Ong Tee Keat determined to take care of unfinished business in Pandan

Veteran politician Tan Sri Ong Tee Keat, was once the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) president, and a Cabinet minister.

Having survived the 2008 political tsunami, which saw the dominance of Barisan Nasional (BN) being shattered, Ong, a six-term MP (Ampang Jaya, and later Pandan) went on to become MCA president, in the same year.

However, his term as president did not last long. He was dethroned by Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek in 2010. No longer holding a top party position, Ong was later dropped by BN in the 2013 general election.

Known as a gentleman and a man of principle, Ong has a tendency to never publicly criticise his political adversaries. He quit MCA in 2017, after being a member for 30 years, saying he just wanted to be an ordinary citizen.

After almost a decade of staying out of Pandan, Ong is back, and is determined to reclaim the seat – this time, as a Parti Warisan Sabah candidate.

While his Sabah-based party is relatively new in Peninsular Malaysia, Ong knows he is not sailing in uncharted waters, as he calls Pandan “home”.

He faces Pakatan Harapan’s Rafizi Ramli, Muhammad Farique Zubir Albakri of Perikatan Nasional, Pejuang’s Nadia Hanafiah, and Barisan Nasional’s Leong Kok Wee in the 15th General Election.

Ong shared his views with Twentytwo13 recently.

You’ve been on political hiatus for more than five years, and now you are back. How has it been?

Ong: It’s been a pleasant surprise. Many voters still remember me, as I’ve served them before. The bond I share with the voters is primarily due to my close relationship with, and my deep concern, for them. It is not due to political considerations. I even consider myself part of their family, sometimes.

Some say you should have just retired and not made a comeback.

Ong: They seem to turn a blind eye to people like (Datuk Seri) Anwar (Ibrahim), who is many years my senior. Then, you have (Tan Sri) Muhyiddin (Yassin), Tengku Razaleigh (Tengku Hamzah), and Tun Dr Mahathir (Mohamad). Why should they choose to make selective and discriminatory comments? It’s not fair.

So, you are back because of unfinished business?

Ong: The local community feels it has been ignored by the sitting MPs since 2013. That was the year I was dropped by BN. I kept quiet.

But over the years, the people here generally perceive that their trust and faith have been misplaced when they cast their votes. That is why they have been coming to me for help.

I told them I cannot alleviate their problems. I can merely offer them advice. Having served the community since 1989, I regard the constituency as my home.

I feel invested here… I see a lot of basic amenities, infrastructure, and other needs being ignored by the sitting MP. I needed to offer the people an alternative, and I needed a platform. It’s not just about jumping into a ship and winning.

You are making your comeback through Warisan, a party that is relatively unknown in Peninsular Malaysia.

Ong: Despite the risks, I decided to take the challenge, as I believe in the political ideals and aspirations of the party. I have been through ups and downs.

I even assumed the top post for a Chinese in the Cabinet (as Transport minister). Money is not a motivating factor, neither is the position. I strongly believe in the political model of governance rooted in racial and religious harmony and tolerance – the kind that is prevalent in Sabah and Sarawak.

You can never see those parallels in the peninsula. The Muslims and non-Muslims there can sit in a non-halal coffee shop, and have their meals, without any inhibitions. Why is it that we cannot do this in Peninsular Malaysia?

Yet, we claim that we are the political mainstay of the nation. We are here to provide an alternative.

You won six terms with BN. But today you are with Warisan. What are your chances?

Ong: When the people showed me their gratitude for my service to them back then, I could feel that they were voting for me. It was not so much my political affiliation.

They say the same, today. I am not trying to blow my own trumpet, but talk of whether people should vote for a party or a candidate in GE15 is prevalent, both among older, and younger voters.

Do the younger voters know you?

Ong: As Pandan, and previously Ampang Jaya MP, I’ve helped many, including petty traders and hawkers. Now, the children of those whom I had helped, share with me what their parents had told them, when they were younger. Some even remembered that I presented them with awards when I visited their schools … that was a big, pleasant surprise.

How do you think you will fare with first-time voters, with some preferring young candidates aged 40 and below?

Ong: The reality is, you cannot afford to only have novices running the show when governing. You need to have a combination of experienced old hands, and young, and promising leaders. I am not saying they (the young politicians) should be denied their right, but there must be a way to bring them in (into politics).

If we totally deny politicians and bureaucrats aged 40 and above from governing, what will it look like? The politics of the day cannot be played to the gallery of certain groups, merely to win seats. We would be gliding into political opportunism.

Your closest contender is perhaps Rafizi, a one-term Pandan MP. Do you think you have the upper hand?

Ong: I remain cautiously optimistic… it is the voters who will decide. They must ask themselves who they want – someone who has been ‘invested’ in this constituency and is willing to solve their problems with structured strategies, or do they just want to be satisfied with merely feeling happy or content with some sloganeering and some exposure.

It would be a personal tragedy if I did not offer myself as a candidate, and leave my work unfinished, since 2013. This is not what I want.

Tagged with: