There are not many peo­ple who do not know him and if there’s any­one who is eas­ily iden­ti­fied as a peo­ple’s cham­pion, that per­son is him

New Straits Times - - Viewpoint -

GARY is bent on be­com­ing a mem­ber of par­lia­ment (MP). He’s only 16 and still in school. But he har­bours a burn­ing am­bi­tion of be­com­ing a politi­cian and serv­ing the country.

Gary is a talk­a­tive young fel­low, with ideas and opin­ions about ev­ery­thing. I asked him a sim­ple ques­tion: “Why do you want to be a politi­cian?”

Gary shot back: “Un­cle, a politi­cian can do many things for the country. I want to help my fam­ily and ev­ery Malaysian. I want to be the peo­ple’s leader.”

It was dif­fi­cult not to like this young man, with all his en­thu­si­asm and knowl­edge of the world.

Young peo­ple like Gary should be en­cour­aged and guided be­cause they can be an as­set for the fu­ture.

I told him to google a few names if he wished to look for some out­stand­ing ex­am­ples of lo­cal lead­ers. One of them is Lee Lam Thye, now a Tan Sri, of course, and an ac­tive so­cial ac­tivist.

There are not many peo­ple who do not know Lee Lam Thye. If there’s any­one who is eas­ily iden­ti­fied as a peo­ple’s cham­pion, that per­son has got to be Lee Lam Thye.

For as long as I can re­mem­ber, this Ipoh-born young 71-yearold so­cial ac­tivist has been serv­ing the com­mu­nity in what­ever way he could.

It can be ar­gued that Lee is more ef­fec­tive out­side politics than in­side it. Lee was im­mensely pop­u­lar when he was a DAP leader and an elected rep­re­sen­ta­tive.

Lee was the state as­sem­bly­man for Bukit Nanas, Se­lan­gor, from 1969 to 1974. He then con­tested the par­lia­men­tary seat of Bukit Bin­tang and was its MP from 1974 to 1990.

In the 1970s when Lee was a state as­sem­bly­man in Se­lan­gor, mem­bers of the press could eas­ily call him and his mo­bile of­fice. Well ahead of other politi­cians, Lee had pre­pared him­self well to serve the peo­ple.

It wasn’t just his con­stituents or the peo­ple who voted for him who re­spected him. Al­most ev­ery­one who came into con­tact with him had good words for Lee.

Those who sought his help came from all walks of life and from var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties.

They wanted help in the form of a let­ter of rec­om­men­da­tion or sup­port for schol­ar­ship or hous­ing or seek­ing em­ploy­ment.

Small busi­ness­men, such as petty traders and hawk­ers, re­garded Lee as their saviour on many oc­ca­sions. Lee would stand by them each time they en­coun­tered prob­lems with the au­thor­i­ties.

This is not to say that Lee would back ev­ery­one who came to see him with griev­ances or com­plaints. He would di­gest their prob­lems and then advise the com­plainants about the right steps to take.

Mem­bers of the me­dia in the 1970s would of­ten see Lee be­ing stopped by a con­stituent seek­ing help and in­ter­ven­tion.

Many a time Lee would whisk out his por­ta­ble typewriter from his car boot and type a let­ter on his let­ter­head there and then — be it in the cof­feeshop or the nearby hawker stall.

It wasn’t a rare sight to catch Lee sit­ting with a voter or any mem­ber of the com­mu­nity as they com­posed an ap­peal let­ter or a let­ter of rec­om­men­da­tion.

“Lee Lam Thye punya sig­na­ture laku (Lee Lam Thye’s sig­na­ture is good and ef­fec­tive),” those, who sought his help, would proudly pro­claim.

In fact, many Malay vot­ers I met in the 1970s would not hes­i­tate to vote for him.

In fact, one of the most pop­u­lar cam­paign quotes then was this: “Kalau Lee Lam Thye lawan di Kam­pung Baru pun dia boleh menang!” (If Lee Lam Thye con­tests in Kam­pung Baru, he will win). You see, Kam­pung Baru is a pre­dom­i­nantly Malay area and no non-Malay has ever con­tested there).

Lee was me­dia-savvy even in those years. He was about the only MP who would type out his state­ments in the De­wan Rakyat. He would then walk to the press room to hand them over to the jour­nal­ists at work.

He made it eas­ier for the press to cover him. He didn’t have a press sec­re­tary and so had to do ev­ery­thing on his own.

One thing about Lee though — he would call a spade a spade. And he would give credit where credit is due. It was not com­mon to see an op­po­si­tion MP giv­ing credit to the govern­ment then.

Lee left politics in 1990 to fo­cus on so­cial work.

Lee Lam Thye

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