KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 4 — She has been villified as a Chinese chauvinist and portrayed as anti-Muslim. She was detained one week under the Internal Security Act for allegedly stirring up religious sentiments. And last week, unknown assailants threw a Molotov cocktail into the compound of her family home in Kuala Lumpur.
But ask DAP Member of Parliament Teresa Kok why she has become the target of a smear campaign in recent months and she will probably be hard pressed for an answer.
And those who know her insist she is anything but a chauvinist or an enemy of Islam that her detractors claim she is.
When Kok was detained under the ISA, even Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, who quit the Cabinet as de facto Law Minister partly in protest against the use of the law, said of her: “I know Teresa personally and I cannot see her as anti-Islam.”
While Zaid was the only Umno member who spoke out publicly, he was not the only one who viewed the recent ISA detentions of Kok and a female journalist, who was released after 18 hours, as unwarranted.
“Look, everyone who knows her (Kok) knows she is not a bigot or a chauvinist. This makes the government look bad,” one MP from Umno said.
In fact, it was some of Kok’s political opponents in Parliament — from the ruling Barisan Nasional — who met with government officials in private to plead for her release. Such is Kok’s popularity that when she made her first public appearance at a press conference hours after her release on Sept 19, she received a standing ovation from reporters.
It is probable that Kok, who won her Seputeh parliamentary seat in Kuala Lumpur with a 36,492-vote majority — the biggest — in the March elections, could win with an even bigger margin if polls were held today.
To her supporters, she is a hero who has been wronged.
It was alleged that she had abused her position as an MP and a member of the Selangor state government to direct a mosque to reduce the volume of its public address system during prayer times because it was disturbing non-Muslims living nearby.
The allegation, made by former Selangor Menteri Besar Datuk Mohd Khir Toyo, and highlighted in the Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia newspaper, was found to be untrue. Even the mosque committee came out to publicly deny the allegation. Still, she was detained by the police.
The attacks have not stopped despite her release. Utusan Malaysia has made her, in her own words, a “cover girl” since her release. After she complained about the allegedly low quality of food served during her detention, comparing it to dog food, she has been chastised repeatedly in the newspaper.
Kok, known for her multiracial stand, has been determined more than ever to flaunt it since her arrest.
Following her release, she has been attending breaking-of-fast functions almost nightly during the just-ended fasting month of Ramadan.
But even that has become the subject of attacks by Utusan Malaysia.
Last week, Kok was criticised in the newspaper for “wearing a skirt to a mosque”. The article appeared to suggest that she was wearing something outrageous and that her attire caused serious discomfort among Muslims present at the function.
However, facts suggested otherwise. Kok wore a long-sleeved dress which came down almost to her ankles. She also did not enter the mosque, remaining instead in its compound.
One of Kok’s Malay-Muslim supporters said: “I don’t understand why she is being targetted. She is usually so sensitive to the religious obligations of Muslims it is almost ridiculous. She usually takes great pains to tell me what I can or cannot eat when we are out that I find it hard to believe she would be anti-Islam.”
Ultimately, the smear campaign could be attributed to the fact that Kok and a number of leaders from the Chinese-dominated DAP have taken pains to reach out to Malay-Muslim voters.
As a member of a party who is part of three state governments — along with its Malay partners in the Parti Keadilan Rakyat and Pas — DAP leaders like Kok have been reaching out more than ever, and successfully, to Malay voters.
This is undoubtedly a political threat to the ruling coalition led by Umno.
The attacks against Kok and the attempts to portray her as a Chinese chauvinist who is anti-Islam represent a crude attempt at undermining the credibility and viability of the opposition coalition, Pakatan Rakyat, as a viable multiracial alternative to BN.
But targetting Kok, known for her congeniality as much as anything else, may well backfire. — Today