Thursday March 20, 2008
Dr P. Ramasamy -- from critic to Penang No. 2
COMMENT BY BARADAN KUPPUSAMY
Former lecturer Dr P. Ramasamy was made Penang’s Deputy Chief Minister amidst a great sense of jubilation and pride within the Indian community who thinks he is cut out for the job. But for the political scientist, pressure is mounting, as he knows that public expectation is high and he must deliver.
This classic armchair critic now occupies a powerful office as Deputy Chief Minister of Penang after a dramatic change of fortune that saw him defeating former Chief Minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, one of the country’s better known and respected politicians.
Where before Dr Ramasamy preached, now he has to do.
“I feel uncomfortable with the weight of power but at the same time I want to effectively use the power to benefit the people,” the former Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia lecturer said.
“I want to reject the trappings of power as much as possible and cut red tape. But at the same time I realise without exercising power you cannot bring change,” he said in an interview.
Although he has been issued an official Mercedes Benz and given a driver as well as police security, Dr Ramasamy prefers to drive around on his own and meet as many ordinary people as possible every day.
He has instructed his staff to reject gifts that arrive at his office. His doors are also kept open and security personnel have been instructed to let anyone enter as long as there is no security risk.
“I am still the same, nothing has changed,” the Perak-born political scientist said.
Dr Ramasamy was with UKM for nearly 30 years but left in rancour in 2005 after the university did not renew his teaching contract.
“I am careful and keenly aware of the corrupting influence of power,” Dr Ramasamy said.
“I want to interact directly with the ordinary people and help them in any way possible.”
He says it is important to have the right attitude of mind when in power because power can easily be abused and if allowed, corrupt.
“One must be constantly vigilant against the corrupting influence of power,” he said, adding that having an open, transparent and accountable government will help curb corruption.
He says his years as a critical academic prepared him for the new job.
He frequently lent his academic credentials to various causes from helping the Indian underclass to fighting environmental issues. Later, he extended his activism to the problems faced by minorities in Aceh and Sri Lanka.
He is particularly close to DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang who persuaded him to join the party in 2005 as its head of the international bureau.
“I chose to join the DAP because it was multi-racial and fought for a just society for all Malaysians,” he said.
Although after 2005 Dr Ramasamy took up teaching positions in Germany and Singapore, he stayed in touch with the party and the rising discontent among the people.
“The growing unhappiness among the people and the urgent need to bring about change persuaded me to enter opposition politics,” he said.
The DAP told him he would be fielded in the mixed constituency of Batu Kawan. But in late January, complications arose after it became known that Dr Koh would be leaving as Penang Chief Minister to take up a federal post and to achieve that he would contest in Batu Kawan.
”Gerakan thought I was inexperienced and a political minnow,” said Dr Ramasamy.
“They didn’t realise that a massive groundswell was rising to throw them out. Voters always rushed up to me wherever I went and pledged their support.
“When I saw that all the races were pledging, I knew victory was possible. The sentiment against the Barisan was so strong, it was astounding,” he said.
He said that for now, the DAP-led team in Penang is taking a gradualist approach to right the wrongs and make Penang a just and fair society for all citizens.
“We will reform the NEP, promote open tenders, enlarge the democratic space, create jobs and promote economic growth,” he said. “Penang may well turn out to be a model state.”
But for Dr Ramasamy, the mission is not just looking after his Prai state and Batu Kawan parliamentary constituencies. The Indian community also expects him to speak up for them and the larger Malaysian society.
“If a new Malaysia is possible, it is in the hands of people like Dr Ramasamy,” said businessman Rasul Moulana, one of many people who turned up at a DAP function last week to greet him.
No Indian has ever risen this high – as Deputy Chief Minister – and it was only made possible by Opposition gains and the new power-sharing principles worked out between the DAP, PKR and PAS.
“The Indian community is especially proud of him and is looking forward to major changes in Penang,” Rasul said.
“We have been marginalised for so long; now we have a voice at the highest levels of government.”
Going by public expectation, Dr Ramasamy is cut out for the job.
> Baradan Kuppusamy is a freelance writer.