KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 25 — A year ago, Zairil Khir Johari’s only association with politics would be his father — the late Tan Sri Mohd Khir Johari, Umno stalwart, former education minister and who served three prime ministers including the late Tunku Abdul Rahman.
Over the past few months, however, Zairil’s name has been the talk of the town, namely through opposition blogs as well as anti-Pakatan Rakyat (PR) blogs over his appearance at the coalition’s last convention in Kepala Batas, where he was a guest speaker.
His retractors have accused him of being a “traitor” and “anti-Malay” for abandoning his late father’s party and choosing to become a part of the DAP — a party which is still feared by many Malays and considered to be pro-Chinese due to its majority Chinese membership.
The DAP has, however, of late extended an olive branch to Malays in its bid to shake off “misconceptions” about the party, and Zairil is seen as an example of the party’s efforts.
Zairil said he chose the DAP over Umno because the PR party shared “common goals” with what the late Khir had looked for in the “old” Umno.
“My father’s Umno is a completely different Umno from today’s Umno. When he joined Umno it was during pre-independence, his struggle was to free our country from the oppression of the British government. Now after more than 50 years of BN rule, the situation is such that people are being colonised, oppressed by our own people, we do not have any freedom.
“There are no civil liberties, so the struggle is still the same. It’s the same struggle, I am just using a different platform, that’s why I chose the DAP over Umno,” said the 28 year old who runs his own chocolate business.
Zairil told The Malaysian Insider that if the late Khir were alive today and at the same age as Zairil, he himself would not be a part of Umno.
“It would go against any principle he believed in. When my father joined Umno it was a grassroots party, most of the members were teachers, my father was a teacher himself... today many of them are in it only for the money and to secure lucrative government contracts,” said Zairil.
Coming from a family of nine siblings including himself, Zairil admitted that many of his peers back in his Penang hometown were grassroots DAP members and had encouraged him to join the party.
Prior to joining the DAP, Zairil had “followed” its leaders and attended night functions and ceramahs to get a better idea of what the party was about.
“People in DAP, Liew Chin Tong, for example, have been proactive in introducing me to ceramahs. I followed them to Galas. What I’ve been impressed is the influx of young leaders in DAP as well as PKR.
“There is no social mobility in Umno where it is based on patronage and hierarchy. In PR, young leaders who are capable are allowed to shine,” he said.
Zairil told The Malaysian Insider that he consulted many parties before making the decision, including some very “senior” Umno members who had advised him against joining his father’s party.
Zairil said he was “willing” to contribute to DAP in any way he could — even if it meant contesting in the next general election.
“I put myself out there to serve... no one has discussed anything yet but I am willing to serve in any capacity that is needed,” said the father of one.
According to the young politician, PR was a platform which could be used for restoring “civil liberties” in the country with the abolishment of draconian laws such as the Internal Security Act (ISA), the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA), and the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) which prohibits students from being politically active.
“Personally, I am pushing for the Education Department to be a separate entity from the Education Ministry. There is too much politics involved when the department is answerable to a minister. There should be a separate panel to monitor the department, made up of all interested parties in the field of education, and this will also include the ministry,” said Zairil, who said he was writing an academic paper on such a proposal.
Political parties are currently rushing to sign up some 4.3 million unregistered voters.
The DAP takes the lead while Umno follows closely behind.
The DAP registered 32.5 per cent of the 169,838 new voters registered between January and June last year.
Umno registered 32.3 per cent of the new voters while PAS registered 22.7 per cent in the same duration.