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Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Velvet and Steel

Edward Lee, DAP candidate for DUN Bukit Gasing, takes a breather from his walk-about and speaks with GetanMP-PJU. First of a four-part series profiling the DAP for PJ team

Dream on, says Edward Lee.

Even better, says the 59-year-old citizen activist-turned-politician, is realising these dreams. If it's the right thing, there is always a way, believes the DAP-PJ candidate for DUN Bukit Gasing. It is this dogged nature that has seen a fair number of citizen-initiated programs succeed over the past few years even when the odds were stacked against them.

“When the few of us first decided to fight the Puchong Incinerator project (in 2001), few stepped forward. Activism was an unfamiliar thing for many; it was daunting. I mean, the government is a huge animal and can be threatening. And the project was already in the works...captured in the KL Structure Plan 2020, approved, ready to roll.”

“We could have just watched the Opposition take the case in Parliament, and hoped for the best. Instead right from the start, we strategised, used our resources as wisely as we could... we sought help from good lawyers, got hold of the EIA report and pored through every line. We came out with a comprehensive list of questions and apparent weaknesses, and went for the jugular.”

A tidal wave of support began to grow – citizen groups, NGOs, politicians – allowing the team to be even more creative in carrying the message across. The saga of the 1,500 ton-capacity incinerator finally ended when the government decided to relocate it to Broga, where it met similar resistance and was eventually killed.

Perhaps this was what Malaysia needed in the new century – a new responsibility rooted from the ground described by Aliran as Rakyat Activism. But reaching there required a lot of planning and execution, the kind you won't see on the glossy pages of print – the shrewdness, the prudent deployment of resources, counter-strategies, and the buckets of sweat.

“Logistics is my forte,” says Edward, who once worked in the shipping industry. “You have to develop a smarts for any task. And you just have to delegate; delegate well... not just pass the job off to that somebody, but to instill inside that human being a shared sense of pride in running that task well. That's what I want to bring into the State Assembly and local councils.”

Edward puts you at ease. Call him bro, call him uncle; it fits. Once, during the conversation at the Old Town Coffee at PJ State, a small group of MBPJ officers walked by and they all exchanged greetings. The Opposition in a smiley exchange with Govt folks – it's a refreshing sight, perhaps a sign of things to come.

“I can tell you this much – there are many civil servants who are crying for good governance. They have personally told me so. They have pride in what they do. They want effectiveness, efficiency, all the stuff we want. They see the problem as lying within the local councils... politicians. Always politicians, it seems. Poking their hands into the pot, messing things up, bad policies, favouritism...

“And that's why I'm stepping into politics now. I want to get into the den and do my bit in cleaning up the house. Set a workable structure to it; make it culture.

“It will take time, easily a few years, but it can happen. I'm a believer in reform rather than revolution. Head-on war only draws retaliation – 'face' is so important here. So nothing gets solved. But when there is a way out, when corrupted officials are given space to recant, win them over, convince them, then we're on to something.”

But there has to be impetus for such people to change, no? How is this achieved?

“We need to find ways to seal their doors (to corruption). The first action if I'm elected will be to assemble a team of lawyers. We'll go through all the main Acts in the State of Selangor, scrutinize them, find the weaknesses. We'll highlight the anomalies. Then we take measures to plug them. Work out a human-oriented system. We'll show them: 'Here is the solution.' Redesignate people if we have to, retrain, bring back pride... i know it can happen.

“That's the constructive pressure to reform. Something that works with the psyche rather than subverting it.”

The conversation goes beyond the hour, a very easy hour without gaps nor awkwardness. The humility is captured throughout - he doesn't talk about himself, rather it is about fundamentals, the how-to, the nuts-and-bolts of a Malaysian urban society. In this community, Edward has earned the reputation of one who lets the Walking do the Talking. He isn't your posterboy type forever spilling soundbites. Edward Lee acts, that's common knowledge. But why for; and what drives?

“God,” he says cleanly, and then a pause. “It's about doing a good thing, doing right. I was disturbed by the injustices. The growing injustices happening in the country over the years – you know I came home to Malaysia because I was taken in by Mahathir then? I thought it was the main event. But things just got worse, certainly more under Badawi. The BN is calcified, it can't do much good in its current dynamics. Too many greasy hands... they've lost the plot.

"At some point, I had to stand up. I wanted a good night's sleep every night. And thankfully I've been getting it.”

The bread and kaya is consumed, the creamy white coffee washed down, it's time for the walkabout among the citizenry, and you sit back and wonder about the tasks ahead and what Edward would need to get his plans through in the State Assembly. I asked: If you had a wishlist, who would have on your Dream Team in DUN Selangor?

“Wishlists aren't real. Frankly, I'd prefer to just dream. Then make it happen.”

Additional Info:
Edward Lee's blog

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