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Friday, March 7, 2008

Brains not Drains

Tony Pua was made Economic Advisor to the DAP Sec-Gen last year. Many acknowledge the ex-CEO and Oxford alumnus brings a mental prowess to national and local politics. Lately, the candidate for P106 PJ Utara has been holding the late night crowd rapt with his own brand of food-for-thought speeches. GetAnMP-PJ Utara catches up with Tony in this third instalment of DAP for PJ candidates

These nights the past two weeks, he's provided supper to the mental-belly of hundreds. He's the one who's been feeding the ceramah crowds with tender, pressure-cooked chunks of microeconomics and public policy, a diet few would recommend to an audience typically more interested by a rah-rah knock-em-down speech. But the crowd laps it up.

“I wanted people to know the 'heavy' issues. The question is packaging it,” says Tony Pua, MP candidate for P106 PJ Utara – how money is wrongly manipulated by the ruling coalition, how policies have been hijacked and abused, and how it is so important to have the right MPs checking these practices in Parliament. Tony Pua is facing MCA's popular incumbent Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun this elections.

There is an incisiveness to the 36-year-old's mind, almost coaxing you to throw at him the toughest problems. Questions are answered rapidly and lucidly – there is no stammer, no b-b-but – you get the impression he's thought through these issues.

The grueling campaign is showing – it's the afternoon intermission between the physically-taxing morning walkabouts and evening ceramahs – and the pace isn't slowing one bit.

“Masochism, sheer masochism,” he flashes his trademark grin, shakes his head, and plonks himself on the sofa at the DAP HQ. Yet he would readily stay in the thick of it. It's for the long-term, the best avenue he knows in ensuring this country is set on a steady path to progress.

“There was no marked turning point. I've always felt it as far as I can remember. In primary school, in Singapore as a student, at Oxford... politics has always been in the picture.

“I was sure at some point I would enter politics. But to hold fast onto the right values, that's the key. It was important to achieve financial stability first, to withstand all knocks and temptations which come with the job. And when it did finally present itself, I took that step. It was natural.”

This election period saw the emergence of a number of social vanguards standing as Opposition candidates. But is Malaysia ready to move into a new brand of politics; from the zoo that happened in the just-dissolved 11th Parliament to one of maturity and healthy discourse?

“There's never knowing when the country is ready. We run the campaign as best we can, and if we're elected, it proves the nation's ready. That's the best endorsement the country can give itself. Then, it's for us to deliver. We can steer Parliament. Cut out the injustices.

“Look, the country doesn't have to be No.1. Definitely not now. It's about running it well, making intelligent laws, economic plans that work, welfare policies... there's so much we can draw from others.

“Singapore is definitely a good source, freedom issues aside. Its people are competent, there is an efficient administration, there is solid law enforcement and corruption is successfully minimised. Same genes, same geography... now who screwed up?

“There is no need to recreate the wheel; we can learn from many countries. The trick is implementation, and BN has shown that it isn't bothered enough to make it happen.

“We need to instill a culture of competition, openness, transparency... a healthy live-work attitude. When that culture seeps in, you'll see the ball rolling... the economics will generate wealth, welfare programs will reach those who need it, our education facilities will be reckoned with, the arts will flourish, new industries we can call our very own.

“But it begins with putting in a government that's genuinely willing.”

The cynics will snigger. In Malaysia ah? With all that dirty politics surrounding the elections – the opacity of postal votes, indelible ink fiasco, counting agents, phantom voters – Malaysia seems to have an insurmountable road ahead.

“Yes, Malaysia. Yes, here. I never considered migrating. I decided long ago to stay – me, my wife, my family. And once that decision is made, you make a stand. And you do all you can to move your people forward. The status quo is not an option. Can we do it? One brick at a time, we'll build a bridge.”

“There is a lot to do over the coming years. Win or lose, I'm already seeing my role in the DAP. There is much where we can improve, and we admit it, unlike BN. I want to help fortify the organisation, improve the bond between branches. We'll actively continue to look for good citizens to join us. We'll find ways to improve finances.

“We want to increase the space and facility to debunk existing government policies which are unfair. These efforts require a lot of resources, and these mechanisms have to be efficiently set up. When our MPs go into Parliament, we want them armed.”

On and on Tony paints the plan, and you can see it shaping. Bit by pragmatic bit. He's calculated in his strategies, a quality you see in his night-time ceramahs, where like a good doctor he prescribes the economic pills to the audience in proper dosage. From these sessions to the DAP's alternative budget last year, Tony's earned the reputation of The Brain among voters.

And if all goes well come March 8 – that's tomorrow – Tony may well be carrying the tag of the Thinking Person's MP into the august house. He vows to punch the living daylights out of silly govt schemes and policies if ushered in.

But for the moment, that decision lies with the PJ Utara voters; the ball is in our court. Brain or Drain?

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