Zairil: I will earn my own stripes

  • Widow sues after insurance declines cancer cover after husband gets cancer
    Widow sues after insurance declines cancer cover after husband gets cancer

    GEORGE TOWN, April 25 ― A widow is suing an insurance firm here for RM2 million after it declined to pay out on her husband’s policy against cancer when he was diagnosed with the disease six months... …

  • In Malaysia visit, Obama revisits the ‘Asia pivot’
    In Malaysia visit, Obama revisits the ‘Asia pivot’

    As the excitement swells ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit to Malaysia this weekend – if not on the closed-off streets of Kuala Lumpur then at least in the media – there’s also a burgeoning anxiety here inside the Washington beltway that the hope’n’change promised by the so-called “Asia pivot” may need some tempering during this... …

  • PR would have suffered serious losses in 2013 polls if hudud was major issue, says DAP
    PR would have suffered serious losses in 2013 polls if hudud was major issue, says DAP

    Pakatan Rakyat would have suffered devastating setbacks in Perak, Pahang, Negri Sembilan and Melacca if it had made hudud a major issue in last year’s general election, DAP advisor Lim Kit Siang said. The Gelang Patah MP (pic), who had earlier said hudud was never a vote-winner for PAS in previous elections, gave an illustration of how PR... …

  • Court acquits PKR rep, rules not a crime to assemble peacefully
    Court acquits PKR rep, rules not a crime to assemble peacefully

    The Court of Appeal today struck out the charge against Selangor's deputy speaker Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad who was charged under the Peaceful Assembly Act for failing to give police a 10-day notice for a rally last year. A three-man bench led by judge Datuk Mohamad Ariff bin Md Yusof also ruled in a unanimous decision today that Section 9 (5) of... …

  • Assembly law cannot criminalise public gatherings, court rules
    Assembly law cannot criminalise public gatherings, court rules

    PUTRAJAYA, April 25 ― The Court of Appeal today unanimously ruled it unconstitutional to criminalise spontaneous public assemblies in breach of the 10-day notice required under the Peaceful... …

  • Albukhary International University withdraws decision to cease operations – Bernama
    Albukhary International University withdraws decision to cease operations – Bernama

    The Albukhary International University (AiU) in Alor Setar, Kedah has withdrawn its decision to cease operations. Second Education Minister Datuk Seri Idris Jusoh said the ministry was informed of the matter by the management of AiU through a letter Wednesday. "With that decision, the matter is no longer an issue," he told reporters... …

It was two years ago when Zairil Khir Johari first set tongues wagging with his prodigious decision to explore a political future in DAP instead of Umno, as would have been expected. Much of the flap revolved around a single but prominent fact –- Zairil's father, the late Tan Sri Mohd Khir Johari, was the first education minister and a senior Umno leader.

Then, as it usually happens over time, the criticism and curiosity faded, leaving only occasional but muted jibes at the "token Malay" in a predominantly Chinese party. But that token Malay went on to become press secretary to DAP secretary-general and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, as well as CEO of Penang Institute, a state government think tank.

Under his charge, the institute hosted international conferences graced by the likes of American economist Professor Jeffrey Sachs and Swiss academic Professor Tariq Ramadan.

By making his mark, Zairil, 30, was staying true to the greatest lesson he learnt from his father. "My father taught me that no one owes you a living," Zairil told fz.com. "That we should never ever have a sense of entitlement. This is why I believe in proving myself by earning my own stripes.

"The problem with this country is that the terrible racial politics have turned a considerable section of our population into people who feel they are entitled to government help. And this has not helped our country at all."

Racial politics certainly did not help Zairil last week after the belated discovery of a vote tabulation error during the recent DAP party election propelled him from 39th to 20th place, thus earning him a spot on the party's central executive committee (CEC).

This time the tongue-wagging was frenetic. DAP's detractors howled long and loud over what they insisted was an obvious political gimmick to showcase DAP's racial inclusiveness and win support from the Malay community. But DAP's newest and youngest candidate has refused to allow the stinging remarks to rob him of the honour he feels at being voted onto the party's highest leadership platform.

"You need a thick skin to be in politics," Zairil, now the assistant national publicity secretary, said wryly. "People say crazy things about me but at the end of the day, I will prove myself."

As our conversation progressed, it became apparent that he was already well on that path. As CEO of Penang Institute, Zairil gets to grapple with policy issues that reach deep into the national development agenda.

While he has strong views on policies related to federal-state relations, economic inclusiveness and sustainable development, it is education-related polices that has him truly fired up. "Our education system needs to be decentralised," Zairil stated. "Having Putrajaya run everything is crazy. Education all over the world is a state or local issue and that is the next model we should follow."

He also believed that the division between the departments within the Ministry of Education (MOE) is unnecessary, not to mention the root of confusion among teachers. "The teachers get one set of orders from the director-general, another set from the secretary-general and a third set from the minister. Teachers have no idea whom to listen to. So you have a system that doesn't work and which is also completely politicised."

The frustration among Penang Pakatan Rakyat leaders insofar as schools are concerned is the subtle barring of any opposition leaders, including Lim, from school premises. According to Zairil, the schools were issued a memo by the ministry listing the names of leaders who are allowed on their premises. "No Pakatan leaders' names were on that list. But we're the government in Penang, you know!"

Zairil also bemoaned the state of the country's universities, which he described with a grimace as "sterile". Recalling his father's tenure in the ministry, he said students would come out in droves to protest whenever he visited the campus.

"Chief among them was [opposition leader Datuk Seri] Anwar Ibrahim," he said. "There was no Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) because you accepted that university students are rebellious.

"That's how it is in the rest of the world and that's how they learn in life and education. How do you encourage people to think in sterile universities? Now people don't want to go to local universities anymore. It's a bloody shame," he said.

In Zairil's eyes, the country's education system fell to pieces in the 1970s when it was subjected to racial policies in a government attempt to "re-engineer society" through education. And that, he said, spelt the end of an education system that produced English-speaking Malaysians with stellar work ethics to boot.

"We killed at least three generations of Malaysians through very badly thought out policies that were made for political reasons," said Zairil.

These are not issues that are going to be resolved over a few years and not every politician has the patience to wait out a process that barely hobbles along. Disappointment and frustration breeds disenchantment and cynicism, which often causes politicians to bow out of a battle that has no victory in sight.

And this is the precise reason why Zairil has chosen to spend his youth traversing the volatile political landscape. "I honestly think politics is for the young," he laughed. "If you want to do this, you should do it while you're still idealistic and energetically believe in what you want to do before you are corrupted by disenchantment."

Zairil readily agreed that life would be easier if one were to become politically apathetic or leave Malaysia altogether as many of his friends have done and who are –- as much as he hates to admit it -– enjoying a better quality of life abroad. "But if everyone leaves, then there will be no country for us," he says.

Follow @YahooMalaysia on LINE for daily news updates.

Comments on Yahoo pages are subject to our link to Comments Guidelines. You are responsible for any content that you post. Yahoo is not responsible or liable in any way for comments posted by its users. Yahoo does not in any way endorse or support comments made by its users.

  • MH370 passenger’s partner tells of strange email from sacked Fox officer The Malaysian Insider
    MH370 passenger’s partner tells of strange email from sacked Fox officer

    The partner of an American passenger aboard the missing Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 has spoken about how a Fox executive who was recently sacked by the news station had contacted her offering to raise funds on her behalf. Sarah Bajc, whose partner Philip Wood is among the 239 people on board the missing plane, told the Sydney Morning Herald... …

  • My last moments with Pa: Ramkarpal Singh The Malaysian Insider
    My last moments with Pa: Ramkarpal Singh

    A week after the tragic crash that took the lives of veteran lawyer and politician Karpal Singh and his personal aide, Michael Cornelius, his son Ramkarpal recounts the final hours with his father that fateful day. This is his story, as told to V. Anbalagan, assistant news editor. “My parents (Karpal and Gurmit) had gone to Pantai Hospital... …

  • In Disney's shadow, homeless families struggle Associated Press
    In Disney's shadow, homeless families struggle

    KISSIMMEE, Fla. (AP) — When they moved from Georgia to the theme park playground of central Florida four years ago, Anthony and Candice Johnson found work at a barbecue restaurant and a 7-Eleven. Their combined salaries nevertheless fell short of what they needed to rent an apartment, so the couple and their two children have instead been hopping among cheap motel rooms along U.S. 192. …