GE13: Tight hold on Umno fortress

Lim Kit Siang’s migration from Perak to a Johor seat signals a big power play for the Chinese seats in Umno’s fortress but it will push the Malay vote to Barisan Nasional.

At another level, it is about DAP trying to replace MCA as the Chinese connector. MCA has seven parliamentary seats in Johor which is about half of the 15 seats it won in 2008. DAP has been very successful in using the politics of hate and blame against Umno to defeat MCA.

Joceline Tan, The Star

REPORTERS in Johor have been looking high and low for Datuk Chua Jui Meng. The Johor PKR chief has not been taking calls, his mobile phone has been switched off and he seems to have dropped out of the Johor political scene.

Even his aides have not been reachable. The media people are puzzled as to why he has disappeared at a time when every politician is trying to keep a high profile. The former MCA minister is not exactly an easy man to interview. He often talks like he is sitting in an ivory tower but he is always courteous and gentlemanly to the ladies.

Jui Meng’s no-show behaviour started after it was confirmed that PKR was giving up the Gelang Patah parliamentary seat for DAP’s Lim Kit Siang to contest in the general election.

Jui Meng had been eyeing Gelang Patah for himself and he is furious at the way his party has been made to play second fiddle to DAP in Johor.

Like many politicians, he has an inflated ego. He feels that as the state party chief, he should have a major say on seats and candidates. Instead, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim seems to be making all the decisions without taking his views into account.

He had wanted DAP to give up Bakri in exchange for Gelang Patah but DAP’s Johor chief Dr Boo Cheng Hau has told him to “go fly a kite”. Moreover, this was coming on the heels of PKR giving up the Bentong parliamentary seat to DAP.

Tan: Famous daughter outflanked by ex-general. Tan: Famous daughter outflanked by ex-general.

“All sorts of rumours are flying around. Some PKR people said he may go in as an independent. That will be interesting to watch,” said a Johor reporter.

The DAP people never got along with Jui Meng when he was in MCA and after he joined PKR. They say he has too much baggage, find him to be a diva and feel he should climb down from his high horse.

Jui Meng is not the only one to be played out by his own party. His Johor Baru chief Tan Poh Lai was all prepared to contest in Johor Baru but Anwar has named a retired general as the party’s Johor Baru candidate.

Tan, an attractive lawyer, is the daughter of the late Tan Sri Dr Tan Chee Khoon who was better known as “Mr Opposition”.

Tan probably had some inkling that she was about to be shuffled aside. During a PKR luncheon last month, she announced that she was the potential candidate for Johor Baru.

It was Tan’s rather amateurish way of pre-empting any queue-jumping, her way of saying: “Hello, this is my seat, okay?” Her party vice-president Tian Chua who was at the lunch was taken aback and issued a statement cautioning against premature announcements.

People in PKR cannot quite understand some of Anwar’s decisions of late but they know he intends to enlist the help of several other retired and high-ranking army officers to help its Johor campaign.

He thinks it will help counter the bad press the party has suffered over Lahad Datu. But they had better think twice about using these ex-army top guns as ceramah speakers because some of them speak as though they are addressing the troops rather than voters.

Jui Meng may soon become yesterday’s news. The kopitiam talk has been less about him than about DAP and Kit Siang.

Shahrir: ‘Up to voters to decide what they want’ Shahrir: ‘Up to voters to decide what they want’

Kit Siang is trying to break new ground in the south while the younger Lim takes care of the north.

His party has said he is making a “big sacrifice” and his admirers call it a homecoming because he is from Batu Pahat. They say he is taking a huge career risk in Gelang Patah. But insiders say he has done his homework and is confident of winning.

Kit Siang leading the charge in Johor is a tested formula which he has applied to mixed results over his 50-year career. He began in Malacca in 1969, moved to Selangor in 1978, Penang in 1986, Perak in 2004 and now Johor. There were wins and also losses but his biggest scalp was Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu whom he toppled in 1990.

Kit Siang is no sacrificial lamb and his aim is to create a ripple effect and help push through the other Pakatan candidates like PAS’ Salahuddin Ayub who is contesting in Nusajaya, one of two state seats in Gelang Patah.

They cannot win Johor but their bid for Gelang Patah and Nusajaya has symbolic purpose. Pakatan is striking at the heart of the Umno fortress. The multi-billion ringgit Iskandar economic zone is located there while the new state administrative centre is in Nusajaya.

PAS deputy president Mohamed Sabu declared that Pakatan aimed to make the “kubu Umno” (Umno fortress) into “kubur Umno” (Umno’s grave).

Greener pastures

But over in Perak, the perception is that Kit Siang is moving on because DAP has given up all hope of recapturing Perak. He does not want to waste his time in Perak and wants to put his brandname to better use elsewhere.

At another level, it is about DAP trying to replace MCA as the Chinese connector. MCA has seven parliamentary seats in Johor which is about half of the 15 seats it won in 2008. DAP has been very successful in using the politics of hate and blame against Umno to defeat MCA.

Pakatan leaders have privately admitted they have no chance of taking Johor. The question is how many seats they can add to their tally of one parliamentary and six state seats.

Umno is confident that the majority of Malays will go with them. But the big Chinese crowds at DAP ceramah have cast doubts as to whether the Chinese are preparing to change horses.

The Johor Chinese are not deeply dissatisfied with the government but they have started to acquire an appetite for opposition politics and want to hear what Pakatan has to offer. Dr Boo has told people that he has never seen this level of support from the Chinese in his 20 years in politics.

“Lim Kit Siang is trying to be the voice of the Chinese in Johor. He wants to replace MCA by inciting the Chinese against Umno. Is that what politics in Johor is going to be about? It’s up to voters to think carefully about the kind of politics they want in Johor, the kind of politicians they want to represent them,” said Johor Baru MP Tan Sri Shahrir Samad.

Dr Boo: Johor strongman is moving to centrestage. Dr Boo: Johor strongman is moving to centrestage.

Kit Siang, as one analyst put it, has a reputation as some kind of Chinese folk hero and his track record as an opposition figure is quite unparalleled. His lifestyle is still remarkably simple after all these years and one of his few luxuries is the Rolex watch that is a gift from his family.

Kit Siang playing a leading role in Johor is a double-edged sword of sorts. He comes with loads of baggage for the Malays whose perception of him is the exact opposite of how the Chinese see him.

The senior generation of Malays associate him with the politics of 1969. Younger Malays do not relate to him or to the way his party champions Chinese interests. The elderly politician knows this. That was why he spoke solely in Malay the night that Anwar declared him as the Gelang Patah candidate.

Nusajaya assemblyman Datuk Aziz Sapian has described him as an outsider and said that Kit Siang should not assume he could plant himself anywhere he liked and expect people to accept him. Several local Chinese interviewed on Astro Awani earlier last week said they could accept DAP but not Kit Siang.

His habit of hopping from one seat to another and from state to state has lent him a certain image. It is not quite like speed dating but it has given him a reputation as some sort of political hit man who goes bang-bang-bang in one place and when its mission is accomplished, he moves on to the next victim.

It worked very well during the years when DAP was a struggling opposition party and people saw it as a necessary survival tactic. But DAP is now part of the government in Penang, Selangor and Kedah, and the hitman formula may not get the same sort of reception.

MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek has called him a “Touch n Go” politician.

“As a parliamentarian, he raises pertinent issues. But to go from place to place the way he does, it shows that his politics is about Chinese killing off the Chinese. What he is doing is not going to lead to a two-party system. It will be more like a two-race system,” said Dr Chua.

The MCA leader has asked Johoreans to evaluate the policies and plans that have been put in place in the state.

“Johor has benefited most from the PM’s economic transformation policies and the state government has been good to the people. The Chinese groups and associations in the state know that, we have a close working relationship,” he said.

Of the 26 parliamentary seats in Johor, PKR is contesting 11, PAS eight and DAP seven. Despite all the hype that the political tsunami has reached Johor, only DAP is sure of winning any of the parliamentary seats.

On paper, Gelang Patah looks tough because MCA won the seat by more than 8,800 votes. But DAP is banking on the new and first-time voters to make a difference.

Johor has seen a registration surge of some 267,000 new voters with some 26,000 registered in Gelang Patah alone. Almost half of these new voters are Chinese and that is what Kit Siang hopes to ride on. Even then, DAP needs at least 30% of Malay votes in order to push past the tape.

Kit Siang, 72, is looking rather jaded and his ceramah speeches often sound like an old record but he is still as tenacious as ever. Over the next few weeks, he can be expected to switch it up, to make Johor another do-or-die and now-or-never battle.

His party leaders will likely plead to his audience that this is Kit Siang’s last station. They will tug on the heartstrings of the Chinese to show their appreciation for all the years this old warrior has put into the political cause.

Kit Siang’s presence in Johor will shrink the Malay vote for Pakatan. But it signals a big Chinese play for seats in Umno’s fortress.