As an activist since his university days, Tian Chua has had many brushes with the law. A more recent one led him to be disqualified from defending the Batu parliamentary seat in the 14th General Election.
I still hold on to the spirit of being a reformist. This was the ‘locomotive’ that moved the nation to where it is today
But none of his legal tussles were as poignant than the Reformasi demonstration on April 14, 1999.
The Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) Vice President, then a scrawny-looking 34-year old, defiantly sat before a police water cannon truck to protest the sacking of of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The image made headlines. He was invited to join Parti Keadilan Nasional, which later became known as PKR.
“I still hold on to the spirit of being a reformist. This was the ‘locomotive’ that moved the nation to where it is today.”
“We must always have a critical mindset; to question and voice out against injustice.” says Tian Chua. “Our experience over the past 20 years should serve as a lesson to the Rakyat to always take a firm principle and be critical.”
Chua is known among peers as ‘pejuang jalanan’ or street fighter. The human rights champion’s political career is one that is not only marked by numerous police arrests and prison terms, but tear gas and charged batons too.
“I’ve never questioned if the journey was worthwhile or not. That’s not the right way to look at it,” says Chua. “Indeed, 20 years is a long time - I didn’t expect it to last this long too,” he adds jokingly.
Chua extended his support to independent candidate P. Prabakaran following the dismissal of his suit to challenged the Election Commission’s returning officer to disqualify him from contesting the Batu seat in GE14.
Prabakaran, at only 22-years-old, won the seat with 24,438 vote majority. The law student described Chua as ‘mentor and advisor’ in helping him to fit into his new role as Member of Parliament.
“I always believed that the truth will prevail. I was confident that Malaysia will eventually embrace real democracy and freedom,” says Chua.
“Although I never expected such a repressive system to have lasted that long. It took Malaysians a long time to rise and make the change.”
Tian Chua was among 10 activists and Keadilan leaders who were arrested during the Reformasi movement
I’m confident that the leaders in the new government - some of whom were reformists and pejuang jalanan like myself - will fulfill their responsibilities. What’s more important is that I’m confident that the Rakyat themselves will lead the way - to provide guidance to the new leaders. Leaders must serve the people - they must be willing to listen to voices of the people. Or else, regardless of the leader’s background, he or she will fall if they turn their backs to the Rakyat.
Tian Chua studied Agricultural Science at Sydney University and later on switched to Philosophy at the University of New South Wales. He was an active student leader and was involved in the Network of Overseas Student Collectives (NOSCA) and Left Alliance
As student activists (in 1980s), we were exposed to a more just and fair society abroad. Whilst in Australia, we were given the opportunity to experience an environment that promoted freedom. That was our training ground. When we returned to Malaysia, we made comparisons and the differences were astounding. This doesn’t mean that our local students were less inspired. If given the opportunity, I believe our students will take on a more reformist attitude, to be more critical, to move ahead. The evidence lies in the people’s reform in the 1990s, which led to the wave of change we have witnesses today.
The former lawmaker talks about his plans and role in the new Pakatan Harapan government
Everyone has a role to play in this new government. I do not necessarily have to be in the cabinet. Each of us have a lot of work to do, to bring about the agenda of change and reformation.
At this point in time, I will be focused on strengthening the party. I will also help by providing input to the new government, be it at the state or federal levels.
The most important thing is to ensure justice is upheld. As the saying goes, power corrupts. It is a cliche saying but when we are already in power, it is important to remember where we came from, to be close to the people and do not stray from our original agenda.
We must take heed of the defeat of Barisan Nasional, why it was rejected by the Rakyat. The lost their sense of direction, became too arrogant and ignored the views and wants of the people.
Podcast of the interview:
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