No more a DAP sanctuary

DAP leader Lim Kit Siang has declared that Melaka will fall to Pakatan Harapan even though his party in this historical state has been left standing on one leg ever since four of its seven YBs resigned to become independents earlier this year. 

Joceline Tan, The Star

LIM Kit Siang is no stranger to Melaka and he has been making his presence felt in the state the last few months, popping up at coffeeshops, where people are having their breakfast, to hold impromptu ceramah.

Holding a microphone, he then goes on for up to 20 or 30 minutes about his favourite topics – the Prime Minister, 1MDB, Umno, kleptocracy. It is hardly what the kopitiam crowd would consider a nice start to their day but kopitiam ceramah are now the trend – if the people do not want to go to ceramah, then the ceramah will come to the people.

But the kopitiam crowd has been quite lukewarm, even passive, despite the presence of the DAP star. The audience has also been largely elderly folk. What has happened to all those eager young Chinese who used to throng events of DAP leaders?

However, there is a new face in Kit Siang’s entourage – a young, handsome former bank executive whose father is DAP veteran Kerk Kim Hock, who died last month after a long struggle with cancer.

Kerk Chee Yee, 25, joined DAP towards the final months of his father’s life and it is no secret that he will be a DAP candidate in the general election.

Kit Siang has been bringing the younger man around from Melaka to Sabah, to speak at DAP gatherings. It has been like an introductory tour for Chee Yee to meet other party leaders and to give him the exposure.

Goh: ‘We have not met anyone who criticised or scolded us’.

Goh: ‘We have not met anyone who criticised or scolded us’.

But more interesting is the buzz that he is being slotted for the Kota Melaka parliamentary seat, which was once held by his father and which is now under Sim Tong Him, the leader or the kepala (head), as they call him, of the group of four YBs who resigned from DAP earlier this year.

If that happens, Kota Melaka will be a hot seat in the general election. It will epitomise the struggle for dominance between DAP and the group that left the party.

Chinese politics in Melaka town has not been the same since the great break-up in DAP. The party has been left standing on one leg with the exit of four of their seven representatives. No matter how the party leaders tried to spin in, it was a huge blow to DAP’s clout and reputation.

Kota Melaka has long been a black seat for Barisan Nasional and Sim won by a stunning majority of more than 20,000-plus votes in 2013.

Sim is seen as an decent man who speaks the language of the ordinary man. He is respected and well-liked in these parts and has been likened to the “smiling Buddha” with his serene smile and tranquil nature. Even the Barisan politicians find it hard to find fault with him.

A socialist during his younger days, he comes from a well-known Melaka family and has built up a fantastic network among the Chinese associations, guilds and temples.

“Since we resigned, we have not met anyone who criticised or scolded us. When I go around, I can feel they do not mind if we contest as independents,” said Duyong assemblyman Goh Leong San who quit together with Sim.

Liew: The Kluang MP persuaded Chee Yee to join the party.

Liew: The Kluang MP persuaded Chee Yee to join the party.

But Sim is 69 and, as many have pointed out, independents do not fare well in electoral politics.

“I hear he is a good man but Malaysian politics is like that,” said a Chinese lawyer.

Will Sim be able to hold down a younger man backed by a powerful brand name and endorsed by no less than Kit Siang himself?

The owner of a Melaka chicken rice shop said of Sim: “He looks like an ayam pension (retiree) but he can still run. Everyone wants young people but all of us grow old. Don’t ignore people who have served.”

Put that way, Chee Yee is basically like a fresh cut flower in a vase whereas Sim is like a lotus plant with a vast root network beneath the water.

Chee Yee was recruited by Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong who had taken a personal interest in the senior Kerk’s health. The younger man said it took some time for his father to come around to the idea of him going into politics but he gave his consent before he died.

Although he was taken by surprise at being named the new political secretary to Kit Siang during a memorial event for his father, he has turned out to be a natural on the ceramah circuit, showing no sign of stage fright or jitters.

His Facebook postings show that he has contemporary opinions, thinks about issues and puts them across in an intelligent and balanced way. Whether he can remain a balanced person remains to be seen because politics can make people toxic.

Khoo: In charge of party that has been split down the middle.

Khoo: In charge of party that has been split down the middle.

He also has a sense of humour going by his posting on Tan Sri Mat Taib’s return to Umno last week: “I demand a refund for my popcorn.”

According to the local media fraternity, the sentiments on the ground are quite complicated for DAP.

Melaka is a small town where everyone knows everyone. The locals are quite well tuned into the power struggle that had been going on in DAP. They have made up their minds who are the good guys and who are the bad guys and they have taken sides.

National DAP leaders claimed that Sim’s group was unhappy after they were wiped out in the state party polls in 2015, paving the way for Ayer Keroh assemblyman Khoo Poay Tiong to replace Goh as the state chairman.

But the enmity actually started more than 10 years ago when Lim Guan Eng and his then politician wife Betty Chew were still based in Melaka. Guan Eng was eyeing the state leadership but he and his wife lost in the state election against a team led by Goh.

Goh, who has a Masters degree in Chemistry and runs a successful manufacturing business, was not intimidated by Guan Eng and the rift could not be mended.

The power struggle between the Sim camp and the faction loyal to Guan Eng did not end after the latter moved to Penang and became the Chief Minister. It boiled over shortly before the 2013 general election and Kit Siang had to personally intervene as the two factions clashed over seats to contest.

Around February last year, Sim and Goh were suspended for a year on grounds that they had smeared DAP’s name in a lawsuit against a fellow party member.

Things had hit rock bottom by then, the pair did not bother to appeal the suspension which ended on Feb 8, the 12th day of Chinese New Year. It was the Year of the Rooster, the group did not want to spoil the festive mood and waited till a day after Chap Goh Meh to drop the bombshell.

The new chairman Khoo is a hardworking YB and popular with the media but it is never easy when you come to power after an ugly fight.

Sim still draws a lot of public sympathy and he said: “There is no change in the way people treat me. I get the same reception at functions because people understand what happened to us. But I am not assuming that all this will turn into votes.”

DAP has long been the party of choice among the majority of Chinese in Melaka but the dog-eat-dog politics of the last few years has not been good for the party’s brand name.

The Chinese heart of Melaka is no longer a sanctuary for the party and the image of the DAP father-and-son has taken a dip.

The Sim camp has said that even their Barisan enemies did not treat them as badly as the DAP leaders who have called them names like “cancer growing in the body” and “Gang of Four”, a reference to the treason committed by Mao Zedong’s wife Jiang Qing and three others during the Cultural Revolution.

They find it ironic that Kit Siang is able to let bygones be bygones with former enemy Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad but is so calculative with people who have served the party.

The who’s who of DAP attended the funeral of Kerk Sr. He had remained friendly with people from both sides who would visit him regularly but separately. Some DAP politicians had hoped that his death would help soften the animosity between the two camps.

But during his wake and on the funeral day, the rival personalities sat far apart and did not exchange hellos even as they were bidding goodbye to their comrade – that was how deeply they loathed each other.

Kit Siang has been telling the kopitiam crowd that Putrajaya will fall and so will Melaka and Johor.

The storyline changes like the weather and sometimes, it is Kedah, Perak and Negri Sembilan that will fall.

When he was in Kelantan he predicted that an Amanah leader would be the next Mentri Besar.

His Melaka kopitiam audience clapped politely when he made the prediction about Melaka but it is doubtful that many of them believed him given the troubles on the DAP front.

The signs point to the four YBs contesting the general election. They have nothing to lose because as Goh put it, “the pressure is on them”.

The next general election could turn out to be a referendum on DAP’s claim to the Chinese heart of Melaka.