From ac­tivism to pol­i­tics

Rather than dwell on the dif­fi­cul­ties she had en­dured, the first time MP is fo­cused on im­prov­ing hous­ing, trans­port and med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties for her con­stituents in Petaling Jaya.

The Star Malaysia - - Focus -

WHEN one thinks of Maria Chin Ab­dul­lah, they think of Ber­sih 2.0 – The Coali­tion of Clean and Fair elec­tions – or po­lit­i­cal ac­tivism.

Malaysians of­ten for­get that the now Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment of Petaling Jaya is a mother too. Of course, this doesn’t de­fine her, but it’s what makes her re­lat­able to many.

She is an In­de­pen­dent MP (though she con­tested un­der the PKR ban­ner) who still, ma­ter­nally, re­minds res­i­dents to walk care­fully along the path­way or to be­ware of trip­ping over wires. But, the warmth and ease that en­dears Maria to her con­stituents be­lie an im­mense strength and con­vic­tion.

Not many can imag­ine be­ing de­tained un­der the Se­cu­rity Of­fences, Spe­cial Mea­sures Act (SOSMA) – an act in­tro­duced by for­mer Prime Min­is­ter Na­jib Razak in 2012. In 2016, the for­mer chair­per­son of Ber­sih 2.0 was ar­rested for 11 days, al­legedly be­cause its ac­tiv­i­ties were linked to ter­ror­ism. The first-time MP re­counts her ex­pe­ri­ence of in­ter­ro­ga­tion and soli­tary con­fine­ment mat­ter-of-factly.

“In­ter­ro­ga­tion was in­tense and daily. I was taken into a room with no win­dows, noth­ing. Lights were on 24 hours, the air­cond shoots at you as you bathe – so it is re­ally very cold. It felt like just an in­con­ve­nience-lah”

As she en­dured this, sup­port for her re­lease was build­ing up out­side – cham­pi­oned by other prom­i­nent ac­tivists, but also her three sons.

“What kept me go­ing was all of the peo­ple who came out to sup­port me. It was amaz­ing and I did not ex­pect that. Es­pe­cially, my sons who had never spo­ken to thou­sands of peo­ple but it was a good ex­pe­ri­ence for them as they had to re­search and were es­sen­tially politi­cised over 11 days.”

At Maria’s core is the be­lief that good gov­er­nance can cre­ate pos­i­tive change for the com­mu­nity. This trait was per­haps in­her­ited from her fa­ther, who was also a long-serv­ing civil ser­vant and (iron­i­cally) staunch supporter of the for­mer govern­ment, Barisan Na­sional.

Her ded­i­ca­tion to gov­er­nance even ex­tends to her sole hobby out­side of work, read­ing. Her favourite books are on pub­lic dis­course: “I like to read about how peo­ple view pol­i­tics in Malaysia.”

She con­cedes that the tran­si­tion from so­cial ac­tivist to MP was not an easy one, es­pe­cially for a woman. But this has not dis­suaded her from press­ing on: af­ter all she

Giv­ing back: The first time MP is ex­cited to serve her con­stituency es­pe­cially as she her­self is a PJ girl. - Pho­tos by JOE KIT YONG/KRA GROUP

Go­ing for­ward: Her goal is to fo­cus on im­prov­ing hous­ing, trans­port and med­i­cal fa­cil­i­ties for her con­stituents.

Strong con­vic­tion: At Maria’s core is the be­lief that good gov­er­nance can cre­ate pos­i­tive change for the com­mu­nity.

Long road to par­lia­ment: The 62-year-old con­cedes that the tran­si­tion from so­cial ac­tivist to MP was not an easy one, es­pe­cially for a woman.

A mother first: The ac­tivist turned politi­cian did not ex­pect her sons to speak in front of a thou­sand peo­ple, but she’s happy that they are learn­ing about her work.

Big fol­low­ing: Maria Chin Ab­dul­lah was amazed by the sup­port for her re­lease – cham­pi­oned by thou­sands in­clud­ing other prom­i­nent ac­tivists and her three sons.

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