What do Teresa Kok and Khalid Samad have in common? Pakatan Rakyat, piousness, ISA detention and yes, the azan issue. The pair forged an unlikely friendship born out of controversy (Khalid helped Teresa during the azan issue which led to her ISA arrest). Indeed, unity can be found in the strangest places. The Rocket’s Chung Hosanna finds out that cooperation is the strength behind the Selangor PR government’s success story.
Teresa Kok has unmistakable presence and she knows it. Every time the three-term MP strides into a room, she dominates it without meaning to. It isn’t the loudness of her clothes or the shrillness of her voice that commands your attention. Her body language manages to convey ease and urgency at the same time. She does not fade gently into the background. You cannot dismiss her.
In a media-obsessed culture where female politicians often only make the news for their clothing choices, she refuses to play that game.
Instead, it is her voice that draws you. The strident, sassy tone is two parts chiding big sister and one part no-nonsense boss. Throw in her sure, almost steely gaze and trademark larger-than-life laughter; you get the feeling that this is one lady you do not want to mess with.
For all that’s been said about the Selangor State Senior Executive Councilor, her ordinariness is disarming. Her speech is peppered with “lahs” and other Malaysian colloquialisms, but the double degree and masters holder is just as comfortable in a room full of academics.
As State Senior EXCO, MP for Seputeh and State Assemblywoman (ADUN) for Kinrara, Teresa wears many hats. She tells The Rocket that juggling her dual role as an MP and ADUN was not that a problem as her service centres are located fifteen minutes apart. In fact, she lives around the area, so she is always able to rush to the scene at short notice.
Two terms after her first election victory in 1999, Teresa retained the Seputeh parliamentary seat with a 36,492 vote majority – the highest in that election. She attributes her record-breaking victory to the people of Seputeh and regards herself as an instrument to achieve their aspirations.
Those aspirations include economic justice and an increase in democratic values and practices, a theme akin to the notion of “Negara Berkebajikan” that PAS is advocating. Naturally, the state government is concerned to uplift the lives of Selangoreans, in line with the theme of returning the state’s resources back to the people (“merakyatkan eknomi Selangor”) which PR pledged to do in 2008.
Teresa names several programs aimed at addressing welfare issues of Selangoreans from cradle to grave. (see page 18 for full details)
Tabung Warisan Anak Selangor (TAWAS) is a programme where registered Selangorean newborns are entitled to a RM100 cash gift and a further RM1500 when they turn 18. Children from poor families are also given a one time cash gift of RM1000 from the state when they enter university.
SMUE (Skim Mesra Usia Emas) offers RM2500 bereavement token from the government to the family of every senior Selangorean who passes away. “You can say that in Selangor, no families cannot afford a coffin when a senior citizen passes away,” she says.
Teresa also points out that those born in Kuala Lumpur before 1974 also qualify for this grant from the Selangor state government. Recently, the Ministry of Federal Territories and Urban Wellbeing also followed suit with a similar program for senior citizens in Kuala Lumpur.
She says this is due to pressure from the state government which forced the federal government to be more attentive and caring to the people. With this, families of seniors in Kuala Lumpur are able to collect a total sum of RM5000 for every bereavement.
Senior citizens who register with the SMUE scheme also receive a RM100 coupon under the “jom, shopping!” programme recently launched by the state. The successful program has drawn many participants.
The state government also offers microcredit schemes to empower urban and rural lower-income citizens to start their own small businesses. There are many more programs in the pipeline. (see pages 12 & 13)
“Although as a state government we have very limited resources, we try our best to share the wealth of the state with its people,” she says. The Selangor State Government budget stands at RM1.46billion, as compared to the federal government budget of RM229billion. The State Senior EXCO in charge of Investment, Industry and Trade believes that if PR is in control of Putrajaya, it can do much more with the nation’s resources.
In the past three years since it came to power, the PR government has come under fire from the state opposition including personal attacks and false accusations especially by pro-UMNO bloggers. “Through it all, we managed to survive til today,” Teresa says.
She regards the defamatory attacks made against Pakatan leaders as a desperate attempt by UMNO to misrepresent the state government and wrestle back political control of the crown jewel state.
“Mainstream media, especially the Malay language media and television stations have been spreading lies and their reporting is biased coverage.” (see Khalid Samad’s comment on the media on page 17.)
In an attempt to counter this, the Selangor state government set up an online TV portal called TV Selangor. The state runs a free Malay newspaper called Selangorkini. It also negotiated funding for an independent community newspaper, Selangor Times which is distributed freely.
Teresa says the objective of Selangorkini is to expose the lies in BN-controlled media and explain Pakatan’s efforts for the Malay community. “We try to make it as non-political as possible so that it’s easy for people to read and understand us,” she says.
However, efforts to surmount the government’s media chokehold are like a drop in the ocean as Pakatan’s quest to be heard in our national democratic space remains a constant struggle.
On Khalid Samad and the ISA
When Teresa was first accused in 2008 of forbidding the azan call to prayer at a new mosque in Puchong, it was PAS MP Khalid Samad who brought the chain email to her attention.
“Khalid advised me to clarify the accusation and issue a statement, which I did via a statement put on my website,” Teresa recalls.
Teresa clarified that the incident was a fabrication and had nothing to do with her. It all started when several complainants sent a petition to Masjid Al-Ehsan in Bandar Kinrara, Puchong, to ask the mosque committee to lower the volume of its ceramah or sermons. They sent a carbon copy of the petition to Teresa’s office.
Little did she know, that simple act of photostating would later land her in jail without trial.
When UMNO leaders Satim Diman and Khir Toyo accused Teresa of “advising” the mosque against broadcasting the azan, UMNO mouthpiece Utusan Malaysia picked up to story and attacked Teresa in a series of articles which she is now suing the paper for.
Afterwards, Teresa was arrested under the ISA.
Describing her ordeal, the KL-born says what shocked her most was that the police did not investigate the claims or allow her to record a statement before they put her under ISA detention.
“After I was detained, I asked the officers what was my offence. I tried my best to explain to them (my side of the story) but nobody bothered about me. I told them about the statement I put up on my blog before my arrest, then only they read it.”
The first female MP to be arrested under the ISA, Teresa was kept in solitary confinement. She said that during the initial hours, she was hoping that they would realize the mistake and release her immediately. No such luck. After 48 hours, she was asked to sign a document to verify that she could continue to be detained. That’s when she became furious.
“I blasted the Special Branch officer nicely,” she quips. “In my heart I thought, when I come out, you watch out!” she says candidly. She even told the policewoman guarding her not to be “funny” to her because she could one day become the Home Minister.
Despite this initial confrontational stand, Teresa has since put the incident behind her. She says her short ISA stint is like “kindergarten” when compared to other detainees who have spent years and even decades under detention.
A devout Catholic, Teresa was allowed to have a bible in her cell during her confinement. She said the seven days of being alone taught her to quiet down her spirit. It was a “good spiritual exercise”, as she puts it.
It was later found out that a faulty loudspeaker system was the reason why the mosque did not broadcast the azan. The mosque committee chairman also clarified that she had not been involved in any way in the incident or in the petition. After a week, she was released.
The former political secretary to Lim Kit Siang says that her detention made the government look very stupid and was an eye-opener for the general public to see how preventive detention laws can be abused. “If it could happen to me,” she warns, “it could happen to anyone. Charges can be framed up easily.”
Although Prime Minister Najib Razak had recently announced that the ISA would be repealed, preventive detention laws look set to continue as the cabinet has just tabled the optimistically named Peaceful Assembly Bill with provisions that suggest more repressive crackdowns could loom in the horizon.
After her release Teresa revisited the mosque and was received warmly by the participants. –The Rocket