Conversation With Edward Ling

During the build up to the March 8th General Elections and the aftermath, it became more obvious to the Church at large that there were more Christians who were involved as politicians as well as working behind the scenes. One significant development was the increased participation of younger people in the political process, whether as basic as a polling and counting agent or availing themselves for election to office.

I met Edward Ling at numerous Christian university and youth leadership related events in the past. So when I discovered he was the campaign manager and later political secretary for Hannah Yeoh, I was curious as to what led him to where he is today and what makes him tick as he has taken a conscious plunge into party politics through the Democratic Action Party (DAP).

In this article I have included his speech made at recent 15th DAP National Congress (2008) which gives us a glimpse of how he engages the issues within his own party. What struck me in his speech was his call for the DAP to reflect their stated ideology as a truly “Malaysian” party by attracting more Malays into their ranks. This looks like quite a daunting task in my view for a political party which seems to depend more on a base of Chinese voters and championing non-Malay Muslim concerns. But, voices like Edward need to be heard within the spheres of influence that he is part of. Change happens at multiple levels and his call is part of the bigger picture.

The second part that struck me was a small segment at the end of his speech where he reflected a self-critical stance of the younger leaders within the Pakatan Rakyat which is healthy. The emphasis on freedom of speech and thought while also taking into consideration the issues emphasized by the respective component parties, ie. PKR and PAS, shows us an ongoing work in progress beyond the sound bites we get in mainstream media.

I have highlighted the two points above hopefully to deepen our appreciation of the currents within and beyond the structures which Edward has chosen to participate in. I believe it also helps nuance our kneejerk reactions towards headlines which often do not tell the whole story.

What is important and encouraging to me in my conversation with Edward, is that there are these younger leaders from the Church such Edward who are willing to take the plunge, or in one of my favourite slogans, “Jump first, and fear later”! Now, the ball is passed back to us in the churches to provide the needed pastoral support, personal as well as corporate encouragement, critical engagement and resources so that those like him are not left alone to slog through the messy world of politics on their own until the next general elections!

1. Tell us a little bit about yourself, and what are you currently involved in terms of politics.

My name is Edward Ling, I am currently the Political Secretary to Hannah Yeoh. I guess I am an unsuspecting candidate for a political secretary. I help Hannah on a voluntary basis (But I do get reimbursed a small allowance for my travel & such). I act as the right hand person to Hannah, helping her in every way possible. I think you can also term my role as personal assistant. Sometimes it is difficult to define the responsibilities at this moment because I help her in various areas – from setting up the office, representing her in certain appointments, helping her answer calls, setting up appointments, helping her draft policies, sometimes to driving and accompanying her to meetings, just to name a few. Recently we got a few other volunteers on board to help Hannah as well.

2. How did you land up doing what you are doing now?

I have always been interested in politics. As a young boy I was more interested in reading the newspapers then studying my books. My mum had to ban me from reading the papers!

Even before (and after) I graduated and came back from Australia in 2003, I became a “complainer” – I would complain about almost everything to do with this country. From the “useless” Moral Studies in school to administration of the country. I always thought there was a better way and I had a better idea. Some could term this as “an arm-chair critic”. One day I decided that I had to do something about it – instead of just complaining – so I decided to join DAP. I wanted to choose a platform to voice my opinions and suggestions. I thought – what better way to implement change then to be in a position of influence and power – i wanted to to change the country through politics.

3. There have been complaints that the younger generation are more apathetic to current issues especially civil society concerns and politics in the country; were you once upon a time in that category? If yes, what changed you? If it was an ongoing interest, how was it nurtured?

It was always an ongoing interest. I used to draw pictures in my Moral subject paper in protest (while still schooling) *laughs*. I did that because I thought Moral studies was a waste of precious schooling time!

4. Who are some people dead or alive 🙂 who have inspired you to do what you are doing now?

I admire William Wilberforce (a prominent British politician, philanthropist and slavery abolitionist in the late 18th to early 19th century). Born wealthy, he could have lived a comfortable life, but he gave his life fighting for change, against the status quo of slavery. Watch the movie “Amazing Grace”. 😉

5. What kind of support are you getting from your local church leadership or the church in general in your active involvement thus far?

A few of the church members have stepped forward to join as volunteers. However I believe the churches in Malaysia still have a lot of room to get involved in community work. I wish churches would churn out political ministry (alongside with kids ministry, worship ministry, etc..). Few churches understand that we have lost the influence in government and politics. We are too comfortable being shoved into shoplots and factory lots. Why should this be? Our 1st Rukun Negara reads “Kepercayaan kepada Tuhan”. Why are we afraid or avoiding what we are allowed to do?

6. You are now involved through DAP and Pakatan Rakyat; what made you walk this particular path? Do you have friends who are with the Barisan Nasional component parties, how do you relate?

At this moment in time Barisan has a party whip – which effectively means anyone who wants change within Barisan will face a tough time trying to implement change. Besides, I believe most readers here already know the sins and weaknesses of Barisan National.

For me, DAP has been the most consistent in its stand in terms of its vision in which the party wants to propel the country forward.

I don’t have many friends in Barisan Nasional, although I’d love to make friends with them. After all, we should “love our enemies”. I usually can’t relate to them and we usually get into a heated debate as soon as we start discussion politics. *laughs*. I do have a close relative who is a member of MCA.

7. How does your Christian faith and worldview inform your politics? Are there specific Biblical references or teaching your draw from in your work?

Well, the Bible speaks a lot about governance. The Bible speaks very much about God’s instruction to man on how to govern. Take numbers/leviticus/exodus for example.

John Chung was instrumental in helping me realize how easy it was to be involved.

You can read more about Christian involvement here:
http://theagora.blogspot.com/2005/05/politics-why-bother.html

8. What are some lessons you have learnt thus far after being actively involved in the last elections and now supporting the ADUNS who are elected? Please share some highlights, challenges and surprises.

Some lessons learned – language skills are very important we cannot rely on our own strength but His. With God, all things are possible! I have learned that I am not as patient as I though I was.

Highlights

When people hear our story and attitudes are changed. When I see another young person rise up to do something for a good cause.

Challenges

Being an agent of change in a country which is so resistant to change. Attitudes, I cannot change

Surprises

I was surprised when some of my closest friends popped by my house on the 12 of March! (4 days after the historical March 8th).

9. What would be areas of equipping and support from the church which you think would help you be a better agent of change?

I believe starting a “political ministry” or rebranding it as “community work project” would appeal to the churches as what we do in this ministry is to engage society in totality. In the last few months I have ministered to society more then in my 25 years as a Christian. If you are interested to know more on how you can help, I encourage you to come and see me. 🙂

http://edwardling.blogspot.com/

Speech made at the 15th DAP National Congress (2008)

Good day,

Leaders of DAP, fellow delegates.

My name is Edward Ling, delegate from Damansara branch, now pro-tem Chairman of DAP Bandar Subang Jaya.

Let me start with a little story. There were a bunch of new recruits at boot camp. Their trainer said to them “For the next two weeks, you are going to do all of your training without changing any of your clothes”.

So for the next two weeks, the new recruits did all their exercises & training without changing their clothes. Finally after two weeks, the trainer announced “I have got good news for all of you. Today, I am going to allow you to change your underwear”

”Phew, finally!” sighed the relieved recruits.

Then the trainer continued “Tim, you change with Ken, Ken, you change with Reuben, Reuben, you change with Jack …….etc…etc…”.

The moral of the story here is that when we change, we must change for a good reason. We should not change merely for the sake of changing.

Much has been said about change. Malaysians has voted for change – our challenge to all Malaysians is to change their negative attitudes. However, DAP must also change as we propel Malaysia forward.

We speak about Malaysian Malaysia, but we need more concrete steps to achieve this.

Firstly to attract more Malays into DAP, we need to learn from the private sector – there is no need to reinvent the wheel – we can learn from some multinational companies and what they are doing. One idea is to practice what is called “diversity and inclusiveness”.

What this means is that we have to value the background, perspectives and diversity of all Malaysians, and strive to incorporate the needs and viewpoints of diverse communities in the design and implementation of policies.

A simple example would be to have more of our DAP meetings in Bahasa Malaysia. If this is not possible, have it in English, the neutral language. We should try to avoid using certain exclusive languages that only certain communities understand.

Let us not repeat the mistake of not being prepared to govern. Some of our leaders openly admitted that we were surprised to become government in the states that PR won on March 8th. Is DAP in Pakatan Rakyat prepared to govern Malaysia tomorrow? What is our blueprint for the country? What is our negotiation strategy with the rest of the coalition parties in Pakatan Rakyat? Are we actually able to propose new systems that will work immediately? I know for a fact that we have leaders who will be able to draw up a budget immediately (since we have come up with the alternative budget). However, what about other areas? We really need to attract the right experts and the professional into the party. When we become the federal government, we must not simply give positions such as ministerial positions to party leaders merely for the fact that they are party leaders. Don’t forget, we speak of meritocracy which means we have to fit the right candidates for the right jobs. Those who are not qualified for the job should not been given the task.

On a side note, it is important to reassure our voters in the last elections that the party is not sidestepping its promises to hold local council elections by having a concrete proposal on how we are going to implement this once we are in power.

I believe there are two key areas in which we must focus our energy and brain power – the Malaysian economy and education. In terms of these two key areas education, let us start to draw up a blueprint in which will truly propel Malaysia forward.

I also observe that DAP needs to rapidly grow its leadership base. Today, DAP leaders are wearing too many hats. We should strive to avoid giving too many positions to a single individual, but instead give the opportunity to raise and groom other young talented leaders. We need to do this in order for our leaders to be effective in their jobs. For example, today we have leaders who are elected representatives in both parliament and state assemblies, who hold state positions, are in the CEC and also hold a position in the CEC, etc, etc …

Let me now turn my suggestions to our friends in Pakatan Rakyat. Firstly I think it is good that we openly give suggestions as the saying goes “iron sharpens iron”.

To the groups in PKR and PAS who protested at the Bar council Forum, I totally disagree with reasoning of the protest. However, we must allow for freedom of speech as we so often talk about.

To PAS members who say that you are sidelined in Pakatan Rakyat, pleased be informed that we are equals. The statistics show that in terms of ratio, the number of councilors appointed to PAS far exceeds that of DAP.

Thank you.

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