‘Bossku’ stirs things up in DAP heartland

By Joceline Tan, The Star

PENANG has become a DAP stronghold over the last decade and Datuk Seri Najib Razak knew he was walking into the lion’s den.

No one could quite predict what would happen during his March 25 visit to Penang.

After officiating at a business and investment summit, Najib headed out to the Chang Clan Association where he was greeted by dancing lions, deafening drumbeats and the handsome Chang Wei Lu.

Chang, the national chairman of the Chang clan, has the looks of a Hong Kong movie star. But he also has a fearless reputation and is not afraid of anything or anyone, not even ex-Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng.

Chang is a key figure in the more opaque side of Chinese society and politicians know it is better to have people like him as a friend than as an enemy.

It was a day of back-to-back programmes for the former premier and as the day progressed, the crowds grew bigger and bigger.

When Najib arrived at a food court in Bukit Mertajam in the heat of the afternoon, the crowd had become quite crazy, with people surging forward and holding their handphones high in the air to snap his picture.

The conversation on social media, which had mocked the crowds as paid and rented while slamming those at the events as “shameless”, had toned down by the time Najib reached his final stop at the Jelutong pasar malam.

For sure, there was a great deal of organising, even orchestration, at every single event that day.

But it was also quite evident that there were many ordinary people swarming for a glimpse of the man known as “Bossku”.

And when some DAP supporters staged a protest at the Bukit Mertajam event, it was apparent that Najib had stepped on the lion’s tail in its northern kingdom.

This is Najib’s second attempt to touch Chinese hearts and minds.

The first attempt was at December’s Chinese economic conference in Kuala Lumpur where he reminded the business community that he created opportunities for them and how his warm ties with China brought in investments.

He went a step further in Penang, telling his audience that if Barisan Nasional returns to power, the share market will boom, foreign investors will come knocking on the door and the good times will be back.

But he stressed that Barisan needs to come to power in a “truly multiracial fashion”.

He was subtly telling them that Barisan is a government-in-waiting and he wants the Chinese to come along.

Najib also used the business and investment summit where he was the keynote speaker to strip away the misconceptions that Chinese have about him.

He cleared the air about a damaging headline “Apa lagi Cina mahu?” (what else do the Chinese want?) in Utusan Malaysia after the 2013 general election.

He claimed he never said anything like that because that would have been insensitive and arrogant and “that is simply not Najib”.

Kwong Wah Yit Poh, the most popular Chinese vernacular daily in Penang, splashed what he said on its front page.

Step by step, the man responsible for the Chinese tsunami is now able to tell his side of the story.

No one in Umno or Barisan can do what he is doing now with the Chinese.

He certainly got on the nerves of DAP’s Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim, who slammed Najib’s claim that Barisan can bring back the good times as “empty promises”.

Datuk Seri Hong Yeam Wah, president of the influential Penang Chinese Chamber of Commerce (PCCC), also said that Penang Chinese do not welcome people who have been convicted for corruption.

The trouble is that this sort of attack does not hold as much water as it used to because Pakatan Harapan’s own election promises are now known as “manifesto bukan kitab suci”, meaning that its election promises should not be taken as gospel.

Some also pointed out that the PCCC should not preach about corruption because Hong had turned up in court in a show of support when Lim was charged with graft over the Penang undersea tunnel project.

The situation these days is what is known as “dua kali lima”, that is, all politicians are the same.

DAP is fortunate that, despite the Chinese disenchantment, the community does not see Gerakan or MCA as a viable alternative.

Lim, who was chief minister for two terms, was hailed as a Chinese hero. But his ongoing corruption trial has hurt him, especially among the Chinese fence-sitters.

“What we have here are two people facing serious corruption charges. If you are a Chinese in Penang, who would you be more drawn to between the two sets of kluster mahkamah (court clusters)?

“One delivers his message in a soothing way, he does not demand that you accept what he says. The other is confrontational and likes to scold people,” said a retired medical doctor from Penang.

Najib regained the sympathy of Malays not long after the 2018 general election.

His Chinese courtship is more recent, after it became apparent that many in the business community have openly switched sides and, of course, after the Johor election.

The brouhaha over Najib’s Penang outing will not necessarily translate into votes.

So much of the Chinese anger that was driving politics in the last decade has been replaced by fatigue and scepticism.

Najib seems to understand the Chinese psyche and what he is doing is to further soften Chinese opinion ahead of the general election.