Charles Santiago was elected as Member of Parliament for Klang (P110) in March 2008, winning the seat as the candidate for the Democratic Action Party (DAP). He is a well-qualified and experienced representative of his constituents, and has brought commitment, dynamism and fresh ideas to his period in office.
Born in November 1960, Charles grew up in Bangsar Park and schooled in both Brickfields and Petaling Jaya. He then studied for a BA in liberal arts and an MA in economics at the New School for Social Research, New York, USA.
An economist by profession, prior to his election Charles was a lecturer, researcher, auditor and social activist. As a lecturer, he taught at Stamford College, Petaling Jaya, including on its international degree programmes. He also worked for more than ten years as a social auditor for Verité, a leading international social and environmental auditing organisation. In addition, he has been a researcher-consultant for international institutions such as the European Commission, Transnational Institute (Netherlands) and Economic Consulting Services (USA).
Charles’s initiation into activism began early when he was an executive council member of the Malaysian Youth Council (1981–1983) and was part of the team that formulated the National Youth Charter. Since then he has been deeply involved in non-governmental organisations such as the Coalition Against Water Privatisation and Monitoring Sustainability of Globalisation. His experience as an activist gives him a special understanding of the pressing issues that matter most to people, such as the impact of free trade on jobs, union representation, sustainable development, water privatisation and high-quality local services.
In the March 2008 general election, Charles was elected to represent Klang having received 37,990 votes (64 per cent) on an increased turnout, defeating the Malaysian Chinese Association heavyweight, Ch’ng Toh Eng. Since then he has also served as the vice-chair of the Selangor DAP State Committee. Charles has been very proactive in representing the interests of all residents in one of the country’s largest and most diverse constituencies. At the same time, he has been a prominent advocate for reform in Malaysia’s social, economic, political and international policies.
Drawing on his considerable expertise, Charles has become a prominent advocate for progessive reform, both inside and out of parliament:
(1) He has made environmental and sustainability issues a major concern. In this regard, he has spoken out against the building of two nuclear power plants in the country and written extensively against the location of the Lynas rare earth processing plant in Pahang.
(2) He has lobbied and mobilised against the privatisation of water in Selangor, combining his role as an MP with his leadership of the Coalition Against Water Privatisation. This has included spearheading CAWP’s longstanding judicial review of Syabas’s (the state’s water company) corporate malpractices and lack of transparency. The wider significance of the case – to be pursued at the Federal Court – is to open up access to information to citizens as it affects their quality of life and fundamental rights.
(3) He has been a strong supporter of vernacular education (both Chinese and Tamil) having spoken actively in Parliament and in the media.
(4) He has highlighted the need to curb the rise in crime rates through preventative measures and proactive policing.
(5) He lobbied for additional funding to overcome the perennial problem of flooding in Klang.
(6) He has consistently advocated the need for affordable medicine and warned against the consequences of Malaysia signing free trade agreements that will be detrimental to local consumers in a range of services.
In addition, Charles has been an exemplary local MP, working hard to improve core services to his constituents. His efforts in this regard have included: providing welfare, educational and medical support for poor and vulnerable communities such as single mothers; working with urban pioneers and local communities to fight for affordable housing in Bukit Kerayong and Papan, Pandamaran; involvement in numerous training programmes in human, women’s and citizen’s rights, including entrepreneurial capacity building; and, providing funds for poor young women to start small businesses.
Since his election, Charles has been a frequent commentator and columnist, writing on political, economic and race relations, as well as trade and economic issues. In addition, he remains active in representing Malaysia’s interests through international fact-finding missions and links with parliamentarians from Southeast Asia and elsewhere.
Originally, Charles joined formal politics – as a DAP member and then as an elected representative – to protect and promote people’s participation in politics and nation building. He has been a leading advocate in favour of good governance and transparency in order to fight corruption and help overhaul the way government operates. What this means is full political accountability to the people as well as people’s full engagement in actively deciding the future of the nation. Above all, he continues to be an energetic representative of all the people of Klang and he reaffirms his commitment to the vision of ‘Ubah Sekarang, Selamatkan Malaysia!’ (Change Now, Save Malaysia!).