied in Kelantan, Perak and Melaka. I am married with three children.
I am an avid fish rearer. In my younger days, I have cross-bred different types of fishes in my fish-rearing pursuits. I also have many diverse interests, especially photography – I photographed many DAP events in Melaka in the 1980s.
I started contesting in 1986. In that year, I stood in and won the Tengkera state seat in Melaka. I was re-elected in Tengkera in 1990 with a bigger majority. In 1995 I switched to the Bandar Hilir state seat and won it, repeating the victory in 1999 with a bigger majority as well. In 2004 I decided to contest the Ayer Keroh state seat, a mixed seat. I realised that DAP needs to have more visible presence in the non-Chinese area in order to broaden our multi-racial appeal. In any case I lost that contest to the MCA incumbent, the defeat was also partly due to the new prime minister factor. I then ventured into business consulting and semi-retired from politics.
In 2008 I was asked by the party to contest the Kota Melaka parliamentary seat. I won it, reclaiming the seat for DAP after a one-term hiatus.
What motivated you to join politics? Why did you choose DAP?
I was working in the banks when I made my first foray into the civil rights cause. I was with the bank union movement in the 1960s. As unionists, we were always in contact with the union-inclined politicians such as Lee Ah Meng (one of DAP’s founding fathers). We were asked to assist the DAP in Melaka in their organisational work. That was how I got in contact with politics and DAP.
Growing up, I was influenced by the struggle for equality and ideals that socialism espoused. DAP’s Malaysian Malaysia was something I saw that fit in with my views for an equal and fair society. DAP was a natural choice for me.
In 1974 and 1978, I began to actively campaign for DAP in the general elections (GE). However, I was still a unionist and a banker then. In the 1982 GE, DAP suffered big setbacks when its chairman Dr Chen lost the Seremban parliamentary seat and it also lost eight other parliamentary seats in Peninsula Malaysia from its 1978 tally. In an atmosphere of defeat and dejection, Kit Siang told us frankly that DAP has many sympathisers but not enough volunteers to help the party’s cause. I felt burdened for DAP. A month after the 1982 GE, I joined DAP officially.
How would you describe the challenges and issues that an elected representative like you faces every day.
The party has communicated clearly to the elected representatives that they are to first help grow the party and build its influence in the community. We are then to serve our constituents well. Finally we are to voice up the issues that concern the people in the state assembly and parliament.
When I was a state assemblyman (ADUN), I had to attend to many local issues such as street lighting and road potholes; now as a Member of Parliament (MP), I have to bring up issues of national interest in parliament. Many of the residents in Melaka have now come to expect that ADUNs are to take care of local issues while the MPs fight in parliament any unjust national legislation or national issues that affect the people. However even now as an MP some residents still call me to attend to their local issues because they said they have not received their adequate attention from the ADUNs. Some of them have gotten used to me helping them solve the local issues when I was an ADUN. They just naturally call me when problems cropped up.
However I am aided by the fact that nowadays the people are getting more well-informed in terms of who and where they should approach in the government departments to solve their local issues. It has eased our burden somewhat. In the past the people would often approach the elected representatives to get things addressed as they would be given the go-around by government departments.
As an MP now my role has also changed somewhat. I have to allocate more time preparing for and attending parliamentary sittings, and also to attend meet-the-people functions. It is qualitatively different from that of ADUN; the responsibility and expectations of an MP is also heavier. For example many local projects initiated by the federal government needs an MP to monitor and follow up with it. We also have to bring it up in parliament if it is delayed or detrimental to the local community. In this role I am also fortunate to have a group of hardworking and capable ADUNs assisting me by taking care of the local area issues.
What is the political landscape in Melaka now? How have things changed in the last three years?
The March 2008 political tsunami has affected Melaka somewhat. This is most visible in the urban areas where many of the seats witnessed substantial swings in voting trends toward the opposition parties by all the major ethnic races. The Malay voters in semi-rural areas such as Ayer Keroh, Bachang and Klebang also voted opposition candidates and some have openly told us so. However the degree of change has not been impactful enough. In the outskirt and rural areas, especially amongst the Malay community, things have remained the same.
In the past three years, the Chinese voters’ support for the opposition parties have actually increased as they realised the vote for change has not brought instability for the country. They see that the new spate of policy changes by the federal government and the good performance of the Pakatan-ruled states have brought changes to the country.
However for the Indian community, the slide in support for Pakatan Rakyat is significant. They are not seeing visible benefit for their community and their livelihood. Many feel indifferent toward PR. Many Indian voters are weighing to cast their support for BN as they hope that the current BN government may be able to offer more assistance to them. It is not something hard for them to decide.
The urban and young Malays voted for change in 2008; now some are feeling ambivalent with the changes that has happened and worried about it. It is something Pakatan needs to address.
Discuss about the issues that are affecting the political scenario in Melaka?
The issues in Melaka are similar to many BN-controlled states. We have a chief minister that is too powerful, overarching in his reach of every government department’s major decision making and not being held accountable for his actions and decision-makings. He is perceived to be enriching his cronies and family members. The people are generally unhappy with him but unable to do anything about it.
The urban development in Melaka city is a cause for concern as it is proceeding in a haphazard manner and causing much traffic congestion. Many of the projects initiated are also unnecessary and a waste of public funds. Flash floods have been plaguing Melaka city for quite a while due to the land reclamation project in the coastal area. On this urban area related issues, the local residents are fed up and willing to listen to our solutions.
However for the rural area, the local residents are not as vocal and demanding in their expectations of the government. For example, even if the local government services such as rubbish collection is inefficient, it may not affect them as much as they are able to burn the rubbish on their own.
It is not that they are not concern with issues such as corruption and good governance; they have not been properly informed of it. We have to be able to relate how the government’s wasteful spending and corruption will affect them. When we approach them, we try to create awareness in them. We remind them that their local amenities such as clinics could be improved if the government was more careful with its finances. In Chinchin and Bembau, when we distributed the Auditor-General’s report on the Melaka state government’s unaccounted spending, it was snapped up in a short notice. The rural residents can be receptive; we just have to find ways to approach them.
What are the people’s perceptions toward Pakatan Rakyat in Melaka? Are they still enthusiastic about PR?
One of the effects of the March 2008 political change is the fact that even amongst the staunch BN supporters they are beginning to see the value of a strong opposition in the form of PR. Many of them are seeing that the possibility of a change of government in the future is high. Some of the civil servants have hinted to me they are prepared to accept a new government that will bring positive change to the country. The political expectations have definitely changed for a lot of Melaka residents.
However PR does face challenges in sustaining its appeal to the people. This is true when we are trying to relate to the people. In many ceramahs and meet-the-people functions, PR leaders have been harping on national issues and not enough on the local issues that concerns the people. This is alienating some of the rural voters. We need to go back to the basics, to engage them in what they understand best.
How is the cooperation amongst PR parties? What are the hurdles that PR has to overcome?
Seat allocation has been one of the contentious issues for PR parties. DAP and PAS generally has less complication with each other in terms of seat negotiation, as both parties’ areas of focus are different. It is with PKR that we face contentions and issues on seat allocations.
DAP has generally done its ground work in its traditional areas; we have built rapport with our constituents. Likewise with PAS; they have their identified area of strength. However with PKR, there does not seem to be enough groundwork done by them to engage their targeted areas’ constituents. Some of the PKR leaders want to ask for ours and PAS strong seats; this create tensions within our respective parties’ members as they have been investing efforts to build up support for their parties. For PR’s cause we want to help build PKR to be a strong party as well. However, it should not come at our expense.
Whenever we have joint PR activities, Melaka PKR leaders are not well represented in the functions. They need to demonstrate commitment in meeting the people through these joint PR activities and not harp on who should be the next chief minister of Melaka.
What are the challenges for DAP to progress ahead? What needs to be rectified?
We in DAP have to make the conscious effort to reach out to people from different ethnic backgrounds and try to attract the committed ones to be party members. In the past many with professional background and high public standing individuals joined DAP but left the party after their public profile rose. We need to vet the quality of the leaders and members recruited. The good leaders need to be groomed and built. It will take time.
In addition, we have to make the Indian and Malay leaders and members feel that they are contributing to the party’s cause and not there for tokenism’s sake. When it comes to issues related specifically with the Indian or Malay communities, DAP leaders need to be seen as backing the Indian or Malay DAP leaders wholeheartedly and not leave them alone and vulnerable to attacks from our opponents.
Melaka DAP also faces the same challenges as national DAP. When we try to reach out to outside of our core support of Chinese community, we are reminded that other PR parties are also trying to attract them and are having difficulty doing so. When we attract non-Chinese members, we are also liable to be accused of poaching potential recruits from other PR parties as we may be recruiting in their areas of strength. We do face dilemma in this area and we hope the national PR leadership can help us resolve it as well.