Gerakan has hit the political rock bottom and there will be no shortage of hot button issues when the party holds its national delegates meeting next week.
DATUK Seri Chia Kwang Chye is one of Gerakan’s least controversial politicians.
Dr Teng: The man who maimed the ‘smiling tiger’ is defending his vice-president post.
He has always gone with the flow, as they say.
But a few days ago, jaws dropped in the party when Chia, who had been eyeing the party’s deputy president post, announced he would be staying out of the party’s national elections next week.
It was as good as calling it a day for the former Bukit Bendera MP.
“I met him last Sunday and I asked if he was still going for the deputy president job. He told me he would be going for the presidency, he said it was that or nothing.
He had seemed so serious, and now this bombshell,” said party stalwart O.K. Lee who has worked with Chia over the years.
It does look like it has all come to an end for this one-time rising star.
It is no fun being a Gerakan politician in Penang these days and it has been even tougher for Chia.
His party had thwarted his aspiration to be Penang Chief Minister by denying him a state seat and he was put to defend his parliamentary seat which he lost anyway.
Then last week, he suffered a humiliating defeat at the hands of arch rival Datuk Seri Dr Teng Hock Nan in the contest for the chairmanship of Penang.
Victor and loser grinned like they were advertising for toothpaste but everyone could see that while Dr Teng was ebullient with jubilation, Chia was merely trying to be a good sport.
The “smiling tiger”, as Chia used to be known, had been maimed.
Chia’s secretary-general post has been an appointed one and the Penang contest was his first fight for a major post.
The writing was on the wall €“ if he could not command his home base, it would be even harder for him at the national level.
Chia’s exit has cleared the way for Perak strongman Datuk Chang Ko Youn who should have little trouble fighting off Federal Territory Youth chief Ma Weoi Chyi for the No. 2 job.
Dr Koh, on the other hand, sailed in as the party president without a contest when nominations closed at noon yesterday.
Apart from a straight fight for the No. 2 post, there are up to 10 candidates for the three vice-presidents post, half of whom are non-Chinese. One of them, Dr Asharuddin Ahmad, is the first Malay to vie for a key post.
Gerakan, as political analyst Khoo Kay Peng pointed out, has never really been tested as a non-race-based party.
“They are probably part of Tsu Koon’s cai tan (menu or list). They would not be able to make it without his support,’” said Khoo.
Gerakan’s leadership and membership have always been Chinese-dominated and it looks like Dr Koh is embarking on a bold experiment to change the image and outlook of the party.
Gerakan will be the first of the Barisan Nasional big four to hold its national gathering since the March 8 losses and there is no telling how far the delegates will go in getting things off their chest.
Last year, delegates lashed out at politicians who played the race card and waved the keris.
Chang: The Perak strongman and protege of Tun Dr Lim Keng Yaik is going for the party’s No. 2 job.
There will be even more hot button issues this year if the Gerakan website is any indication.
The normally cut-and-dry website has never been as lively as in recent months, with fierce postings calling for the abolition of the ISA, the sacking of Ahmad Ismail and for Gerakan to quit the Barisan.
Dr Koh is taking over a party that is a shadow of what it used to be.
The party is going through choppy seas after being wiped out in Penang in the elections.
The prospect of winning back the state in the near future, as one member said in Hokkien, is like “hai tay, bong chiam” (at the bottom of the sea, groping for the missing needle).
Several key party figures have quit the party since the elections. One of them, Datuk Dr Tan Kee Kwong, no less than the son of the late founder member Tan Sri Dr Tan Chee Khoon, has joined PKR.
“No other party has suffered such losses or defections. It’s like losing blood,” said Khoo.
In fact, the majority of the party grassroots want to quit the Barisan.
They are still seething over the Datuk Ahmad Ismail controversy, particularly the incident where an Umno politician smashed a framed picture of Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon and ripped it apart.
Many Penang Chinese are Baba-Nyonya who have been in this country for so many generations that they even have their own unique sub-culture.
Referring to them as “squatters” was really over the limit and it will be some time before this episode passes.
The mood in the party, said central committee member Teng Chang Yeow, is very unsettled.
“There is still a lot of finger-pointing at the party leadership, at our component partners.
The blame game is not over yet,” said Chang Yeow, the former assemblyman who, at the height of the general election campaign, had been named a potential Chief Minister.
Young leaders like him have adjusted more easily to the new terrain and he has learnt to see the lighter side of his party’s predicament. Recently, a friend, when introducing him to some people, said, “Chang Yeow used to be the next Chief Minister.”
“I keep telling my colleagues, when you are up, don’t be too happy, when you are down, don’t be too sad. We enjoyed the good times, now is the time for us to give back,” said Teng.
The national delegates conference next weekend will not resolve outstanding issues but it will provide the forum for delegates to air their grouses and also their hopes for the future.
The calls to sever ties with the Barisan will continue to echo.
“It’s a genuine concern and we can’t stop delegates from discussing it. You’ve got to understand that everywhere they go, our members are belittled by friends who ask them, how can you sit there and let people insult you like that?” said Tan Sri Dr Chin Fook Weng, one of the most-respected senior figures in the party today.
But Dr Koh is an establishment man and no one really expects him to lead an exodus out of the Barisan. He will probably allow his members to let off steam, cool down, then pull them back to the middle path.
He has been struggling in the unfamiliar role of opposition politician in Penang and reporters complain about how he sometimes issues up to three press statements a day ala the style of the other Mr Opposition, Lim Kit Siang.
But Dr Koh, who is also the former Penang Gerakan chairman, is now the Kuala Lumpur chairman. He will be adopting a lower profile in the Penang scene when he moves on to the national stage.
The KY-era closed when Tun Dr Lim Keng Yaik stepped down two years ago. The Koh-era will officially begin next week.
Dr Koh has big shoes to fill. Apart from his big personality, Dr Lim’s talent was being able to hold together diverse groups in the party, from the scholarly and professional types to what is known as the phai kia (bad guys).
Dr Koh is a pretty decent person with sound academic credentials. His shortcoming is his inability to accept people who are opposed to him.
In politics, one cannot expect to be liked by all and leadership is also about being able to deal with the good, the bad and the ugly.
“His party is at rock bottom and the challenge ahead is enormous,” said Khoo.
Still, when you hit rock bottom, the only way to go is up.