DAP under extreme pressure

By Baradan Kuppusamy (The Star)

The controversy in Kampung Buah Pala has given DAP’s enemies – and its allies – the chance to attack the party for failing to live up to the ideals it had championed before it seized power.

PERCEPTION is everything in politics and the DAP, which has a sound record on this score, should know this.

But with the Kampung Buah Pala controversy dragging on, the party is taking a big hit on the perception front.

The DAP is facing concerted opposition for “failing” to save the village from demolition.

Even its own political allies in Pakatan Rakyat – PAS and PKR – are lined up with the 200 residents of the village along with Hindraf, NGOs like Suaram and Aliran, and not to mention the BN – especially the MIC – and three Tamil newspapers that are giving front-page treatment to the issue.

The same type of anguish was seen during the demolition of the Mariamman Temple in Shah Alam a week before Deepavali in 2007, an inconsiderate act that sparked the Makkal Sakthi movement that eventually toppled the BN Selangor government.

Within the DAP too, a debate is raging between the top leadership and its Indian leaders who are taking the heat from their community for failing to speedily resolve the controversy.

They are discussing several solutions but nothing firm has emerged as yet except that residents should accept compensation and vacate the 2.6ha land.

Party sources said even veteran DAP veterans like life adviser Dr Chen Man Hin and DAP chairman Karpal Singh are worried the party would be seen as “cold and heartless” if a humane solution is not found.

The 200-odd villagers have been issued with eviction notices and face forced expulsion if they don’t vacate the land they and their forefathers have lived on for over a century.

The developer has given a lifeline – a one-month extension – before demolition takes place.

Among the general public, Indians especially, there is rising clamour for DAP secretary-general and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and his deputy Dr P. Ramasamy to come out of their comfort zones and grapple with the real issues of unequal and lopsided development.

NGO critics ask whether Penang needs another massive development that would alienate the people and turn this resort island into a concrete jungle.

They say the state can use its inherent powers to enforce just, fair and humane solutions instead of blaming the eviction order, previous government and the developer.

What is at stake is a traditional way of life which cash cannot buy – arguments made famous by the DAP at numerous forums pre-March 8.

Part of the reason that DAP is not sticking its head out to “save” Kampung Buah Pala is Guan Eng himself.

He goes strictly by the book and is famously adamant in demanding his way on any given issue, believing it is the fit, proper and right way.

Most of the time, he is right and the party defers to him because he goes by the book – he’s tough but fair.

In the Buah Pala case, he has rejected acquisition as a solution because the court has already ruled for an eviction and acquisition would cost a bomb.

He is wrong in taking such a narrow view.

The issues in Buah Pala – repossession, dispossession and alienation of helpless people – are all issues familiar to Guan Eng and his deputy, Dr Ramasamy.

A former academician who devoted much time trying to give voice to the voiceless, Dr Ramasamy was elected to high office with the expectations that the poor would also get the attention and protection like the rich and powerful.

Likewise, Guan Eng had championed the voiceless, promoted holistic development and protection of the marginalised.

Both are under attack now from various quarters for failing to live up to the ideals they had preached. The MIC and the Tamil media are lambasting Dr Ramasamy for “doing nothing” to save Buah Pala, accusations that he himself had levelled against the MIC pre-March 8 over numerous issues.

The Buah Pala controversy offers an opportunity to the Pakatan Rakyat generally and the DAP especially to show compassion to people caught on the wrong end of development.

Previously when people and capital clashed, most of the time the people lost.

They were either evicted or offered cash as compensation. They were uprooted and their traditional way of life destroyed and they ended up thoroughly alienated.

These are the same people who had backed Pakatan Rakyat, expecting better treatment and protection from eviction, desperation and alienation.

Lim’s competency, accountability and transparency principles are truly admirable and is bringing great benefits to the state but it is missing another element – compassion.

Cold efficiency in politics and administration is just not enough to win the hearts and minds of the people.

People need a caring and sharing government that is humane and compassionate in its policies and that protects the helpless from the powerful and rapacious.

In Buah Pala village, the DAP has an opportunity to show compassion before it is too late.

After all, politics is all about perception and the DAP should know.