In an exclusive interview with FMT, Kota Belud MP Abdul Rahman Dahlan shares his views on politics as well as his passions, which include riding a superbike.
PETALING JAYA: On evenings when the sun dips a little lower, the distinct grunt of a superbike is heard across the grounds of Parliament. These days, the security personnel no longer bat an eyelid as the Kawasaki GTR 1400 cruises through the gates.
They know it's just Kota Belud MP Abdul Rahman Dahlan on his high-powered machine.
"I drive home in the late afternoon to freshen up and then I ride my bike back," he said. "It messes my hair but it clears my head so I can go working through the night. Riding is so therapeutic."
Then he leaned forward and confessed with a grin, "The highlight of the Manik Urai by-election for me was riding my bike all the way up there. It was just music, my bike and the road."
Rahman, 46, firmly believes in having passions outside politics and biking tops the list. The second is his love for gadgets, an iPhone, two iPads and an iPod. The third is American Idol runner-up, Adam Lambert.
"I was devastated that he didn't win!" he declared. "Lambert has talent and I'm a sucker for talent. And he has the discpline and knowledge which in itself excites me."
"I know he's gay but that's besides the point. I wanted to attend his concert in KL but I had to be overseas and then the concert ended up being banned which was so unnecessary."
The Umno leader's earnestness made the conversation seem like the most natural one to have in a Parliament lounge. He later dished out opinions and explanations with a curious air of easy confidence and candour.
A far cry indeed from the MP who arrived an hour ahead of his first Parliamentary sitting in April 2008 out of sheer nervousness that he will be late for registration.
"I told myself the previous night that I had to beat the traffic, but when I reached there no one else was around," he said laughing. "So I sat in my car and waited for the others to show up."
And when they did, he paid close attention to the Pakatan Rakyat MPs. They were on a high from freshly denying Barisan Nasional a two-thirds majority and Parliament reverberated with their excitement. Rahman had only three words to describe his first day – a nerve-wrecking experience.
Three years on, he has discarded those jitters and is among the more vocal MPs in Parliament and the social media. He blogs, tweets, has a Facebook account and belongs to 20 BlackBerry groups.
Hardly excessive for someone whose sole focus is on reaching out and serving the people just as his father taught him, albeit with a touch of modernity.
Rahman's father, Dahlan Harun, belonged to the now defunct United Sabah National Organisation (Usno) and was the Sulaman assemblyman for six years beginning 1971. The seat is currently held by the Sabah Minister of Housing and Local Government and Rahman's first cousin, Hajiji Haji Noor.
"Politics is in the blood," Rahman shrugged.
"When I was studying in the US, I joined associations that studied public policies. I was among the founders of Umno California Utara in 1983. This was seven years before Umno came to Sabah. Kota Belud was its birthplace there."
Rahman, a "100% Bajau boy and darn proud of it", was born in Tuaran and belonged to the Umno division there. But that seat was promised to a component party in the 2008 elections so Rahman was slotted into Kota Belud instead. At the time he was also the Umno Youth secretary.
"It was tough going into a different constituency," he remembered. "But Kota Belud has always been kind to Umno so I wasn't too worried. In fact I was fretting more over other Umno Youth members particularly Khairy (Jamaluddin) who was rumoured to be faring badly in Rembau."
Rahman won with a 3,020 majority over PKR's Saidil @ Saidi Simoi but although the victory was expected, he was surprised that the majority was slimmer than what was secured in the previous polls.
Since then, he has been returning to Kota Belud every weekend and after three years, Rahman said that he can now feel the people's warmth and acceptance.
In the right direction
The common perception of BN politicians is that they march to the government's drumbeat. But Rahman has cracked that mould ever so slightly by deftly slipping in a few drumrolls of his own.
Expressing his views on Umno, he said: "I believe in what its founding fathers espoused it to be although some characters have tried to colour Umno to suit their style. When I'm confused I just return to the party's constitution which contains none of the leaders' names."
"It gives me comfort that I'm moving in the right direction. All that Umno is criticised for is related to the people's behaviour and not the party's foundation. Unfortunately the party has to suffer for it"
Rahman also believes that Umno is regaining support from the Malay community and the recent by-election results are testimonies to this.
"We've seen five straight by-election wins so it's safe to say that Umno is regaining Malay support. If you had visited the Malay belts after the 2008 general election, you could feel the anger and frustration towards Umno.
But now a lot of that is water under the bridge and the Malays are seeing Pakatan's true colours. I can sense the acceptance for Umno returning.
The return of Malay support is a result of party efforts and the prime minister's (Najib Tun Razak) work but Malaysian politics is always more personality driven.
Look at how (Pakatan leader) Anwar (Ibrahim) has glued the opposition together. It's the same with BN. Najib is the single most important factor responsible for us winning back Malay support."
Rahman also denied that BN politicians served merely as "rubber stamps."
"It may appear so but it isn't true. At each Parliamentary sitting we hold daily pre-counsel meetings during which the deputy prime minister (Muhyiddin Yassin) will present the gist of all Bills that are up for debate.
This is where we voice our support or protest. This was where BN backbenchers rejected the Goods and Services Tax (GST) Bill and delayed its implementation.
We fight among ourselves during these meetings but when we are in Parliament we stand as one because we have already come to a unaminous decision beforehand. So it's not blind rubber stamping."
Ask probing questions
Quizzed on the role of the social media, Rahman said it is definitely the way forward.
"When I'm replying tweets, it strikes me that I could be connecting with a teenager sipping a latte at a bus stop. This is the meaning of empowerment.
Its time politicians acknowledged that public discourse can no longer be dictated by government policies and ideas can no longer be contained."
And what about the alternative media?
"I embrace them. They are important. But we must be careful not to abuse the very tools we need in our journey to become a mature democracy. The younger generation demands transparency from the government but not from the opposition.
So I ask of them to be bi-partisan. If they think PKR is doing good, then support it. But if the government is also doing good, then support it too.
Journalists should also ask more probing questions to expedite responses from the MPs and help people understand the full scope of the issue at hand. If a MP makes a statement, journalists should anticipate the probable response from the other side and ask a related question that will expand the story. Otherwise we'll only be reading what the ministers want to say.
How seriously do I take the alternative media? Let's put it this way. The first three websites I visit every morning belong to the alternative media. Only then, do I read the mainstream ones."
On the problem of illegal immigrants in Sabah, the Kota Belud MP said until more West Malaysian MPs join the fight, the issue will not be resolved anytime soon.
"It's a long standing issue that has raised a lot of concern. What's worse is that a government survey showed that illegal immigration isn't among the top ten issues on the minds of Malaysians. This has infuriated Sabahans.
West Malaysians don't feel its weight but Sabahans believe that this is a security and sovereign issue that involves everyone."
Sharing his views on Parliament itself, Rahman said the time has come for it to move into the electronic age.
"First, the amount of paper that we use is murderous. We all have laptops so why can't we do everything electronically?
Second, all questions in Parliament that are answered in writing should be electronically stored because it contains the latest data which would greatly benefit journalists and the public.
Third, Parliament doesn't move. This building is tradition and moving would mean losing that. Yes it's compact and crowded but this is what it's all about."
This article first appeared in Free Malaysia Today. It was written by Stephanie Sta Maria.