KUALA LUMPUR, July 16 ― DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke Siew Fook is proud of his mastery of Bahasa Malaysia, and even considers it his best language, even over his mother tongue.

The Seremban-born Loke told news portal The Vibes that learning Bahasa Malaysia from his primary school days meant it was the first language he was fluent in, and most comfortable with.

“I feel proud that I can master the language. I think my best language among the three is actually Bahasa Malaysia, followed probably by English and Mandarin.

“From my primary school days, I was educated in Malay. And the moment you master the national language, you begin to appreciate its importance,” he was quoted saying.

He claimed to be so comfortable speaking in Malay that he could not even deliver speeches in Mandarin when invited to Chinese society functions at the start of his political career.

Loke credits his fluency in BM with fostering a closer connection to the Malay voters in Seremban, which makes up about half the electoral roll.

“In the past, people say knowing Bahasa Malaysia is not important because its use is only limited to Malaysia and, to a certain extent, Indonesia.

“But as a politician, I find it very useful when I communicate with my Malay constituents. The moment you speak their language, you earn their confidence and respect,” former transport minister told the news portal, adding that it was important for non-Malay politicians to master the language.

Loke said he took the advice of people around him to master Mandarin as his political career took off, but he still believes that fluency in BM is more important as Malaysia’s official language used in state assemblies and Parliament sittings.

“Of course, some people say ‘you are a Chinese politician, you must be able to speak in Mandarin’. But I said the first requirement is to speak in Malay, because when you are an assemblyman or MP, you have to speak the language when you enter the Dewan, not Mandarin.

“I’m not saying Mandarin is not important. Along the way, I picked up Mandarin as well. I went for classes and tuition so that I can converse in Bahasa Malaysia, Mandarin, and English,” he was quoted as saying.

Loke has been assemblyman since 2004, serving two terms each in Lobak and Chennah in Negri Sembilan.

He is also a third-term parliamentarian, serving one term in Rasah from 2008, and representing Seremban since 2013.