A book for all aspiring young politicians

Book Review by Dr. Ong Kian Ming, Member of Parliament for Serdang and Assistant National Director for Political Education for the DAP, on the 18th of March 2018

Most of my colleagues in the DAP who were elected into office for the first time in the 2008 and 2013 general elections did not grow up thinking that they would be state assembly representatives or Members of Parliament. None of my friends grew up thinking that they wanted to be the next Prime Minister of Malaysia. But since the tsunami elections of 2008, many more people in the younger generation can imagine themselves being elected representatives. More of them are interning and working for elected officials both in the Barisan Nasional as well as Pakatan Harapan. Public policy is being discussed and debated more rigorously among students via events such as the Model United Nations and public policy competitions such as the Malaysian Public Policy Competition (MPPC).

It is not hard to imagine young people these days being inspired by the likes of Hannah Yeoh, Syed Saddiq, Nurul Izzah, Nik Nazmi, Steven Sim and Yeo Bee Yin and thinking that they would want to follow in their footsteps. For these young aspiring politicians, they now have a political guidebook in Yeo Bee Yin’s recently launched “Reimagining Malaysia”. Her book is a unique contribution by a Malaysian politician. Not only does she share her unlikely journey to political office but what I appreciate most about her stories is that they are shared within the context of public policy and political institutions. Different people will take different paths to a career in political office or to be involved in public policy making. “Reimagining Malaysia” offers a resounding reminder that a lasting legacy in politics should involve positive reforms to political institutions and legislative making based on sound policy choices. Indeed, the first chapter of this book is entitled “Don’t trust politicians, trust institutions”.

While this book is intended to inspire the younger generation not to shy away from involving themselves in politics, it is firmly rooted in the discussion of public policy backed up by well-researched facts and figures. And Bee Yin should be commended in discussing seemingly ‘dry’ public policy issues such as legislative reforms, climate change and water policy, education and jobs, in a way that is concise and easily understood. And these policies are discussed based on Bee Yin’s own experience as a legislator in the Selangor state assembly, as a former petroleum engineer, as a campaigner in rural Sarawak, as a volunteer in Orang Asli kampungs and as a woman who likes to wear pants and skirts (this is explained in the book).

“Reimagining Malaysia” is an excellent introduction to and summary of many of the pressing public policy issues of the day. It should be read by all college and university students who are interested in how politics should be and can be done. I only wish that there were more chapters for Bee Yin to write about her encounters with the office of the First Lady of Malaysia (FLOM) when she criticized the PERMATA program and also what she learned from her travels abroad as a legislator including when she asked President Obama a question about the imprisonment of Anwar Ibrahim when she was in the White House as part of a South East Asian youth delegation. I’m sure that these stories and more will fill her next book as she continues her political journey which will take her back to her home state of Johor.