Political golden girl quits amid romantic intrigue

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 19 February, 2008, 12:00am

Malaysia's youngest lawmaker, who rose to become one of the most prominent opposition members thanks to her fiery oratory and attractive looks, has decided to quit in a move laced with political and romantic intrigue.

Fong Poh Kuan, 33, announced late on Sunday that she would not contest the March 8 general election. She accused 'some leaders' in her Democratic Action Party or DAP, a Chinese-majority opposition party, of constant backstabbing. The party is now begging her to change her mind.

She said in Batu Gajah, her predominantly ethnic Chinese constituency in northern Perak state, that her decision to quit was final, adding that party intrigue is preventing her from carrying out her duties as an elected representative.

'How can I serve the people when your own party leaders are not with you?' she said yesterday. 'I am a victim of jealousy and backstabbing.'

She declined to go into details but party sources and the local Chinese media reported that romantic jealousy within the party was also to blame.

Ms Fong married Tan Chen Choon, a DAP leader from Johore state, on January 12, in a high-profile media event.

According to a senior DAP leader, single men within the Perak DAP leadership had also tried to court Ms Fong and her tenure came under attack when she decided instead to marry an outsider.

'Romantic jealousy and deep political intrigue is involved. A campaign was mounted to force her to vacate the seat and follow her husband to Johore state,' said the DAP source.

'She made a smart move to not contest. Now she has the media behind her, the opposition supporters are all upset and her enemies in retreat.

'She can ask for their heads now as pre-condition to return.'

Ms Fong shot to fame when she won election as a 24-year-old, defeating a veteran Chinese leader in the 1999 general election.

She was the youngest elected MP and soon earned the nickname 'chili padi', an allusion to her sharp tongue, unmarried status and the sexual innuendoes hurled at her by government backbenchers.

'She was a sure winner and a mainstay in opposition politics,' said Tian Chua, information chief of the National Justice Party of opposition figure Anwar Ibrahim. 'They should get her back.'

The DAP leadership discussed Ms Fong's departure at a nine-hour meeting that ended at 3am yesterday. The party has asked secretary general Lim Guan Eng to try to persuade Ms Fong to return.

'Strenuous efforts are under way by me and other top party leaders to contact Fong and change her mind,' Mr Lim said.

'We never pushed her to Johore or to quit. Malaysians want her.'

The issue is a hot topic on radio talk shows and several respondents called to paint Lim Kit Siang, the DAP national adviser and Lim Guan Eng's father, as the villain of the piece.

'I never forced her to vacate her seat or retire from politics,' the elder Lim said in a statement. 'We want her back.'

The ruling National Front coalition of Prime Minister Abdullah Badawi holds 90 per cent of the seats in parliament but is expected to lose some of those in the election, although it is aiming to retain a two-thirds majority.

The Democratic Action Party holds 12 seats.