Every student goes through the same major dilemma when faced with a long break: get an internship or stay at home to rot? Well as for me, a law student in KL, I decided to pick the first option. On a whim, I made up mind to email YB Hannah Yeoh asking if she was accepting interns.
To be an intern with the current and first female speaker of the Selangor Assembly, the internship was the dream (and it would totally look good on my resume). All those things we learned about in school… All those stereotypes described by chatty taxi drivers and uncles in the pasar… Finally! I was gonna see it on my own!
But boom. A dream’s a dream, and there’s only so much to it in real life. Here’s what I’ve learned in those three months.
1. Not everyone in the office is into politics.
With Hannah Yeoh a DAP member (aaand one of the vice chairpeople of DAP Selangor), I entered the office with the impression that everyone working alongside her would be DAP members. Perhaps I was under this illusion of cronyism, that everyone in her Subang Jaya DUN (Dewan Undangan Negeri aka State Legislative Assembly) Office and her speaker’s office in the Shah Alam building was made up of only Pakatan Rakyat members. In fact, even my parents were so afraid they’d suck me into their political agenda! Boyyyyy, was I wrong.
Sure, the staff in the Subang office were mainly DAP members when I was there but it wasn’t a requirement. In the Speaker’s office, I also realised that majority of the staff weren’t even active members of any political party. Complainants to the office were also not asked who they supported when they required assistance. No request was expedited if came from DAP members, neither were any delayed on purpose for the sole reason as a BN member. So, it always amused me how some people came into the office and demanded certain things just because they claim to be from DAP.
On one instance, a particular ADUN office refused to furnish me with the required information (no, we weren’t eliciting party information) as I didn’t state which political party was I representing. It was just a simple query if the forms distributed by the relevant bodies were available in their office.
FYI: an ADUN means Ahli Dewan Undangan Negeri which is your state elected representative. Basically they are elected as representative of a particular area in the Selangor Assembly. In YB Hannah’s case she in the assemblyman for N31 Subang Jaya.
This leads me to my next point…
2. Politicians are expected to solve everything!
Chicken entered your house? The traffic light isn’t working? Got cheated by a syndicate? Your house became your neighbour’s dumping ground? Need some legal advice?
During my time as an intern, these were just some of the complaints we received by the public. Having attended the ADUN MUDA programme organised by the Selangor Government (well, it’s basically the youth version of a State Assembly), the dialogue sessions with state representative from various political background saw that this was a common problem they all faced.
In fact, before my internship I thought this was the valid way to get things done – especially for municipal issues! Perhaps this is because we weren’t taught who were the correct authorities to the relevant issues, so we believed they were the duties of those we have voted for to serve the general public regardless of the problem.
Here’s a brief WHO-TO-COMPLAIN-TO-101 for you:
- If your complaint concerns education, crime, immigration or anything that has a minister in charge of it: Best to start with an MP as they will then be able to bring your issue to Parliament. If they fail to direct you to the correct authorities, then go to an ADUN for further assistance on the issue.
- If you’re in need of financial or food assistance: Come to the ADUN office and bring required documents. Aids are given on a case-to-case basis. (We’ve seen frauds coming in for aid and getting exposed after further questions. Tsk tsk. The office is genuinely trying to help, but seriously, faking it ain’t cool.)
- If it’s petty stuff like leaves from the trees by the roadside falling near your house, or even rubbish that hasn’t been cleared or minor potholes: Start with your local council. In fact for Subang Jaya, Klang, Kajang, Petaling Jaya, you can make your complain online so long as you create a user name in the municipal’s official website. While some websites are easier to access than others, just CTRL+F “Aduan” (complain) if you can’t find the button. Soon there will be a new app for Selangor residents. Can’t wait to see how it works!
- If it’s a municiple issue requiring serious and immediate action, like a collapsed drainage, dangerously dangling tree branches or gigantic will-damage-your-car kind of pothole: Yes. Call your ADUN’s office.
- But if it’s potentially-tragic, urgent stuff like your electricity substation on fire: Call Bomba first la not the ADUN’s office!
P/S: No action taken? Just print out the formal complaint form and bring it to an ADUN’s office, it speeds things up for everybody.
FYI: This only works for certain states and if you are staying in Kuala Lumpur, an ADUN doesn’t even exist – only an MP.
3. Politicians don’t just “goyang kaki“ in the office.
While some people think that politicians are expected to solve everything, there are those who think they do nothing.
Most weekends, I’m busy waking up late, lounging at home doing nothing. Well, when it’s my weekend routine to do so, the same thing can’t be said for the team in the office. Their precious weekends are used in organizing community events for households in Subang Jaya. Oh man!
My internship happened to be around the puasa month and the workload was crazy as can be. There was a state event called ‘Jom Shopping’, where 500 underprivileged Muslim individuals were given RM100 voucher to spend on a specific date.
There were various issues such as people who were unhappy for being left out, endless list-checkings to ensure nobody abused the invites, surau heads being constantly bugged to ensure they have submitted the names on time… The list could go on. In short, it was just crazy.
Although these apply to the staff and not YB Hannah herself, she was there almost every Tuesday night for services as well as on weekend community events.
True enough, her staff does most of the groundwork especially for welfare events but she is constantly updated on situations by her staff. I’m sure this applies to every dedicated politician as well who desperately wishes for the ability to duplicate themselves but they can’t be everywhere, hence they would have to delegate their work.
Plus, it’s all about teamwork and every team needs a leader.
4. Bribes do not determine how things are done.
Let’s be honest. Malaysians have the mentality that in order to get things done or undone, the easy way would be through bribery. It is no surprise that we Malaysians are critical of how politicians are synonymous with bribes.
In 2014, according to the index that was prepared by anti-corruption watchdog Transparency International (TI), Malaysia came in 50th out of the 175 involved. In 2013, the goal was to be in the top 30 of the index by 2020. Well with 5 years left, it seems our government and politicians have a lot to do.
While I cannot say for the rest, I personally saw how every single allocation from the state is meticulously tabulated and kept. There are pictures when cheques are given, receipts are kept and files are updated regularly. In this office YB Hannah strives for accountability and transparency. No complainant gets special privileges for being a DAP member or or because of the huge amount of money they have donated. If they really are taking bribes, MACC should be on their tails by now.
5. Interns don’t necessarily get paid.
I took up the internship knowing I was not going to be paid, but I won’t lie by saying that I wasn’t disappointed, especially when my friends were being paid by law firms! (Sorry, YB Hannah. Even YB Wong Chen’s interns receives some stipendiary…) However, after my internship I begin to understand why. It isn’t because they don’t want to, but it is a matter of not being able to afford to. Plus, in YB Hannah’s book, she shared that she didn’t even have sufficient funds to perform a caesarean for her first child.
To pay every intern, it would mean they have to increase their expenditure in running the office. Each ADUN is given a certain amount of allocation, and it is up to them to how it should be spent. This is why accountability is important; as if the ADUN is corrupted they can just keep it in their own pockets. So it really is a case of spending more money to run an office vs constituency issues.
I’m not saying other politicians who pay their interns are wasting money, as how are they supposed to attract interns nowadays without paying? YB Hannah has an added advantage when it comes to this as she has the title of being the first female speaker of Selangor assembly (at least that was the case for me).
6. Criticism comes in all forms, so does threats.
“I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.” – Bill Cosby
Given the fact that YB Hannah was elected as a relatively young politician (in the Malaysia political scene) and being a Chinese who didn’t know how to speak fluent Mandarin, political critics can be especially hard on her.
I for one should know, as on my first week, I was once asked to leave the office by a resident for the same reason. Sure it was harsh, but I it made me stronger. I was told that others were more unfortunate than me; some of my former colleagues were threaten and spit on for doing their jobs. During my dialogue session with other YBs, they told how at times they receive death threats. Threats are real for politicians, but not everyone can afford hiring a bodyguard for themselves or their family.
7. What you wear plays a huuuge part of your job.
It doesn’t matter if you have double PhD or is a veteran politician… From my experience, the public will judge you based on their perception. Hence, you don’t see politicians wearing ‘revealing and tight-fitting’ clothes.
Their outfit choices are limited to traditional outfit, formal wear and anything that has sleeves and beyond the knee length (for women). Oh, the horror if a politician decides to dye their hair other than black and dark brown or have a cute manicure! In fact, this policy isn’t limited to the politicians themselves but by extension those working for the politician.
While working professionals abide by this formal dress code, they have the luxury of wearing whatever they want when they’re out of the office. For politicians? Do the same and one could be in for a smear campaign.
Smear campaigns based on a politician’s choice of clothes aren’t uncommon… Remember Dyana Sofya’s ‘bikini photos’ during the Teluk Intan by-election? While it surfaced later that the woman in the bikini wasn’t her, it is possible that some damage had already occurred especially among the more conservative folks.
While there is a thin line separating a well dressed politician and a sloppy one, they deserve a break as they are not immune to the occasional wardrobe malfunction.
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Interning with a politician is not as glamorous as it sounds… It is tough work all the way. I have met all sorts of people in this job, and had my fair share of lecturing from concerned residents especially during the MB crisis in Selangor. However I choose to believe at the end of the day, I have helped Subang residents in some way and I wasn’t just another keyboard warrior. I’ve also learn to not criticise someone based on a news article or unverified rumors.
However after this internship, if you ask me would I consider politics in my future, I would say no way! Let’s face it. Politics is not something many would consider as an honorable field. The drama that comes with politics is not something everyone can deal with. But what makes me ever in awe is the knowing that some politicians do strive for a better Malaysia.
Sure, some would argue that it is just PR work to humanize politicians, and to this, I say: get to know the politicians themselves by attending community events, town hall meetings or volunteer in the office.
I’ve met YB Shahrum (BN) in the dialogue session, who gives credit where due and held his ground when he was right. (If I get to vote for the head of PAC, he gets my vote!) YB Yeo Bee Yin (DAP) who is another young politician, is the current head of the select committee with regards to raw water dealings in Selangor. After a talk with her, you can see the amount of research she has done regarding the issue.
Politics is never easy, regardless of time and place, but have faith. There are those who firmly believe in improving the landscape of our nation, regardless of which party they come from… And it is our duty as Malaysians to support those who champion a cause for the betterment of all.