Gerakan Party, QUO VADIS?
Truly, 2008 is Gerakan's annus horibilis, to paraphrase Queen Elizabeth II.
The name, Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia, means "Malaysian People's Movement Party". (Note the phrase,"people's movement")
Formed on 24th March 1968, Gerakan Party aimed to be THE liberal party in Malaysia against the politics of the race-based parties of UMNO, MCA and MIC.
Formed by the intellectual elites coming mainly from the academia, Gerakan sets out with idealistic aims to transform the country. It had very noble objectives, for sure, but sadly, the nobleness of those objectives were overtaken by, and had to succumb to, the realities of racial politics when it joined Barisan Nasional, uberrima fides, so as to be part of government.
But as we all know, the idealism of most, if not all, academia-based intellectual elites remain simply just that, idealism that is not sufficiently nurtured with the milk of raw experience; one that is sorely needed to confront directly the ugly race-politics favoured by UMNO (primus inter pares) and its cohorts since the birth of the nation in 1957.
As a reminder to its voters, the party had said it:
" ...Strives for an egalitarian Malaysian Society based on humanitarian and democratic principles and to ensure social and economic justice by :
(a) eliminating any exploitation and giving full opportunity to everyone for legitimate economic advancement;
(b) promoting a just and equitable distribution of wealth;
(c) providing adequate and efficient facilities and amenities with proper regulatory control to ensure fair and just pricing;
(d) ensuring the ownership of economic lots of land by tile peasants and others and their efficient utilisation;
(e) encouraging and promoting healthy trade unionism and uplifting the conditions and standard of living of the working population; and
(f) eliminating all forms of gender-based discrimination..."
Its 40-years since its existence....and that is NOT a short time for a small nation like ours.
Surely, it is about time for the party to account on how the party had really achieved, in part, if not all of those goals and objectives to those who had faithfully voted for the party through good and bad times, and enabling it to govern the precious island of Penang.
Lest we tend to forget, Gerakan is part and parcel of the parties managing this Government; Gerakan is one of the co-drivers running this country.
It is all the more timely RIGHT NOW for the party leadership, past and present, to measure the party's performance, tangibly or otherwise, against those objectives and particularly its very raison d' etre.
A good starting point is to ask its achievements over the 40 years; namely on how far Gerakan had helped to bring about its intended "Malaysian egalitarian society by eliminating any exploitation and giving full opportunity to everyone for legitimate economic advancement".
Many Malaysians, especially Chinese and Indians, including the many marginalised Malays today will easily volunteer the answer to that question. It is little, if at all.
The party leadership cannot put the blame on UMNO or other component parties in BN for its failures or its poor performance, because you are part of the Government for more than 30 years. You had a chance to show-case your capabilities to achieve your mandate in Penang. You had leaders sitting side by side with UMNO and other ruling parties in the Cabinet.
Over the last 30 years, your party faithfuls and those who voted you in were depending on you to advance their aspirations embodied in your party's goals and objectives. But you failed them miserably.
So much so, they did not blink an eye to boot you out of Penang totally. And you have lost so heavily even in other states. Your President was given a farewell card with a "NO, thank you" note by the voters. The voters have handed their judgment. Nemo debet esse judex in propria causa.
Gerakan is in, what intellectual elites will say, "Sempa in excreta solus solum profundum variat" - I am always in the shit, only the depth varies.
Why is that so?
It is because there is a sea-change or as you intellectual elites would say, a paradigm shift, in the attitudes of voters in 2008. They saw an alternative before them. They were presented with a new window through which they saw their hopes and their aspirations for themselves and for the nation could be realised.
And the gift came from the coalition of opposition parties, which for the first time able to come together to work for a common goal; a goal which BN promised but did not deliver since 1957.
Gerakan leadership must now face the hard truth. Fortunately after March 2008, the choices for the party are much easier to make. Veritas vos liberabit. Vincit qui se vincit.
To remain in BN as a coalition partner, Gerakan's goals and objectives will not be achieved, as the party's 40 years of experience had shown. It is a known fact that Gerakan has to take a "video et taceo" stance if it remains in BN. Thus, if it chooses to remain in BN, the party has to discard or revamp its mandate just to remain relevant.
An easier option is for Gerakan to leave Barisan Nasional, at least it does not need to revamp its admirable goals and objectives. Being outside of Government, it allows the party to voice openly in public and in Parliament by its representatives on what it truly stands for, which it could not do so while in partnership with UMNO.
Gerakan's departure from BN will not shake the roof of BN and certainly will do the least harm to the country. In fact, it might even do a better good, given the party's noble objectives set against the ugly race politics of UMNO, MCA and MIC.
Thus we say, it is time for Gerakan to take the bold step and leave Barisan Nasional unashamedly.
Non Progredi Est Regredi .
Read here in Anil Netto's Blog, the unedited version of the letter by Dr Choong Sim Poey, a life member of Gerakan sent to NST
Excerpts from Anil Netto's article: Read here
".... Dr Choong Sim Poey, a life member of Gerakan, set a letter to the NST which was “emasculated” by NST.
Here below is the full version of Dr Choong Sim Poey's letter . (The bits that the NST left out are in bold red. It looks like you are still not allowed to be critical of Umno in the NST):
" I refer to Dr Toh’s analysis of Gerakan’s problems (New SundayTimes, 23 March 2008). His concluding lines on the possibility of Gerakan leaving the BN coalition as one of their options to revive the Party is not as radical a suggestion as the public may think. It is an issue familiar to many senior party members.
Even in the 1980s when Tun Lim Chong Eu was the CM in Penang (and de facto leader of the Gerakan), the ‘unfair’ allocation of seats to component parties was a chronic bone of contention. Suggestions raised to break away for this reason were rejected as unseemly and opportunistic. Nevertheless, it was generally agreed that this should remain an option when key issues were in dispute especially when it went against our basic party principles and objectives
Unfortunately, over the years of BN/Umno dominance, this seemed to have been put aside in favour of ‘pragmatic’ politics. This meant accepting anything that the Umno leadership came out with to curry favour with their own members with a total disregard for the position of their coalition partners.
This was tested when Umno sought to undermine Pas by becoming an Islamic State and ‘Ketuanan Melayu‘ became the battle cry for Umno to regain their grass-roots support during which time there was not even a squeak from any Gerakan leaders.
This pragmatic approach to politics by Gerakan included condoning blatant opportunism and cronyism by Umno leaders in the name of the NEP. All this Gerakan willingly accepted in exchange for remaining ‘permanently’ under the BN’s comfort zone, nominally governing the state of Penang, until this shock election defeat.
I am writing this to put in historical perspective the position of Gerakan vis-a-vis the BN. I maintain that there was never any acceptance or assumption that Gerakan’s membership in the BN coalition was a permanent partnership to be maintained at all costs! The Gerakan leadership will now have to seriously consider if the cost paid in this election has been too high!
Dr Choong Sim Poey
Gerakan: the decadence of an idealist party
"....Last Sunday, Gerakan acting president Dr Koh Tsu Koon told the press "certain Umno leaders’ deeds, words and actions in the past two years have resulted in a feeling of resentment".
What is truly puzzling is that the former Penang chief minister only realised this after Gerakan suffered a crushing defeat on March 8.
Would it have been different had the Penang-based party chosen to speak out fearlessly when Khairy Jamaluddin and Hishammuddin Hussein indulged themselves in racist remarks and gestures at the Umno general assemblies?
Gerakan’s ignominious rout was already in the making before the March election.
My advice for some party faithful to contemplate a withdrawal from the rotten Barisan Nasional coalition to preserve their dignity went unheeded.
With the benefit of hindsight, even a last minute pullout by Gerakan would not have saved the party from the electoral massacre.
Koh Tsu Koon - Gerakan's Weakest Link
Tsu Koon was willy-nilly over the choice of his successor as chief minister, and it irked the Penang voters. Worse, in passing the ball to Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, he was being utterly insensitive to their anger, which only reinforced the impression of him serving as Umno stooge.
The Penangites could not care less if it was the wishy-washy Chia Kwang Chye, the dreary Lee Kah Choon, the seasoned Teng Hock Nam, or even the young and articulate Teng Chang Yeow, as they had decided to do an "all change" and vote all of them out.
Pretty much like what the Australian voters did to John Howard last November, the voters had to decide for Tsu Koon since he could not make up his own mind. I salute the Penangites for their boleh spirit and discernment that Malaysia as a nation of sheep had begotten a government of wolves.
Gerakan's Lost Cause for Multi-racialism
In 1968, Gerakan was founded on the firm basis of multiracialism, with stalwart intellectuals like the late Syed Hussein Alatas and Wang Gungwu among its top leaders. Dr. J B Peter and Madam Ganga Nair were there too. Dr Tan Chee Khoon, latterly Mr Opposition, even ditched the Labour Party and joined Gerakan, which was almost a natural home for idealists and elite socialists at the time.
Also in 1968, Dr Seenivasegam of the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) presided over a public debate on Malaysian Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur between representatives from Gerakan and the Democratic Action Party (DAP). Those were the days when ideologues held sway.
The electoral debut of the still fledgling party could not have been more splendid, as it went on to capture Penang in the 1969 election. Who says ideology never matters in Malaysian politics?
But who could have foreseen a party that once offered so much hope for multiracial politics in the deeply racialised and divided nation of Malaysia would later become a spent force?
Today, Gerakan can only showcase second rate politicians like Mah Siew Keong, the youth leader whose waving of the Basic Foundations of our Nationhood as a clumsy protest over the keris-brandishing of his Umno counterparts was a joke.
Or what about a political dwarf in Lim Si Pin, son of the former Gerakan president Dr Lim Keng Yaik, who would not even take up the challenge for a minor debate in public? It is certainly not an unlucky coincidence that both Mah and Lim Jr. lost in the election.
Lim Keng Yaik Destroyed the Party
To be fair, Gerakan’s betrayal of its multiracial roots did not begin with Keng Yaik, who was party president for more than 25 years.
But it was under Lim that the party’s loss of multiracial outlook became most marked.
A populist, Lim had no time for polemics and was disdainful of intellectuals.
Under his leadership, Gerakan became ideologically vacuous, and behaved increasingly like Umno’s lieutenant. When Dr Mahathir Mohamad declared Malaysia an Islamic state at the Gerakan general assembly in September 2001, Lim did not even raise an eyebrow.
Because Lim was beholden first to Mahathir and then to Abdullah, his party’s response to communal and religious controversies was paltry at best. In the state constituency of Bukit Gasing that is made up of sizeable populations of Catholics and Christians, former Gerakan assemblyman Lim Thuan Seng was conspicuously silent on many religious issues.
Under the BN’s kidnap-style control that hardly tolerates even a semblance of critique, few can escape unscathed for speaking their own mind, just look at Zaid Ibrahim of Umno, Sothinathan of the MIC and Loh Seng Kok of the MCA.
That Keng Yaik is bereft of democratic beliefs can be seen from his desperate but failed attempt to save his son’s campaign in the Batu parliamentary seat recently.
Knowing that Lim Si Pin could lose, Lim resorted to relentless personal attacks on Tian Chua, the PKR candidate. It backfired and his son lost big.
Even in Beruas, which Keng Yaik represented for over 20 years, his political protege Chang Ko Youn was defeated by Ngeh Koo Ham of the DAP. When campaigning for Gerakan heavyweight Teo Kok Chee in the state assembly constituency of Skudai, Johor, Lim assured the audience Teo was "Abdul Ghani’s godson" and Skudai would receive special attention from the menteri besar. Too bad, that the voters punished Lim’s tawdriness with a stunning victory for Boo Cheng Hau, another DAP state leader - a majority of 12,854 votes.
Keng Yaik might have been able to fool mainstream journalists with his tasteless jokes and entertain them with his hearty laughs, his "glories" are fading fast nonetheless.
Gerakan Became a Chinese Party
Not only has Gerakan lost the will to harness Umno, the party has also become "sinicized" over the years.
For all the fanfare and pomp at his retirement last year, Keng Yaik is in fact an MCA reject. Kicked out of the Chinese party by Tan Siew Sin in 1973, Keng Yaik brought the mavericks – including Paul Leong Khee Seong - into Gerakan and continued his battle with his enemies in the MCA.
As Gerakan leader, Keng Yaik effectively turned Gerakan into a Chinese chauvinist party. In December 2003, he openly thanked Abdullah for giving his blessing to a future merger between Gerakan and the MCA, and vowed to do his part to persuade those who had reservations about the proposal. His blatant disregard of the non-Chinese grassroots was bordering on arrogance.
Tsu Koon’s multiethnic credentials are equally questionable. Last December, Dr. Toh Kin Woon and S Paranjothy, a Gerakan Youth leader, both lent their support to Hindraf’s demands. Tsu Koon defended Toh’s remarks as a personal opinion, but referred Paranjothy to the party’s disciplinary committee for further action.
The fact was, Paranjothy had openly chastised Umno Youth leaders, putting Tsu Koon in a difficult position. Paranjothy’s fate clearly indicates that Gerakan can no longer represent the interests of the non-Chinese; it also reveals the home truth that the party exists at Umno’s mercy.
If not for the series of evil laws that curtail media freedom, coupled with the habitual manipulation of the electoral system by the government, the myth of Gerakan as the BN’s conscience would have been busted long ago.
Throughout the 13-day campaign, Lim and Koh launched one personal attack after another against Anwar Ibrahim, but the biggest irony is that PKR is now much more genuinely multiracial than Gerakan, winning support from voters of all walks of life!
Even Dr Toh, for decades a conscientious voice in Gerakan, concedes the party had lost its multiracial identity when all its candidates fielded for the recent election were Chinese.
Meanwhile, DAP has been successful in garnering enough non-Chinese votes to come to power in Penang. Should Lim Guan Eng perform well, the feeble argument that only a Penangite could ensure effective governance in the state will be proven wrong.
Localness, after all, is the last refuge of an ambitious but brainless politician.
Return to what ideology?
Tsu Koon has also said his party will not be celebrating its 40th anniversary this year. Instead, there is a lot of soul-searching and self-criticism awaiting the rank and file, as well as the need to "go back to the basics of our ideology".
Very fine and well. But what ideology does the acting president have in mind?
Despite Gerakan’s claim to social democracy, I only know Keng Yaik was among the most capitalist-minded cabinet ministers, a torchbearer of the BN’s neo-liberal agenda who could not cease salivating at lucrative privatisation deals.
And guess what? A click on the word "ideology" on the party’s website returns nothing. Absolutely nothing.
I am curious to know what would Syed Hussein Alatas and Tan Chee Koon have to say on this six feet under?
Lest we forget, Gerakan and PPP were at each other’s throat over the right to contest in the Taiping parliamentary constituency. M Kayveas won the battle but lost the war; his political future now hangs in a balance.
Should Gerakan continue to be subservient to the racist and domineering Umno, (and) will it not suffer the fate of PPP in the not too distant future?