A Johor candidate’s Singapore story


IN HIS family home overlooking the Straits of Johor, a Barisan Nasional candidate for a state assembly seat proudly holds up a photograph of his father and Mr Lee Kuan Yew.

The frame holding it broke recently, and a hook remains on the wall where it once was.

But Tengku Putra Haron Jumat, 49, says he plans to get it reframed and put on display in good time.

The first-time candidate for the Kempas state seat, in Pulai, is the youngest son of Mr Abdul Hamid Jumat, Singapore’s first Malay minister and deputy chief minister from 1955 to 1959.

“My dad used to make me watch Singapore TV when Mr Lee spoke so I could learn from his manner of delivery,” Mr Haron tells The Straits Times.

“It’s ironic, because they were from opposing parties. But my dad was a gentleman, and it didn’t matter if you were from the opposition,” he adds.

“Lee Kuan Yew is one of my two political idols – the other is Dr Mahathir (Mohamad),” he says. “They have their own style, grit their teeth, took things by the collar, and their two countries are where they are today because of these two gentlemen.”

“It’s an irony they were at odds with each other, but it’s also good when you’re competing,” he adds.

What does he respect most about them?

“They were authoritative,” he says. “It’s like how someone slaps you in the face, and you say: Thank you. I needed that.”

Mr Hamid was the first chairman of Umno Singapore and was elected assemblyman for Ulu Bedok in the 1955 election, after which Mr David Marshall became Singapore’s first chief minister.

An old boy of Raffles Institution, Mr Hamid also served as minister for local government, lands and housing.

He was re-elected assemblyman for Geylang Serai in 1959, and sat on the opposition benches after the People’s Action Party led by Mr Lee swept 43 of the 51 seats that year.

Ironically, Mr Haron says, he never knew his father as a politician but as a diplomat.

Not long after he was born at Gleneagles Hospital in 1963, the youngest of seven children, his father was appointed Malaysia’s ambassador to Germany and took his family with him.

Singapore had joined Malaysia together with Sabah and Sarawak on Sept 16, 1963. But the merger was short-lived and after Separation in 1965, Mr Hamid, like a number of Malays in Singapore who held senior government positions, moved across the Causeway.

But some of his siblings remained in Singapore, and Mr Haron, like many Johoreans, has family in Singapore. One of his cousins is well-known Islamic religious leader Ustaz T.M. Fouzy Jumat.

After several postings abroad, including to the Philippines, Egypt and the Netherlands, Mr Hamid returned to Malaysia in 1973. He died in 1978, when Mr Haron was 15.

Mr Haron went on to study at Arkansas State University, where he was president of the Malaysian Students’ Association, and joined his family’s stockbroking firm after graduation.

Not long after he returned, he filled out a form to be an Umno member in Seputeh, Kuala Lumpur, but was annoyed when he found out his form had been “lost”.

A friend who ventured the “loss” may have been intentional, given his family name, advised him to apply near his hometown instead. And so Mr Haron joined the party branch in Pulai, which is next to Johor Baru constituency, rising to become youth chief in 1993.

The MP was long-time Information Minister Mohamed Rahmat, who is, incidentally, father of the incumbent MP for Pulai, Mr Nur Jazlan Mohamed.

“I’m excited,” Mr Haron says of his maiden election as a candidate.

“I also believe we don’t have to go far to look for things we can do to improve our city and its infrastructure,” he adds, referring to how Singapore can be a model for urban governance.

His peers can also learn from Singapore on matters like how mosques are run, he says, recalling a visit hosted by the PAP Youth Wing three years ago.

“At this point in time, we have the best relations with Singapore economically and politically.”

Several thousand of his voters, he notes, work or live in Singapore.

So which way will they vote? “They’ll lean the Singapore way,” he says with a chuckle. And what is that?

“They’ve got investments here. Naturally they want them to be protected,” he adds.

The father of two boys and a girl also lets on that he asks his 15-year-old twin sons to watch DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang speak.

It’s good to know the competition, he quips.