What does it take to be a good leader? How does it feel being a young leader with immense expectations to do well? These were one of the many questions that were running through my head when deciding to have a chat with Ayer Keroh assemblyman Kerk Chee Yee.
Over the past two months after the historic win of Pakatan Harapan in the 14th General Elections, a slew of fresh, young faces have been elevated to positions of power, and with that, given the responsibilities as well - as assemblyman, Member of Parliament, ministers and party leaders.
When so many Malaysians cared about Malaysia, who am I to give up? That’s when I realised I wanted to give back to my country in any way possible
Twenty-six year-old Chee Yee is one of those faces but he has the advantage of modelling after his late father Kerk Kim Hock, who was the fourth secretary general for the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and a popular politician in the state of Melaka.
Chee Yee had his tertiary education in Melbourne and I started the conversation with seeking his take on the subject of ‘brain-drain’ affecting Malaysia.
I asked him why students who completed their education overseas show little interest to come back.
“We have to look at the reason why this is happening”, he says. “Many young Malaysians lost the courage to imagine a new Malaysia. Not only economically but politically and socially as well.”
“I was actually one of the students who had no intention of coming home and serve my country in any way. But something happened that changed my perception.”
Chee Yee explains that his change of heart was triggered by a forum he attended in 2012, titled “Will Malaysia Go Bankrupt?”
“Students wanted to talk about their country. There was a tremendous sense of ownership by the Malaysian students and we had a very good discussion among students, not only from the business or economic studies, but also engineering, medicine and arts. They were very vocal in voicing out their aspirations for the country."
“When so many Malaysians cared about Malaysia, who am I to give up? That’s when I realised I wanted to give back to my country in any way possible.”
Upon graduation, Chee Yee came back to Malaysia to work as an investment banker for three years.
In early 2017, Chee Yee decided to become a volunteer for DAP. “Everyone was anticipating that the elections were about to be held in July or August 2017. So I wanted to help as a volunteer.
What is your political principle? Are you here to serve the people?
"I approached my father to ask him about my decision but he disagreed - he didn’t want me to join politics. I understood his stance because of all the hardship he went through as a politician. And being a parent, he wanted to protect his son from all the uncertainties that I will face being in politics.”
But the initial refusal from Chee Yee’s late father was just temporary. After lengthy discussions in the following weeks, his late father gave his blessings but with one condition.
“If you want to join politics, then don’t be a volunteer, join full-time," Chee Yee reminise of his father's response.
"The initial agreement between me and my father that I would return to my corporate career after the elections were over. But for me, after the first day of joining DAP, I never thought of leaving.”
Sadly, the new journey embarked by Chee Yee was not to be witnessed by his father. He passed away in August 2017 from cancer.
“One of the lessons my father taught me was 'always do what makes you happy'. I wanted to join politics to understand the struggle that he and the other leaders went through.”
Chee Yee understood that being a politician required an immense amount of sacrifice and a strong will to serve the people.
After his father’s passing, Chee Yee was elected as the Political Secretary for Lim Kit Siang. “I was in complete shock. He told me (about the news) just minutes before announcing it to everyone. But I am proud and grateful for the opportunity.”
“If you look at DAP’s history, or even Lim Kit Siang, all his political secretaries are all young budding leaders from the party.”
We then talked about the pressures of being a young leader burdened with the pressure by the people to bring change to Malaysia, this is what he has to say. “I think everyone is going through the same pressures as me. Other politicians and leaders are feeling the heat by the people who have decided that they want a change in the government.”
Chee Yee is a firm believer that one of the most important things in politics is to always listen to the ideas of the young. “Throughout my campaign and after winning the elections, there have been so many ideas to bring about changes. It is refreshing and that always keep us on our toes.”
Another important thing to have is sturdy principles and political will. “What is your political principle? Are you here to serve the people? All this falls on your political will to serve the people. As we can see from the previous government, the will to make the people your main focus is essential to create an environment that will lead Malaysia to the next level.”
Watch the full interview here: