Once Karpal’s chamber pupil, now the master’s heir in Jelutong

DAP’s Jelutong candidate RSN Rayer shows a picture of his mentor Karpal Singh which he keeps in his pocket for good luck.

GEORGE TOWN: Twenty-three years ago, Seri Delima incumbent RSN Rayer was just a chamber pupil of DAP veteran Karpal Singh.

But today, the 47-year-old criminal lawyer has been mandated by DAP to “go for higher things”: he will not contest for a state assembly seat but will be fielded in the Jelutong parliamentary seat in the May 9 polls.

In an interview with FMT, Rayer said contesting the Jelutong seat meant a lot to him as it was once held by Karpal himself.

Karpal, whom Rayer described as a father figure, served as Jelutong MP for 21 years from 1978 to 1999.

“It is a great honour to be back at the seat of my great guru and mentor, Karpal Singh. It was such a great honour that I sought the blessing of Karpal’s wife to contest in Jelutong. And I got her blessing,” Rayer said.

“It all began in 1995, when I was chambering at Karpal’s firm and was his pupil.

“I had no interest in politics. He asked me if I was in any party, and I said no. He said, join DAP then.

“From then on, I not only learned the workings of being a lawyer, I also campaigned in Karpal’s fight for the Jelutong seat that year.”

Recalling the 1995 parliamentary race for the seat, Rayer said it had been a tough fight for Karpal as Barisan Nasional’s (BN) Rina Bhar was initially declared the victor.

“I remember former chief minister Koh Tsu Koon already garlanding Bhar and declaring her the YB.

“Karpal and I breached the cordons of the counting centre and demanded a recount. After the recount, Karpal was declared the winner.”

This was despite Bhar’s election petition disputing the recount, which saw Karpal winning by a slim majority of 283 votes, he added.

‘His spirit lives on’

Rayer is perhaps most well known for his “celaka Umno” remark, made in a state assembly session in 2014.

Over the past 10 years at the Penang assembly, he has earned a reputation as something of a troublemaker for interrupting debates by the opposition with witty and sometimes acerbic remarks.

He has also been described as a “live wire” and credited with keeping assembly members “awake” during sessions.

RSN Rayer who campaigned for Karpal Singh in Jelutong in 1995 says his return there as a candidate himself is a big honour.

Looking back, he said, it was Karpal who had held his hand, showed him the ropes and made him the politician he is today.

In his pocket, he keeps several pictures of Hindu deities which he said were talismans to ward off “bad feng shui”. Tucked safely among them is a photograph of a young Karpal delivering a speech as president of the Dunearn Hostel at the then-University of Singapore in 1963.

“This was given to me by a very well known person on the day of Karpal’s funeral,” Rayer said. “He said, ‘Keep this with you, his spirit lives on with you’.”

Although Karpal passed away in a car accident four years ago, Rayer said he still holds his memories of his mentor close to his heart.

“So much so that I keep a picture of him on my altar at home,” he added.

He said emulating Karpal’s “universal politics” was what had won him a second term in Seri Delima.

‘Only one Tiger of Jelutong’

On the coming election, he said he was looking forward to working with Karpal’s children, Gobind, Ramkarpal and Jagdeep, who are his party colleagues.

RSN Rayer and Karpal Singh before the 2013 general election.

“It is impossible to be exactly like the Tiger of Jelutong. There can only be one, that is Karpal. Singh is king,” he added.

If he wins, though, he hopes to continue the work of Jelutong incumbent Jeff Ooi and preserve Karpal’s legacy there.

“I will definitely ensure the voice of Jelutong will be heard in Parliament if I win,” he said.

Karpal held the Jelutong seat for five terms. His winning streak was broken in 1999, when he lost to BN’s Lee Kah Choon.

RSN Rayer and Karpal Singh before the 2013 general election.

Lee held the seat for two terms until 2008, when Ooi wrested it back for DAP.

Karpal subsequently won the Bukit Gelugor parliamentary seat, which he held for three terms from its formation in 2004 until his death in 2014.

In the coming election, Rayer is expected to face off with BN’s Baljit Singh, who is Gerakan’s national legal and human rights bureau chief.

The Jelutong constituency had a total of 78,131 voters as of the fourth quarter of last year.

The bulk of the voters (27,806) are from the Batu Lanchang state seat, followed by Sungai Pinang (27,341) and Dato Keramat (22,985).

RSN Rayer and Karpal Singh before the 2013 general election.

According to figures from the second quarter of last year, the Chinese make up the majority of voters in Sungai Pinang at 52.3%, followed by the Malays at 33.4% and Indians at 13.9%.

The Dato Keramat state seat is touted as the “most ageing” state seat in Penang, with the majority of voters aged 50 and above.

In the second quarter of last year, the racial composition of Dato Keramat was predominantly Chinese (56.7%), with Malays making up 29.2% and Indians comprising 13.6%.

The Batu Lanchang state seat continues to be a bastion of Chinese voters, who comprise a staggering 85.9%. Malays make up 7.2% while Indians comprise 6.5%.

All three state seats were won by DAP in the last polls.

Click here to get live updates throughout the GE14 season