THE MAIN BEAM WHO STOOD STRAIGHT

The late Dr Wong Soon Kai will in­deed be re­mem­bered as a care­ful and metic­u­lous po­lit­i­cal leader, who up­held a rep­u­ta­tion for in­tegrity in public of­fice

New Straits Times - - Opinion - The writer views devel­op­ments in the na­tion, the re­gion and the wider world from his van­tage point in Kuching, Sarawak

THE pass­ing of for­mer Sarawak deputy chief min­is­ter Tan Sri Dr Wong Soon Kai this week marks the end of a tra­di­tion in public ser­vice in the state that is sadly be­com­ing much less ev­i­dent today.

The pi­o­neer­ing lo­cal sur­geon, first en­tered pol­i­tics in 1974.

Then, as now, Sarawak pol­i­tics — and in par­tic­u­lar pol­i­tics within the Sarawak United Peo­ple’s Party (SUPP) of which Dr Wong later be­came its third pres­i­dent af­ter hav­ing ear­lier served as its pow­er­ful sec­re­tary-gen­eral — was in some­thing of a flux.

SUPP, best known as an early anti-es­tab­lish­ment party and an ac­tive cam­paigner against Sarawak be­com­ing part of Malaysia, had de­cided to help form the Sarawak coali­tion gov­ern­ment af­ter a fraught state elec­tion in the af­ter­math of the May 13, 1969, tragedy in the penin­sula.

It was a fate­ful party de­ci­sion and one for which SUPP’s then sec­re­tary-gen­eral and deputy chief min­is­ter, the late Tan Sri Stephen Yong, paid dearly when he lost his state seat in Kuching in the state elec­tion that fol­lowed.

That did not spell the end of Yong’s po­lit­i­cal ca­reer as he later suc­ceeded SUPP’s first pres­i­dent, the late Tan Sri Ong Kee Hui, both in the party pres­i­dency and in the fed­eral cab­i­net.

Both Ong and Yong were lead­ers from Kuching and as SUPP cast about for fu­ture lead­ers from out­side the con­fines of the state cap­i­tal, the induction of Dr Wong, al­ready mak­ing a name for him­self in Sibu — first as a gov­ern­ment doc­tor and later in pri­vate prac­tice — into the party was a real coup that broad­ened its base and ap­peal beyond Kuching.

Sibu, now as be­fore, is the home turf of some of Sarawak’s fa­bled Foo­chow ty­coons, and Dr Wong’s en­try into SUPP helped the party tap into new re­sources and mem­bers.

In hind­sight, per­haps the in­spired de­ci­sion to bring Dr Wong into SUPP be­came too suc­cess­ful, lead­ing to the rel­a­tive eclipse of ear­lier party power bro­kers from Kuching.

The seed of party dis­cord was in­ad­ver­tently fur­ther planted when Dr Wong, in turn, brought on board Datuk Seri Wong Soon Koh, a dis­tant rel­a­tive.

Soon Koh’s rise within the party and the state gov­ern­ment had been noth­ing if not me­te­oric.

It was im­mea­sur­ably helped along when in the state elec­tion of 1996, Dr Wong un­ex­pect­edly lost his own state seat and re­tired al­to­gether from pol­i­tics soon af­ter.

Soon Koh was, thus, plucked from rel­a­tive ob­scu­rity straight into the state cab­i­net as a full min­is­ter.

The bad blood within SUPP gen­er­ated by his rapid pro­mo­tion sim­mered un­til it boiled over with him tak­ing his fol­low­ers out to form the United Peo­ple’s Party (UPP), which con­tested in the state elec­tion last year.

Dr Wong had kept his si­lence as the party he had led for some twenty years be­came riven with dis­sen­sion and even­tu­ally broke in two. SUPP, how­ever, con­tin­ues to hold its for­mer leader in the high­est es­teem, be­liev­ing — as it

FRI­DAY, MARCH 24, 2017 must — that he could not be held re­spon­si­ble for devel­op­ments within the party af­ter he had left.

Cur­rent SUPP pres­i­dent Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian paid his de­parted pre­de­ces­sor a glow­ing and ful­some trib­ute, de­scrib­ing the late Dr Wong as “a med­i­cal col­league, a great gen­tle­man, a men­tor, an in­spir­ing leader and a states­man who ded­i­cated his whole life to his fel­low coun­try­men”.

Dr Wong will in­deed be re­mem­bered as a care­ful and metic­u­lous po­lit­i­cal leader, who up­held a rep­u­ta­tion for in­tegrity in public of­fice.

It was a rep­u­ta­tion per­haps most elo­quently ex­pressed by the man­ner of his abrupt de­par­ture from pol­i­tics: un­hesi­tat­ingly and with great hu­mil­ity as he apol­o­gised to his po­lit­i­cal and gov­ern­ment col­leagues for hav­ing failed them in not se­cur­ing re­elec­tion.

Per­haps in death, Dr Wong may yet in­spire in his for­mer po­lit­i­cal col­leagues in both SUPP and UPP a de­sire to sink all per­sonal and po­lit­i­cal dif­fer­ences, and work to­wards re­unit­ing both par­ties into a sin­gle whole once again.

There can be no greater trib­ute to the man and his life-long and self­less public ca­reer if the stan­dards and bench­marks he set in public life are up­held, go­ing forward.

In a face-to-face en­counter with this writer many years ago, Dr Wong was keen to em­pha­sise one point and he para­phrased from a well known Chi­nese proverb to bring it home: that all beams be­low a build­ing can only be straight if the main beam above it all is straight.

That, per­haps, best en­cap­su­lates Dr Wong’s guid­ing prin­ci­ple as a po­lit­i­cal leader and it re­mains as rel­e­vant today.

For­mer Sarawak deputy chief min­is­ter Tan Sri Dr Wong Soon Kai died on Wednesday morn­ing.

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