Huge win that highlights a divide


Almost every face in the voting lines was Chinese.

Joceline Tan, The Star

The Bukit Gelugor win was a sweet and poignant moment for the Karpal Singh family and the outcome suggests that the Chinese love affair with DAP is still going strong in Penang.

KARPAL Singh’s legacy was re­­affirmed when his son Ram­karpal won in Bukit Gelugor on Sunday night. The victory was as much about Karpal’s place in the politics of Penang as it was about electing a new Member of Parlia­ment.

It was quite a poignant moment for the winner given the tragic death of his father. Karpal may be the only person who ever had three sons who are YBs at the same time.

Ramkarpal was probably more relieved than overjoyed about winning. The novice in him had started the campaign with an over-confident remark about getting a higher majority than that achieved by his father.

He failed to match Karpal’s margin of win but his own majority of some 37,000 votes was more than credible for a first-timer. Moreover, he secured an astonishing 89% of the vote.

There was never a doubt that he would win but the size of his victory was in question because of voter apathy. His party blasted out thousands of SMSes and sent out more than 80,000 postcards to remind voters to come out to vote.

Even then, the voter turnout was only 56%, down from 86% in the ge­neral election.

Ramkarpal actually had the luxury of a walkover of sorts after MCA decided to give the seat a miss. Although there were three independent candidates, he must have felt like he was contesting against his father.

Despite the DAP’s claim of hundreds of Karpal Singhs rising from his legacy, not everybody bought the rhetoric that Ramkarpal would be the “next tiger”.

The fact is that Karpal was the one and only tiger of his kind.

No one had expected a high voter turnout but they were taken aback at the level of disinterest.

The crowd at ceramah was un­­usually thin and it was a good thing that the final ceramah on Friday night was held indoors because it drew only about 3,000-plus people.

The by-election campaign was such a contrast to the way Penang folk had poured into the streets for Karpal’s funeral.

But the most worrying part about the Bukit Gelugor by-election was the way it underscored the ethnic divide in Penang.

Almost every face in the voting lines was Chinese.

It was quite apparent that there was some sort of boycott action going on among the Malay voters. It could be that they did not like any of the candidates including the two Muslim Independents or they were consciously snubbing the by-election.

There is no denying it – there is a deepening ethnic divide.

Another possible reason is that the Malays are still not over Karpal’s unequivocal stand on hudud. It is no secret that the thousands who flooded the streets of George Town to send off the Tiger of Jelutong were primarily non-Malays.

Many journalists covering Karpal’s funeral noticed it and some even felt somewhat disturbed because it was like there was some kind of unspoken agreement among the Malays to stay away.

They did not even want to hang around the five-foot ways to watch the funeral procession.

Was the low Malay visibility in Bukit Gelugor a continuation of that sentiment?

The ethnic dichotomy in Penang has always been there, even during Barisan Nasional rule except that Umno managed to keep the sentiments in check.

Some analysts have pointed out that Ramkarpal managed to win in the Malay-dominated enclave of Kampung Melayu, a voting station usually won by Barisan.

But that was largely because the Malays there did not come out in full force.

Every elected politician strives to be the representative of all Ma­­laysians and Ramkarpal would want to make the effort to reach out to this group in the next few years.

The other question being asked is: Where were the young voters?

DAP events and ceramah have, in the last few years, been dominated by young people.

They stand out in the crowd with their trendy attire and fashionably-styled hairdos. It gave DAP bragging rights that they are the party of the future.

But those who made the effort to come out on Sunday were mostly the middle-aged and elderly.

Nobody could provide a good reason for the disinterest shown by young voters.

The solid support shown by the older cohorts ought to be a source of concern for Barisan which often claims that the older Chinese are still with them.

Barisan is banking on the older Chinese for support in Teluk Intan. But the trend in Bukit Gelugor seems to suggest that even the older folk have gone over to DAP.

Of the three independents, only Huan Cheng Guan of the Parti Cinta Malaysia had a sensible campaign. His slogan was actually quite appealing.

He told voters: “I am not the tiger, I am not the cub, I am your voice.” Unfortunately, not enough people were listening to his voice.

The three independents lost their deposit in what appears to be a growing trend among voters to reject independent candidates. Vo­­ters want serious candidates, preferably someone who is carried by a party that has the clout to carry out what they want.

The Bukit Gelugor outcome is bad news for the Chinese component parties of Barisan.

The fact that 89% of the mostly Chinese voters on Sunday supported Ramkarpal suggests that DAP is still the party of their choice.

The Chinese love affair with DAP is still in full bloom, especially in Penang.