Kuala lumpur, May 14 – Kasthuri Patto got her first taste of life on the campaign trail in 1995, when she was only 16, tagging along with her famous father as he stumped the length and breadth of the country canvassing support for DAP in that year’s general election.
DAP lost badly in the April 1995 election and P Patto, the party’s deputy secretary-general and editor of the Rocket, died two months later of a heart attack.
Little did Kasthuri know then that nearly 20 years later, she would be campaigning for herself in an election that would see DAP emerge as one of the biggest victors.
Her victory in the Batu Kawan parliamentary contest last Sunday was nothing less than convincing. She beat BN’s Gobalakrishnan by 25,962 votes in the racially mixed constituency of 57,593 voters.
The 34-year-old microbiology graduate told FMT she was surprised that DAP even considered her as a candidate in the recent election.
“I consulted my close friends in the party as well as my mother,” she said. “They all told me to accept the challenge and gave their blessings.
“Being Patto’s daughter might have been a factor in the decision of party elders to choose me as a candidate.”
Perhaps those elders were also impressed by the work she had done for the party.
Although she did not intend to enter active politics after graduating from Universiti Malaya, she maintained a close association with DAP and served in various capacities in the party’s social work, particularly in constituency services in Bukit Gasing and Subang Jaya. She was also one of party advisor Lim Kit Siang’s secretaries.
She told FMT her victory in Batu Kawan might not have been possible without the help of her father’s former comrades. She made special mention of P Ramasamy, one of Penang’s deputy chief ministers and her predecessor as Batu Kawan MP.
“Prof Rama was very helpful and supportive, and he shared his experience in tackling issues affecting the constituency,” she said.
Recalling the experience of campaigning for election, Kasthuri said she often felt like a newcomer when facing young voters.
“But it was not the same case among elderly voters. The moment my dad’s name was mentioned, no further introduction was needed.”
Kasthuri attributes her victory partly to her fluency in English, Malay and Tamil. “I picked up a few Hokkien phrases while campaigning and intend to improve on other Chinese dialects.”
She admits to a little apprehension at the beginning of her campaign, saying she found it difficult to assess the ground sentiments.
“My concern, obviously, was at least to match the majority of votes secured by Prof Rama in the last general election.
“I was also worried when PM visited Batu Kawan twice.
“However, when the official results were announced, it felt as if a big bonus had been given to me and the party workers.”
The victory comes with some personal sacrifices. Kashturi and her mother are planning to move house to Batu Kawan from Damansara, where she has been living for some years.
“I used to meet residents in Gasing every week and I will be missing them. It’s like leaving your own family behind.”
Nevertheless, she is looking forward to her first appearance in parliament. She said she was eager to highlight the “pressing socio-economic problems” confronting her constituents. These range from a shortage of decent housing to a lack of proper water and electricity supplies to limitations in healthcare services.
“Health issues have always been my concern,” she said. “Medical costs are rising beyond the means of even the middle income group.
“I can assure taxpayers that healthcare need not be costly. What we need is more commitment and dedication from people directly involved in the health sector.”
Besides that, the first-term MP believes in empowering public institutions like the Royal Malaysian Police and the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission.
“They are treated as servants of their political masters,” she said. “They should be given back their dignity.
“I strongly believe there should be reforms across the board, not only within the law enforcement agencies but also in all government agencies.”
She said even those civil servants who could legally make decisions on their own and on the spot were often rendered ineffective by pressure from their political masters.
“They avoid dealing with issues or problems brought to their attention by just saying they are in no position to decide.”
Kasthuri agreed that the teenage girl who used to follow her father around had come a long way to take a seat in Parliament. But she said she still had some way to go to master the skills needed to carry out her responsibilities in the tough male-dominated world of Malaysian politics.
Her advantage is that many of her late father’s colleagues and admirers are still alive and willing to be her mentors.
“I am getting inputs on all the dos and don’ts that an opposition MP should observe and the priorities I must set as my constituency’s representative,” said the young politician.
FREE MALAYSIA TODAY