Deputy federal territories minister Edmund Santhara thought he could administer his Segamat parliamentary constituency from 9,000km away without any hitches. He was wrong.
Anyone accessing his Facebook page would have been none the wiser. There are several photos of his Parlimen Team Santhara (PTS) giving out food parcels on his behalf, visiting the sick and handing out aid to the needy.
Why would anyone question the man handing them the freebies and ask if he was Santhara their MP? In these difficult times, many people are just grateful to receive aid. They are not going to question the man behind the mask.
Nevertheless, the public reacted with outrage when they were informed that Santhara had not been in Malaysia since late December, as he had been on 55 days leave and travelled to New Zealand.
PKR’s Batu MP, P Prabakaran, raised several questions about Santhara’s absence and had been threatened with a lawsuit, for allegedly defaming him.
Prabakaran is dissatisfied that Santhara had been absent for such a lengthy period, especially when his constituents in Segamat and people in the federal territories are faced with issues caused by the depressed economy and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Prabakaran had asked whether it was slander to say a deputy minister is taking a 55-day holiday outside the country during both the emergency and movement control order; that some constituents could not meet their elected representative when their parliamentary area was flooded; and that victims of a fire at the Sentul market asked to meet with the FT deputy minister to express their grouses.
Santhara has said, however, that his request for leave had been approved by the prime minister and that he travelled to New Zealand to be with his family and sick wife and to take care of his nine-year-old child whom he had not seen for almost a year.
Perhaps Santhara is not aware that hundreds of thousands of Malaysians and New Zealanders face the same predicament, but few if any have had the political clout to open doors to allow them to travel freely between countries.
It is not just Malaysians who are eager for some answers from the New Zealand government, which has chosen to keep quiet about Santhara’s entry into the country. Chris Bishop, from the National Party of New Zealand, wants his government to state that there has been no special treatment for Santhara.
Instead, government officials claim they are prevented from disclosing information because of privacy laws.
Bishop wants to know more about Santhara’s immigration status, if he is a resident or a citizen, and how he managed to obtain a place in the managed isolation and quarantine (MIQ) system. Other New Zealanders were unable to return, yet Santhara managed to be included in the MIQ. How was this possible?
Bishop refused to accept privacy as an excuse, because the government did not hold back when revealing details about another New Zealand MP, Ricardo Menendez March, who had returned from Mexico.
Santhara claimed that his reputation as a deputy minister and an MP has been damaged, but the only person who has damaged his reputation is Santhara himself. He acted irresponsibly.
He should decide if he wants to remain an MP, in Malaysia, and help uplift the lives of his constituents. Or he can choose to settle in New Zealand, where his family can enjoy the superb educational facilities and healthcare provisions.
As an MP and deputy minister, he cannot have one foot planted in each country.
Santhara is reportedly a very ambitious man in politics. Eight years ago, when he was 42, he was already said to be setting his sights on becoming a successful politician. As an independent MP, he garnered only 999 votes in Hulu Selangor during GE13. He joined PKR and won convincingly in Segamat in GE14.
Today, he has probably set his sights on a bigger constituency, somewhere like Batu or Hulu Selangor.
Has the expose about his sojourn in New Zealand damaged his chances? His allegiance and personal ambitions have been tested. Most of us think he should resign.
The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of FMT.