The fluid Perak and the dark horse in Tambun
“This is what makes the politics in Perak very fluid; and by extension, unstable and in-turn susceptible to post election horse-trading”
(Sinar Daily) – It has grown leafier and more canopic with thick ferns and vines blanketing its woody bark since its inadvertent political cameo 13 years ago but tangible traces of the rain tree’s role in the then-constitutional crisis was already lost in the passage of time.
However, the forlorn fate of Perak’s controversial “Democracy Tree” – which sits at a roadside corner; mere hundred meters of walking distance across the state assembly building – was inevitable.
To the uninitiated, the Democracy Tree was where, a group of 27 PR lawmakers of the silver state held an “emergency assembly” on March 3, 2009, following a convoluted leadership crisis – triggered by party-hopping – which eventually ended its grip on Perak.
The drama was triggered when a Barisan Nasional (BN) assemblyman defected to PR only to jump back to BN along with the departure of three PR assemblymen to be BN-friendly independents.
“The switcheroo gave BN the numbers it needed to form government without calling a snap poll as the coalition managed to convince the late Sultan Azlan Shah that it had the support from the three independents to do so,” said politically savvy local, Rahmat Omar.
The loss was a huge blow to PR because of the historic windfall victory that it gained from the 2008 General Elections which allowed it govern Perak.
“For the first time in history, the opposition here had managed to topple Barisan Nasional (BN) from the tin-rich state since Malaya had its first general elections in 1955. Before 2008 it was pretty much business as usual,” Rahmat added.
Indeed, in Perak, opposition parties rarely threatened, with the DAP – a component party of PR, along with PKR and Pas – being the biggest spoiler but even then – prior to 2008 – it never managed to secure even 30 per cent of the state seats.
DAP, the predominantly Chinese party, made its first significant inroad into Perak in 1974 when it won 11 of the 42 state seats (now increased to 59); it was an almost doubled gain since the party’s first debut in 1969 General Elections where it won only six state seats.
Interestingly, the DAP’s 1974 electoral results happened against the backdrop of the racial riots starting on May 13, 1969, which sort of gave credence to claims that the result had a chauvinistic undertone to it. Furthermore, 10 of the 11 seats won were Chinese majority areas.
However, a group of elderly Chinese who were sipping coffee at a local kopitiam in the heart of Ipoh rebutted this view, insisting that DAP’s feat in Perak in 1974 was because it was the only opposition party.
DAP became the sole opposition in Perak in 1974 after PAS, Gerakan and the People’s Progressive Party joined the Alliance – before it was rebranded as BN in 1969 – in 1972, which was a year after Parliament reconvened after it was suspended following the riots.
Aside from 1974, the most state seats the DAP had ever won on its own in Perak was during the 2018 General Elections, gaining 18 seats – a feat that topped its previous record of 13 seats won in the 1986 and 1990 polls.
But times have changed.
Since the past three general elections, Perak has become a swing state; with no parties ever managed to secure a formidable two-third majority; attesting BN’s weakening hold on the state.