Yesterday, NST published a column on the aftermath of Lee Kah Choon incident.
For the benefits of those who do not sunscribe to NST, I will post the article here:
All in a lather over the Kah Choon switch
Pakatan Rakyat has ruled for almost two months in three states with significant Chinese populations. SHANNON TEOH ponders if Datuk Lee Kah Choon’s exit from Gerakan could be the first of many among the predominantly Chinese parties
“I DON’T see what the big hoo-ha is all about,” says Fui K. Soong, chief executive officer of the Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research, MCA’s think-tank. She feels Datuk Lee Kah Choon should just be left to work on his new jobs.
She’s probably right that the former Gerakan deputy secretary-general should be allowed to choose between his professional aspirations and his political affiliations.
“Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye jumped from DAP to ‘pro-establishment’ for the same reason, because he wanted to serve,” Fui notes.
But the “hoo-ha” is there because the move has sparked many other debates, chief among them the question of crossovers.
Prior to Lee’s appointments, Barisan Nasional (BN) deputy chairman Datuk Seri Najib Razak had dismissed claims of MPs crossing over. He has since decided that “we have to deal with it with urgency”.
“We cannot dismiss it as pure fabrication.”
Across the fence, Lim Guan Eng’s election strategist Liew Chin Tong claims that the chief minister’s offer to Lee to helm Penang Development Corporation and investPenang was a move to foster bipartisan co-operation — no invitation has ever been made to Lee to join the party.
Liew, now MP for Bukit Bendera, infers from the election results that many BN members in Penang must have voted for DAP candidates.
“We recognise the support from BN members and this encourages us to be inclusive.
“We complained about BN excluding us from everything, so now we are encouraging co-operation.”
While BN leaders disagree and worry about “mutiny”, some grassroots members have spoken in support of Lee.
“We object to the use of the word ‘crossover’,” says Cheras division chief Dr Hsu Dar Ren.
“He wanted to still be a Gerakan member. We see it as a civil service post for the betterment of the people.”
Dr Hsu is in a group of Kuala Lumpur-based leaders, led by KL-Federal Territory chief Datuk Dr Tan Kee Kwong, who blame party adviser Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik for the loss of Lee, widely regarded as a leader of integrity and ability.
While many observers may not see Lee’s move as a defection, there is no doubt that this has led to thoughts about crossovers, especially among disillusioned members of BN’s predominantly Chinese parties, Gerakan and MCA.
In Penang, Perak and Selangor, states with a large proportion of Chinese, the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) governments have been rolling out reformist policies; issuing land titles to villagers and modernising pig farming. Fui notes that the election saw volunteerism swinging in DAP’s favour, with people queuing up to be polling agents.
Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng, formerly with Gerakan’s Sedar think-tank, feels it is legitimate to cross over as there is no point to being part of a winning team if you can’t play a role.
“Even if they feel they can be more vocal now in BN, can they be as vocal as Pakatan Rakyat? In BN, you will be reprimanded for being too outspoken.”
Ong Kian Ming, now reading for a doctorate in political science at Duke University in the US, claims that higher up the chain, politicians will look to protect their interests.
“They can still leverage appointments such as directors of public-listed companies,” he says, citing the instance of Datuk Chor Chee Heung after he was dropped as a deputy minister in 2004.
Khoo notes, however, that PR now has many positions in state government agencies to fill.
“They are plugging gaps. In any industry, if you’re new, what you do is hire experienced people from your competitors because it will benefit you and hurt the competition.”
Fui observes: “It’s the same as what Parti Bersatu Sabah did in 1986 and Gerakan in 1969. In DAP’s case, it is hiring people out of BN to plug the gaps.”
But would such a policy cause strife in DAP? Party chairman Karpal Singh has expressed a personal view that Lim should not have offered such a position to a BN member. Perhaps he was aware that DAP members might not have been happy with being overlooked.
But Khoo thinks Karpal should rest easy, as there are more positions than can be filled internally: “The reality now is that if you don’t promote your good people, they can and will leave because so many positions are available. It’s career enhancement.”
Liew sees the party as masterful at acquisitions. The recent crop of MPs such as Tony Pua and Charles Santiago have emulated the likes of vice-chairman and three-time Kepong MP Dr Tan Seng Giaw, who joined DAP in the late 1970s.
Reformers in both Gerakan and the MCA want the BN structure re-examined due to the perceived dominance of Umno. Some Gerakan members also call for a return to a multiracial platform. On the other hand, some MCA members want the party to be seen to do more to champion the interests of the Chinese.
However, while leadership change is not inconceivable, these reformers look set to be disappointed.
Much of the focus will be on the perceived failings of top leadership in the March 8 aftermath. It is only among a few grassroots leaders such as Dr Hsu and perhaps some veterans of the heady days of 1969 in Gerakan that there is a rethinking of ideology.
These figures have even mooted the idea of leaving the race-based politics of BN to pursue their multiethnic ideology. Says Dr Hsu: “It’s almost impossible to realise our ideology in BN. There has been a suggestion that we form a third bloc that supports good policies from either coalition.”
Khoo, however, thinks there is insufficient sentiment to turn the ship around. “Those seeking reform want to trigger more divisions and branches to speak out. But it has not happened.”
The endgame is uncertain. The more idealistic Gerakan members also happen to be the more loyal and are likely to follow the example of Dr Hsu, who insists he would rather duke it out in the party than leave.
Khoo says it is hard to predict any crossovers, as it would depend on whether PR would have a role for them. But he is certain many would quit if they see no change.
Perhaps Fui’s attitude is the most pragmatic, given the circumstances.
“It’s a good opportunity to clean up the system. Then you will know that those who are left behind are the ones genuinely with the party.”