Bangor councillor Mair Rowlands, was recently chosen to visit Malaysia to learn more about the country’s politics, economy and culture.
Mair, 28, councillor for Menai ward in Bangor, was the only Welsh politician chosen to represent the UK on a British Young Leaders Exchange Programme on an organised trip to Malaysia. The tour was organised and funded by the British High Commission of Kuala Lumpur.
Mair recorded a diary of her visit
The first phase of the trip was to meet the crew I was travelling with at Heathrow airport; three young politicians from the Labour Party, the Conservative Party, the Green Party and one member of Chatham House staff. I was glad that everyone was friendly and that we got on, good company for the week.
After a 13 hour flight from London to Kuala Lumpur, the capital of Malaysia, we met our tour leader from the Senior Commissioner’s office before travelling to the hotel. I had visited Kuala Lumpur for two days before, it’s a very dynamic city, named ‘Garden City of Light.’ It is one of the fastest growing metropolitan regions in South East Asia in terms of its population and economy. Temperature is 27 degrees Celsius, a very close night – I suspected that I would struggle to adapt to this humid weather.
Breakfast at the hotel – a variety of delicious Chinese foods to more spicy Malay dishes. A trip to Ipoh, the main city of Perak, a state in the north west of Malaysia, to find out more about the landscape of Malaysia – its natural tropical beauty and limestone hills. During the British colonial period, Perak was completely established on canned mining and rubber plantations, and remains of that period are still visible today.
The first visit saw us travel to Tanjung Tualang Tin Dredge No. 5 – TT5, the last tin drainage in the country and quite possibly, the world! The local authority has worked hard to keep the mine which now continues as a museum. Then a trip to Kellie Castle, the oldest castle in Malaysia, built by the Scot William Kellie Smith (owner of a rubber tree plantation) for his wife Agnes. A surreal experience, standing at the top of a Scottish castle overlooking Perak wild plantations!
Lunching later with YB Dato Mohammad Zahir bin Abdul Khalid, a member of the Perak State Executive Council and Chairman of the Perak State Committee for the development of industries and investment. I was surprised to see that Dato Zahir knows a lot about Wales and had even heard of Plaid Cymru!! He had studied at Swansea University for three years and gained a degree in Economics, what a small world.
A morning with staff from the British High Commission of Kuala Lumpur to learn more about the country’s politics, foreign policy and human rights. It is obvious that it is a very multi-ethnic and multi-cultural country. Half the population is Malai, while the other half includes a mix of Chinese, Indian and indigenous population with these groups living successfully together. Politics and political parties in the country are largely split via religion and ethnicity rather than ideological perspectives – very different from British politics.
Honoured to visit the Malaysian Parliament today. The Malaysian Senate is modelled on the Westminster Parliament system, and the feel and luxury of the buildings is similar to that of the House of Commons in London. Currently a coalition runs the government, under the leadership of the largest party, the Muslim Party. This has been the set up for 60 years since they were awarded their independence back in 1957. I had the opportunity later to meet the youngest Member of Parliament, Dato Sri Dr. Irmohizam Ibrahim. He’s 41, but in Malaysia, you’re still considered very young if you’re between 18 and 40 years old! He was very enthusiastic and charismatic.
Then, during a meal, we met some of the Chevening UK scholars, a unique scheme for future Malaysian leaders to study in the UK. Nearly half a million Malaysian people are alumni of universities and colleges in the UK. Most young people are educated with many of them studying at British universities. They also know a lot more about Wales and British politics compared to what we knew of Malaysian politics before we arrived here.
During the morning we met the AWAM Society, the All Women’s Action Society, an independent feminist organisation committed to improving the lives of women in Malaysia. They focus on improving women’s understanding of sex based violence. It was inspirational to see these young women ready to lobby and campaign against the Government. Only 10% of MPs are women. It was great to share experiences with them.
Today was an opportunity for us to meet with the DAP (Democratic Action Party), the largest party in the opposition, which is a coalition. DAP is a party of social democrats, who believe in equality and social justice, this is a sister party to the Malaysian Labour Party. Then we finally had the opportunity to meet with the Senior Commissioner, Vicki Treadell, originally from Ipoh in Malaysia. She was very passionate about improving young people’s politics engagement and found that Malaysia’s success as a prosperous and progressive country relies on enabling young people there to take more part in the political system.
A group of young activists and politicians from Malaysia will visit Britain, and hopefully Wales, next year. This will give them an opportunity to understand more about the politics, economy and culture of the UK and see how we are trying to enable young people to take more part in the political system. I am convinced that there is more work to do to get young people engaged in politics at a local, national and global level. It is essential to protect and strengthen democracy around the world.