How ‘outsider’ Yap thrived, despite Kit Siang and MCA

Veteran MCA man recounts how an Umno menteri besar helped his constituents, a row with Kit Siang which led to his leaving the party, being wooed by MCA, and moving up in the party despite being a ‘nobody’.

(FMT) – The name Yap Pian Hon may be unfamiliar to younger people today, but he and Serdang were once synonymous, and he can look back on half a century of service to the community: six years with DAP and 44 years with MCA. 

Yap has served five terms as a Selangor state assemblyman and three terms as MP for Serdang.

Serdang had a largely Chinese population, but it has gradually become more cosmopolitan over the years as small and medium scale industries and food businesses moved in, for which Yap is partly responsible.

Speaking to FMT in an interview at his office in Seri Kembangan, Yap recalled how he became involved in politics. 

“I joined DAP in 1968. They said they needed a branch secretary in Serdang, so I joined them,” he said. The following year, Chen Man Hin (a founding chairman of DAP) called him to DAP headquarters in Petaling Jaya, and told him the party wanted him to stand for election in Serdang.

“I had barely joined the party, so I initially declined. They pursued me for two or three days. Finally, they said they really did not have a choice as there was a lack of suitable candidates then. They handed me a cheque for RM2,000 to contest the Serdang state seat,” said Yap.

It was a long campaign period, 45 days, and he had insufficient money and manpower. “I had no experience then. But that year wasn’t a good year for MCA, so I won.”

A few days later, on May 13, racial riots broke out in Kuala Lumpur.

“I was in Kuala Lumpur and at about 6pm, I could see that there was something happening on Chow Kit Road. The situation was very tense. By the time I arrived home at 7pm, a curfew had been announced.

“We didn’t immediately know what happened. We were all in the dark. It was only later that rumours about a racial clash came in.”

“A few days later, they announced the suspension of Parliament,” he said. In the two years before Parliament resumed in 1972, there was nothing he could do as an elected people’s representative.

“So I went around the government offices learning up on what their functions were. I wrote an article about their functions, submitted it to a local Chinese paper. I also took the opportunity to take up Bahasa Malaysia. It was important that I could speak Malay in order for me to take part in state assembly debates,” he said.

His maiden speech at the state assembly lasted an hour.

How menteri besar Harun Idris helped a DAP member

In 1973, Yap recalled, he was faced with a problem when 50 families were to be evicted after living for 50 years on mining land at the 8th mile Puchong Road. They were to make way for a development project.

“I could not do anything because I was an opposition member but because I was an elected rep, I decided to call the menteri besar (Harun Idris). He fixed an appointment for me, and I went to present the problem to him,” he said.

“Harun was surprised that I wanted to speak to him, having an impression that the DAP then would never meet with him. I told him this was a people problem, I was an elected rep and I must help. The developer had not even sent a notice or offered any compensation.

“After hearing my case, he summoned a MCA state executive councillor and told him to deal with the matter. A month later, the mining company allocated a piece of land and provided for the families. We were very happy,” he said.

A huge argument with an unhappy Lim Kit Siang

He said the reaction of DAP leaders took him by surprise. Lim Kit Siang, then party secretary-general, instructed the Serdang DAP committee to find out what transpired at Yap’s meeting with the menteri besar.

“I told them that as an elected rep I had to help people solve their problems. But Kit Siang was not happy. He questioned my move in approaching the menteri besar. We had a huge argument. He was very unhappy and walked away,” Yap said.

Eventually, he decided to leave the party, worried that he could be axed. About 100 others also left. “I was really unhappy. I didn’t do anything wrong, I didn’t feel guilty,” he said.

The following day, he called a press conference to announce their decision. “The funny thing was, Kit Siang caught wind of what we were doing and sent his man to tell us that we were sacked. But we had already resigned. The next day, we were on the front pages on many newspapers.”

Wooed by MCA president Lee San Choon

Yap said he had no choice but to be an independent member of the state assembly. “But our public image was not great, talk was going around that I had been bought over by the government. That was not true and I felt the need to explain to the people because they voted for me under the rocket symbol,” he said.

He called a public rally, the first by an independent assemblyman. “About 3,000 people came. Immediately we formed a service committee to continue to serve the people,” he said.

Later he received a call from Lee San Choon, then MCA acting president and later its fourth president. Lee wanted a meeting, so Yap went to Lee’s house with about 15 others.

“San Choon was very smart. He asked me about Serdang and asked us to join MCA. I was reluctant because I would be called a hypocrite for having previously attacked that party so much. But San Choon managed to convince me that he wanted to bring about changes in MCA,” Yap said.

The price of defection: 10 tar roads

“There were no conditions. I told him if the MCA really wanted to show concern for the Chinese new village, he should give me 10 tarred roads in the area,” Yap said. Serdang had very few tarred roads then and that was why Yap had requested for 10 roads to be tarred. It was done in a week’s time.

There was no looking back for Yap. Two months after he joined MCA, Parliament was dissolved. San Choon wanted him to contest on the MCA ticket. “But he wanted me to contest in Sungei Way (outside Petaling Jaya). It made no sense to me to contest a seat that was not my home town.”

Yap said he also had to argue with the menteri besar, as “he did not think that I stood a chance against a DAP candidate in Serdang”.

But he contested there, against DAP heavyweight Lee Lam Thye, and won. He began moving up the ranks in MCA, first winning a seat on the state MCA Youth council, becoming Youth leader 12 years later.

In 1990 he contested the post of party vice-president.

Mr Nobody becomes an MCA vice-president

“Everyone kept telling me that I would not win as there were 11 contenders for four positions. But I won and stayed on for three terms. Even the party president openly supported four others who were ministers or deputy ministers. I was a nobody, but the grassroots supported me. My name was never on the ‘list’, yet I won three terms as vice-president.

“The leadership over the years didn’t like me much, and so I was never included in the list of cabinet appointees,” he said.

In 1995, he contested the parliamentary seat in Serdang for the first time against DAP heavyweight Lee Ban Chien and went on to retain the seat for the MCA for three terms.

“Those were the glory days of the MCA. It is really sad to see that the party is totally wiped out now. But I am not giving up, after all I have seen and been through. I believe that we can rebuild with the right leaders who want change. We just need to go back to original principles of the party. Follow those, and I believe we will be able to get back on our feet,” he said.