One is a political novice who has drawn much attention for her youthful ideals, not least because of her telegenic looks and ability to fend off controversial questions while the other is a veteran politician and two-term MP who is banking on his service record to pull in the votes. SHAHANAAZ HABIB catches up with Gerakan president Datuk Mah Siew Keong and DAP's young candidate Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud during their campaign trails in Teluk Intan and finds that political differences aside, they share the same concern for Malaysians to break racial barriers and come together as one.
Interview with Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud
WHEN Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud is stressed or doesn’t have time for proper meals, she reaches for a chocolate bar - her favourite “food”. But the UiTM law graduate has no problem shedding any excess calories as she is a fitness buff who goes to the gym or a run around the neighbourhood every alternate day. A few months ago, she even took up muay thai as part of her exercise regime. Although, like most women, she loves shopping, Dyana says she is not into branded goods and wears whatever is cantik and she feels comfortable in, which can be very chic urban style one day and grungy with torn jeans and a Metallica T-shirt the next. Dyana says she feels 100% Malay and is not bothered by people calling her a traitor to her race because she knows it is not true. When told she was going to be the party candidate, Dyana shares that it took her a minute to respond because “I was stunned.” “To quote Sheryl Sandberg, the author of Lean In, ‘If you are given a seat in a rocket ship, you take it, don’t ask what seat’,” she says.
> You are a newbie, just 26, and have the DAP Supremo Lim Kit Siang sitting with you at press conferences. How intimidating is that?
Of course, it is intimidating. I admit I do feel a bit stressed but I know I am in good hands. I know that my seniors can help me. At the same time, I have been preparing for this for a very long time. I don’t mean being a candidate but being in politics. It can get overwhelming at times and I am still learning how to manage it.
> Now that you are in the forefront and a known face, how different are the brickbats coming your way?
The first time (was when) I joined DAP. I received a lot of negative comments which is fine. The second time was when I became Kit Siang’s political secretary, I received the same thing. This is the third wave and it is stronger and bigger. But the first two have already trained and prepared me for this.
> You are considered green compared to the Barisan candidate who has been an MP and has more experience. Why should people vote for you when you are untried and untested?
Because of the things I have fought for, and the things that myself, DAP and Pakatan Rakyat stand for and also to bring the message that if I win, (it’s) that the people in Teluk Intan are against the rising cost of living, racial politics, and want increased participation of women and youth in parliament and the decision-making process. I am going up against a very well-respected and experienced president of Gerakan.
> What are your political aspirations? Do you have dreams to be PM someday?
I haven’t really thought of that! If you ask any woman if she wants to be the first female PM, hold a big position somewhere or be a successful somebody (they would say) “yes”.
If you had asked me five years ago “Dyana, will you be contesting for a parliamentary seat?” I would have said “No! Are you crazy?”
Of course, I have the desire to be successful and a good leader. I want to achieve more in serving people and making a difference. It doesn’t matter what position I would be in. When I joined DAP, it was not to become a “YB”. I wanted to serve people. \
> How do you feel about people being more focused on your looks than what you have to say?
I appreciate the compliment but I am sure they are smart enough to listen or to read about what I have to say.
> Why did you choose to join DAP, and not PAS or PKR, if you wanted to join an opposition political party, ?
I was not really comparing. I just knew I wanted to join the opposition. At that time, a friend of a friend invited me out for a drink and there I met Zairil Khir Johari (the 31-year-old Bukit Bendera MP from DAP). He told me “stuff” about DAP and I got attracted. Later I met the other members and then the leaders, then I was really attracted to DAP and I joined.
> What was your mother’s reaction when you joined DAP? And how do you tackle issues with your mum who is with Umno?
She was actually very supportive because she was with (Parti Melayu) Semangat 46 before, so she understands my sentiment.
There is no issue because when I come back to Teluk Intan to see my mum and when we discuss politics and issues, my mum would state “This is Umno’s stand” and I would say “This is DAP’s stand”.
Then we would say to each other “I think you are not right”. It’s very healthy, this kind of discussion. We never really fought about it. But sometimes we have to learn to agree to disagree. Our forefathers like Tunku Abdul Rahman used to practise gentleman politics. It is very rare in Malaysia right now. I think we have to re-learn the art of agreeing to disagree agreeably.
> Is your mum going to campaign for you in Teluk Intan because if an Umno member campaigns for an opposition candidate he or she would naturally be sacked from the party?
I don’t think my mum is going around saying “Hey vote for the DAP candidate” or “Vote for Dyana”. She is not doing that! She is not campaigning for me. She is supporting me. There’s a difference.
> DAP has been labelled as a Chinese chauvinist party and here you are, a Malay, joining what is seen to be a Chinese chauvinist party. People would say you are being used by the party to change this perception that it is a Chinese chauvinist party.
The thing is DAP has never been a chauvinist party. One of our former assemblymen for Pasir Berdamar for three terms was Fadzlan Yahya and we also have Ibrahim Singgeh who was Ayer Kuning (formerly Tapah Road) assemblyman back in the 1970s. He was a Malay assemblyman in DAP and accepted by the people in Perak. People look and say “Wow, look at Dyana. She can survive. She is so happy in a supposedly Chinese chauvinist party.” But I wouldn’t have been able to survive if it was chauvinist. And I wouldn’t have been given the opportunity to be Kit Siang’s political secretary if it was really a Chinese chauvinist party, don’t you think?
> But your being there works in DAP’s favour because they can use Dyana and say “Hey we have Malays.”
They are not using me! They are just practising what they are. They are multiracial. It’s so funny to me that when they are acting the way that they are that people are giving this type of comments. Of course it upsets me. But you can’t satisfy everyone.
> What do you think about the possibility of being DAP’s first Malay female MP?
Again, we shouldn’t focus on race. DAP is fielding me because of my capability and they believe I can do the work. And it is not about race.
> You have been accused of being a pengkhianat (traitor). How does that make you feel?
I am not a pengkhianat so it does not have any effect on me. I was already accused of being a pengkhianat bangsa (traitor to the Malays) last year.
> You are young, single and your life is going to be scrutinised after this. Are you engaged? Are you seeing someone?
No, I am not engaged. Whether I am dating anyone or not, or who I am dating is not for public information. I won’t disclose this.
> What do you do to relax?
I read. I am currently reading Machiavelli’s The Prince and Ooi Kee Beng’s The Reluctant Politician. I carry a book in my handbag all the time. But during this campaign period, I don’t even get to open the books.
> What worries you about Malaysia today?
That the racial sentiment is too high. We should be focusing on the similarities that we share, which is very deep, instead of the differences that are superficial.
We should focus on unity and being together. That’s very important. Most Malaysians are not able to even recite the Rukunegara. We should nurture a love for the nation especially among the young people.
I love Malaysia but more and more young people are leaving the country and it contributes to the brain drain problem that we have.
> How Malay do you feel?
100% Malay lah. I am Malaysian but I am very proud of my roots. You can see during nomination day that I was wearing a baju kurung songket. I just love them and have a collection.
I don’t think it is wrong to be proud of your heritage because it is who you are. My maternal grandmother is actually Chinese, so I am a quarter Chinese. My father has Mandailing blood and I am proud of this too.
My grandmother can’t converse in Chinese at all because she grew up in a Malay family. I studied Mandarin for three semesters at UiTM as a third language but there was no one to practise it with. But my Mandarin is improving now. I can’t give a ceramah in Mandarin just yet but I promise I will be able to do it soon.
The STAR Home News Nation 25 May 2014