A square peg in a round hole – Gerakan and Permatang Pauh

Another of my column was published in Malaysian Insider this morning. It is titled : A square peg in a round Hole. My picture was posted on the main page of the web paper, for those who would like to see my ugly and haggard face, they can go to the link.

I will post the whole article here, and again would like to hear your comments in this:

Malaysian Insider

A Square Peg in a Round Hole

AUG 18 — A grassroots member asked me recently about the role of Parti Gerakan in the Permatang Pauh by-election. I told him that this by-election would exert very strong pressure on the present Gerakan leadership to decide whether the party should continue to remain in the Barisan Nasional.

The recent call by Tan Lian Hoe, Gerakan national Wanita chief, for the party to pull out from the BN and the endorsement of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim in Permatang Pauh by Dr Toh Kin Woon, a CC member, are just manifestations of the strong undercurrent that is flowing in the party even though what we usually see is the calm demeanour put up by the leadership since the March 8 general election.

This undercurrent is now threatening to come to the surface and if the leadership chooses to ignore it, a strong tsunami may rock its leadership in the coming national delegates conference in October.

A party’s root is in its ideology. Gerakan’s ideology is to fight for a fair and equal society where every individual regardless of race, sex or creed will be given an equal opportunity to realise his or her potential in the fields he or she chooses. The party believes in non-sectarian principles and advocates advancement of the people through policies based on social democratic ideals.

Under these ideals, the party advocates helping the less fortunate and the poor not along any racial or religious lines, but rather based on social strata and on a “needs” basis.

Going back to its history, Gerakan joined the BN in the early Seventies, mainly to bring development to the people in Penang. In the aftermath of May 13, it also wanted to reduce political friction and promote conciliation among the races. It was in fact one of the founders of the BN.

It has to be noted that at that time Umno was a much more respected party than now and money politics, as is widely practised in Umno nowadays, had not reared its ugly head yet. Even then, the ideology of Gerakan and most of the BN component parties were very different.

Gerakan is a socialist party, whereas the big brothers of the BN, namely Umno, MCA and MIC, are all race-based parties; and none are social democrats.

Nevertheless, it was possible then, in the early Seventies and in the aftermath of May 13, for the people to buy into the reason why Gerakan had to shelf its ideals of a fair and equitable society for a short term, join the BN and be supportive of affirmative action based on race, to enable the Malays to catch up in all the sectors.

This support was, however, not intended to be more than short term. Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, a founder of Gerakan as well as the BN and a former chief minister of Penang, was said to be not in favour of extending the NEP beyond its original designated term. (Unfortunately, Lim lost in the 1990 general election and retired from politics just before the NEP was supposed to come to an end.) In exchange for shelving its ideals, Gerakan managed to bring development to Penang and improve the living standards as well as the economy of Penang folk.

The leaders of Gerakan also hoped that by being part of the ruling BN, the party could exert its influence and correct whatever wrongs or anomalies from the inside.

If Gerakan has a strong voice or is in a position to dictate terms within the BN, it could try and change the direction of the whole coalition. Unfortunately, Gerakan is only a small party with not enough clout to really effect any changes.

In the process, instead of trying to change the other component parties, Gerakan’s ideology was hijacked. The perception is that it has become just another Chinese-based party, albeit one perceived to be of better conscience than the rest, which is impotent to bring about any significant policy change. The immediate past president of Gerakan, Dr Lim Keng Yaik, has even been quoted as saying that Gerakan’s role within the BN was like that of a beggar.

So in reality, Gerakan has become a square peg in a round hole. How can a square peg function in a round hole? Put it another way, how can Gerakan exert its “fair and equal” ideology within such a race-orientated environment?

To continue to hope so, after more than three decades inside the BN without any success, is really to lie to one’s own self and conscience. Only when the leaders can break out of this self-denial cocoon can there be objective re-evaluation of the future direction of the party. Hence the increasingly loud call from its grassroots to re-examine its role within the BN.

Gerakan was truly multi-racial in its early days, with luminous leaders such as Prof Syed Alatas, V. David, Tan Chee Khoon, Lim Chong Eu and others. Alas, it is no longer so. The whole multi-racial approach has to be sacrificed under the BN’s emphasis on race and the skewed NEP.

How to recruit Malay members when the big brother is a Malay-based party that views such an act as stepping over the boundary? Without any creditable Malay leaders, how can a party claim to be multi-racial, given that the Malays are the majority race in Malaysia?

As I told one top leader of the party, no matter how good the reform undertaken by Gerakan, if it is still perceived to be subservient to Umno and impotent to push for changes within the coalition, it is signing its own death sentence, given the perception that Umno’s present culture will only lead the coalition slowly into a self-destructive mode.

In a way, just one racist remark from an Umno party leader will negate all the good work done by Gerakan, no matter how hard Gerakan tries to reform and change within the coalition.

Pakatan Rakyat is not a bed of roses either, given the conflicting ideology of two of its components, the DAP and Pas. It was in fact unthinkable to even suggest that the DAP could work with Pas just a few years ago.

Pakatan exists because of Anwar, and even those who have reservations about him would have to give credit to him for realising many people’s dream of a two-party system, albeit an imperfect one at the moment. It is this dawning of a two-party system that has given many Malaysians a glimmer of hope that perhaps there would be better governance with lesser emphasis on race after the March general election. And Anwar is perceived to be key to this two-party system.

In this context, in the eyes of many Malaysians, the fight in Permatang Pauh is no longer about Anwar and Umno. It is no longer about Anwar the person, but about what he represents: A hope that finally raced-based policies can be done away with; a hope that there would be a better check and balance, the lack of which has been the main reasons why corruption and abuses have become so rampant; a hope that society would become more open, racial polarisation would be less and there would be more accountability and transparency.

It has become the fight for the survival of the still fragile two-party system. Many in civil society believe that everything must be done to nurture it so it will grow stronger and can play the role of an effective watchdog and be a counterbalance to the BN.

These aspirations are similar to that of many members in Gerakan, which has a similar ideology to that of PKR and DAP. It is therefore inevitable that Permatang Pauh would exert pressure on the leadership which has pledged to its grassroots after March 8 that it will go back to its ideology and the people. How it hopes to do this within a raced-based coalition would be the question most political analysts are asking.

Dr Hsu Dar Ren is a medical doctor and blogs on socio-economic issues; he believes that a fair and equitable society with good governance is the key to the future of this country.


27 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Justin Choo
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 13:19:17

    Dr hsu,
    You look like in your 30’s , dashing and charming. I am getting jealous. Like you said, the world is very unfair!! 🙂


  2. hadi
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 14:17:48

    One day I was briefing my boss, he told me there is no fairness in this word. Can you imagine someone on top of the organization passing such remarks. This is why the country will not move forward-hypocrite, no vision, meritocracy or what have you. About time we need to sit down. Dr can we form up whatever group we want to call it and let me know, I have served the nation for 34 years and now is the time for change. Acting President GERAKAN I just dont understand PHD holder like you is in the state of denial, its bad for future generation.


  3. romerz
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 14:17:56

    Excellent write-up!!!


  4. Dr Hsu
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 14:18:55

    Justin, the next time i come to Penang , I will buy you a coffee. 🙂

    Anyway, many told me that I am young for my age, since I have not much worries and not much things to desire in life. A simple man with a simple life.


  5. Gerakan Member
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 14:34:53

    Saudara Hsu,

    Do you think that Gerakan should leave BN?
    I ‘m worry about the future of party, should we join the pakatan rakyat? Frankly speaking, I don’t believe to Pakatan Rakyat too. What do you think?


  6. Alan Tan
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 14:42:50

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading your article. We need more people like you to provide a balanced, unbiased write-up to shape up this society for the betterment of our future generations.


  7. Dr Hsu
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 14:51:15

    Gerakan member, we have to come out first. We can help to strengthen the 2 party system by ironically stayed out of either front, but support Pakatan to carry out its nonracial policies .

    We can support as an ally but not necessary join . SO we can become a better watchdog for the rakyat. Whoever is right we support, whoever is wrong, we shoot


  8. pilocarpine
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 16:53:14

    support as an ally, but not join?

    easier said than done.

    what is right, what is wrong?

    where does the grey areas lie…

    maturity of malaysian politics is highly questionable.


  9. JOHJ
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 17:12:28

    Saudara Dr Hsu,

    The choice (of leaving BN) doesnt come from the party’s leadership. Party members should decide once and for all in this coming party election. Being a ‘Katak’ or ‘running dog’ doesnt make any difference if it is good for the country.


  10. Yow Lop Siaw
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 17:39:42

    A very well written piece, and well presented. I have also decided that I should, like many socially conscious Malaysians, be more vocal and be more proactive in pushing for a fairer and more just Malaysian society, especially the development of a two-party system. This will act as a good watchdog to the many abuses and excesses of the BN. As suggested by Hadi, I am also interested in getting all those who share this same sentiment to form an action group to put forth our views in a more vocal way.


  11. petestop
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 17:46:21

    A square peg can be made to work in a round hole, if you downsize the square peg and grease it with a lot of $$$.

    This is what happens to many who hang on to UMNO’s coattails.

    Unfortunately KTK still did’nt get it… I wish Gerakan grassroots will take future into own hands and choose the leaders that will get you guys back to your own roots.


  12. Kenny Gan
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 21:27:23

    I think Koh Tsu Koon is the stumbling block for Gerakan to leave BN. See how he shoots down the idea immediately?

    IS KTK still harbouring the illusion that Gerakan can re-capture Penang as part of BN? Is he still under the delusion that Gerakan can reform Umno from within?

    As a Chief Minister without power, KTK should know how powerless Gerakan is in BN. How he was so cowed by Umno Youth shouting that Penang Malays are marginalized until Lim Kit Siang had to come to his rescue.

    The grassroots should know what to do with KTK in Oct. Show him the door!


  13. beeghim
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 23:12:55

    Yes get out before it is too late or ktk party will have no voice and disappear forever in the next GE.


  14. patek1472
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 23:39:47

    1. Is it possible that DSAI wins the Permatang Pauh elections and become the next Chief Minister of Penang as a stepping stone to becoming Prime Minister?
    Adakah mungkinnya DSAI memenangi pilihan raya Permatang Pauh dan menjadi Ketua Menteri Pulau Pinang sebelum menjadi Perdana Menteri?

    2. Is it possible that DSAB resign as PM of Malaysia after the Permatang Pauh elections and handover to DSNTR earlier than expected?
    Adakah mungkinnya DSAB meletak jawatan sebagai PM Malaysia selepas pilihan raya Permatang Pauh dan menyerahkannya kepada DSNTR lebih awal dari jangkaan?

    3. Is it possible that UMNO and PKR will combine to form a new party?
    Adakah mungkinnya UMNO dan PKR akan bergabung untuk membentuk sebuah parti baru?

    4. Is it possible that all other component parties of BN without UMNO will combine with PKR to form a new party?
    Adakah mungkinnya parti-parti komponen BN lain kecuali UMNO akan bergabung dengan PKR untuk membentuk sebuah parti baru?

    5. Is it possible that PKR and PAS will combine to form a new party?
    Adakah mungkinnya PKR dan PAS akan bergabung untuk membentuk sebuah parti baru?

    6. Is it possible that PKR, DAP and HINDRAF will combine to form a new party?
    Adakah mungkinnya PKR,DAP dan HINDRAF akan bergabung untuk membentuk sebuah parti baru?

    7. Is it possible that TDM and all other Little Napoleons knows of these possibilities and are preparing to migrate?
    Adakah mungkinnya TDM dan semua “Little Napoleons” mengetahui kemungkinan-kemungkinan ini dan sedang bersedia untuk berhijrah?

    8. Is it possible that DSAI is charged and disqualified as Member of Parliament after winning the Permatang Pauh election?
    Adakah mungkinnya DSAI didakwa dan tidak layak sebagai Ahli Parlimen selepas memenangi pilihan raya Permatang Pauh?

    9. Is it possible that there will be another by election in Selangor or Perak?
    Adakah mungkinnya ada pilihan raya kecil semula di Selangor atau Perak?

    10. Is it possible that there will be new religious parties formed besides PAS eg. Christian, Buddhist, Confucianism, Hindu, Bahai, Sikhism, Judaism or other beliefs?
    Adakah mungkinnya akan tertubuhnya parti berugama baru selain PAS seperti Kristian, Buddha, Konfucius, Hindu, Bahai, Sikh, Yahudi atau lain-lain kepercayaan?

    To be continued…….
    Akan disambung……



  15. Justin Choo
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 23:46:29

    Dr Hsu,

    Now is the hour. Your dream has come true. Dr Toh has resigned. This is the beginning of the end of Gerakan!!

    And you have visitors from Gerakan as well!!


  16. romerz
    Aug 19, 2008 @ 01:35:41

  17. monsterball
    Aug 19, 2008 @ 01:36:46

    Nice post Doc!! Everyone have said the nice things to you….I fully support…….especially Justin sharp eyes…….saying…how young you look.
    I should know……I meet you.
    Malaysian Chinese have few distinct characteristics.
    They will not be the first to instigate…to cause trouble..to start a fire……but will protect their rights…..if the fire is threatening to destroy their futures.
    Just like in May13th 1969…..they were celebrating their victories..and only struck back…when properties are burnt and Malaysian Chinese were killed for no reasons.
    All young Malaysian Chinese..who are selfish now…is due to the fact..they read the events..with distorted history….from UMNO..blaming the Chinese. The can never feel the real pains and sufferings from those who went through the events and lost lives and properties.
    They can not feel for others…..of their own race……due to being too greedy an selfish.
    I said….Malaysian Chinese of yesteryears.. are gentlemen…..never start a fire…but very brave to defend their rights.
    Just to touch a little on Gerakan….it was a group came out from MCA and won the Penang State election……..making Chinese residents so proud…to have a “Chinese” State.
    Seeing Malacca surrendered to the Malays….makes the Malaysian Chinese sick to the stomach….but the evil force and temptations to get rich easily are so great…………..once they agree to support.. UMNO on this…politics have changed from caring people…..to caring for themselves.
    In Penang…it had to be a Gerakan Chief Minister…..or else they would have pulled out…..at that time,
    Mahathir knew how to sweet talk his way……and under Lim Kheng Yiak….who was a minster at that time..his puppet ….Koh Tsu Khoon was chosen.
    How great Gerakan felt against MCA…..control and State……and also important ministerial post given!!
    Now look back to 18 years under Koh.
    Penang have slipped from being “The
    Pearl of the Orient”…to become a dirty gangster like city…with no rules…..lousy road system…and poor getting poorer………but like all Malaysian Chinese…they seldom complaint…….but experts in the survival game.
    Thus…the game….who you know…and not what you now….a clear disease …no good for Penang people..is supported by a non performance puppet….Koh Tsu Khoon…….is on…and Mahathir controlled Gerakan completely…………and anyone close to Mahathir are corrupted and insincere.
    See Koh Tsu Khoo…supporting UMNO at Permatang Pauh…as Gerakan Chief?
    So glad ….few have resigned…..and let Gerakan keep shaming the good Malaysian Chinese.
    The more they shame us….the more will resign.
    Gerakan is a dead party…only in name…for those to avoid..corruption charges………hoping UMNO will protect them. How low can a man go…to play politics in Gerakan.
    Have not Koh Tsu Khoon shown his true colour now??


  18. Hoyohoyo
    Aug 19, 2008 @ 11:10:33

    I think “join” the Pakatan is not really the right word…

    it could be “form a coalition” with the existing PR parties…

    If PR turns out to be worse… one can always switch side… the problem is with the grassroots will… 😉

    Will be interesting to read about Dr Toh’s quit… 🙂


  19. wazzup
    Aug 19, 2008 @ 15:49:03

    Why does Gerakan need other party to survive? Act today. Show some brawn, some brain. Until today we seldom hear them say anything apart from the ‘we are beggars’ whining, nothing. Fade into the darkness is what they are heading.


  20. 2g
    Aug 20, 2008 @ 12:30:36

    Dr. Hsu,

    I am of the view that Gerakan members (you too if you are still a member) should ask themselves the questions below, see where each of you stand, then decide for your ownself, where to remain as Gerakan members, join Pakatan Rakyat or just resign and stay out before deciding what to do next. There is no hope Gerakan will ever pull out of BN, with the kind of so-called top leaders around.

    Q1. What ideology each of you has in mind when joining Gerakan?

    If your ideology was not multiracial, then you should stay put in Gerakan. Many of you, (of course not Dr. Hsu), have no clear idea that multiracial was the ideology before being hijacked by your top leaders (and of course Umno)

    Many of you believe Gerakan is a Chinese party, and Umno is happy with that. You can see this in their distribution of seats in Penang and let you guys compete with MCA to see who win more seats in Penang.

    If your answer to Q1 is multiracial, then it was a mistake for you to join Gerakan in the first place. As Dr. Hsu explained, how can Gerakan attracts Malays to be member of Gerakan in the set-up of BN? Multiracial can never be flourished in BN.

    Q2. Do you think Gerakan won past General Elections on the votes of the Chinese or the Malay?

    If your answer is won on Chinese votes, then you are still on dreamland. Chinese, other than those in Penang, never support Gerakan. Gerakan, who was contested under BN ticket, was won by the Malay votes. This is why you can see you beloved Lim Keng Yaik never contested in Chinese majority seats. But now, as evidenced in last 12th GE, even Penang Chinese, who have sentimental value on Gerakan (apparently Dr. Hsu has this value also) are not supporting your party anymore. So, you should resign as Gerakan member since the party has no future. Come on, be realistic.

    Even if your answer to this Q2 is won by Malay votes, I still think that you should resign. Why? Because Malay votes to Gerakan are not enough to let you win, if not, why Gerakan ‘kalah teruk’ in the last 12th GE? Even Malays are fed-up with Umno, why not you?

    Q3. Do you have any more string attached with Umno in term of contracts, positions in government.

    If yes, then that maybe the ‘carrots’ for you to hang around in Gerakan. But, just ask yourselves, such carrots will be hung around for how long? Sure will not be for long since Umno members are squeezing amongst temselves for such ‘carrots’. Will you guys got it? Honestly, you will get only crumbs, if fortune, if not, ‘suailah you? So, you should resign.

    If you do not have any string attached, then what are you waiting for?

    Q4. Final question, are you ‘smart’ or ‘silly’?

    If smart, you should resign.

    If silly, then nobody can help you. You are as good as your top leader like KTK, LKY. If Lim Chong You failed in his efforts to change BN from within, how can KTK do that? In fact, both of them are victims of Umno racial politics.

    So, Dr. Hsu, do you consider youself ‘smart’ or ‘silly’?

    My questions above all point to ‘You should all resign as Gerakan members’. There is no hope Gerakan will ever opt out of BN based on the ‘denial state’ of your ‘beloved’ leaders. They are hanging to ‘small carrots’ hung by Umno.


  21. Dr Hsu
    Aug 20, 2008 @ 13:50:43

    Hi 2g, well said, you points.

    I am just waiting till October to see there is any leadership changes. we have been vocal and trying to influence the memebrs to realsie that the whole party should come out of BN.

    If there is a leadership change , then it is likely wht i have stressed along will come thru.

    Only thing is, one by one, all the credible leaders are being forced out.

    But like what Jeff ooi said in his blog, there will be challengers to the leadership. we wait and see


  22. Dr Hsu
    Aug 20, 2008 @ 14:08:29

    2g, i am being silly now, but soon will be smart when all my efforts either succeed or fail


  23. 2g
    Aug 20, 2008 @ 19:55:37

    Dr Hsu,

    Perhaps you guys who hold on to multiracial ideology, upon forming another multiracial party out of BN and Pakatan Rakyat, put a Chinese candidate to contest in Malay majority seats where Malay form at least 51% of the electorates, win or lose for such strategy will not be important because such a party need to project itself as ‘truly multiracial’.

    You won’t be surprised such party will get support from Malay majority. As I can see, Malay’s mindsets are quite ‘multiracial’.

    Some may argue that BN already tested out such strategy like putting Lim Keng Yaik in Bruas, but to me, this cannot be counted as previously, such Malay majority votes were because of their supports for Umno, not Lim Keng Yaik.

    I long to see you to take the lead to contest in such a seat, if you choose to get involved actively in politics.

    So long, Wee Choo Keong did that in Wangsa Maju, and he won.

    If you guys resigned and forming a ‘truly multiracial party and not through ‘coliation’, then I predict BN will die of natural death. You guys should never form any coliation to play multiracial politics, it won’t work.


  24. 2g
    Aug 20, 2008 @ 21:58:25

    Even if there is leadership change this coming October, I don’t see any future for Gerakan, unless it pulls out of BN upon by this new leadership.


  25. romerz
    Aug 22, 2008 @ 02:37:42

    Dear 2g,

    Multiracial is no longer the catchword of the younger generation (under 25) who form 56% of this country’s population.

    For them, non-racial is the catchword. Unfortunately for us those who hold the power structures and in turn determine the present and immediate future comes from the remaining 44%

    The question is more how to prise from their grip these power structures without allowing anarchy to ferment.


  26. Trackback: A message to Permatang Pauh voters « Dr Hsu’s Forum
  27. serendipity
    Oct 05, 2008 @ 10:29:43

    umno stepped on ktk’s photo n yet he tells gerakan members not 2 get emotional n leave bn.
    i suppose he will get emotional n leave bn only wen umno steps on his face proper.
    umno leaders must b laughing at d lack of backbone of a chinese leader.
    umno members united 2 not take action against mad smile
    wen will gerakan members unite 4 their dignity?
    or do we have any at all?


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