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
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.