In DAP, 3 terms and above reserved only for warlords?

What happened to the bastion of meritocracy that DAP was for decades under Lim Kit Siang and the late Karpal Singh?

(FMT) – I bumped into P Ramasamy, the deputy chief minister II of Penang, and I could not resist having a quick tête-à-tête with the seemingly embattled leader.

There are continuous rumours swirling around that the 74-year-old firebrand academic turned politician will be dropped by DAP from contesting in the upcoming state election.

Ramasamy does not sugar-coat, and calls a spade a spade, unlike other politicians. Naturally, he gets branded as being “a maverick” or “controversial”, even by his own party. Perhaps, the powers that be in DAP only want “yes-men and yes-women?”

So, when I asked him about his impending ouster by DAP, I got a frank response, as always.

Ramasamy said he has made it clear that he is prepared for one last term. He also said he is part of the five-person team in Penang determining the state candidates, which will be presented to DAP’s national leadership.

But, in his signature blunt manner, he added that if DAP dropped him, it is not the “end of the world”.

Hearing this, I was immediately reminded of Charles Santiago, another fantastic DAP leader, who was unceremoniously dropped at the last general election. Three-term parliamentarian Santiago was not selected on the lame excuse that he had to make way for “new blood”.

Isn’t this just simply mind-boggling considering DAP is littered with “warlords” who have held state or parliamentary seats for more than three terms?

Even when the influential Klang Hokkien Association, together with 20 other Chinese associations, threw their support behind him, urging DAP to retain Santiago, the party did not relent.

What happened to the bastion of meritocracy that DAP was for decades under Lim Kit Siang and the late Karpal Singh?

Here is a quick reminder of the history behind the position of the deputy chief minister II.

The year 2007 saw the Hindraf upheavals by Malaysian Indians. In the aftermath of this movement, there was a monumental swing in Indian votes to the then opposition. The Indian community shifted its allegiance, and DAP was the biggest beneficiary of this tectonic change.

With this, DAP and Pakatan Rakyat swept to power in Penang in 2008.

Thanks to Ramasamy’s firm stance, the newly formed Penang  government agreed to recognise the often marginalised Indian community, and created a second deputy chief minister’s position.

In 2008, he ran for the Perai state seat, as well as the Batu Kawan parliamentary seat. In Batu Kawan, he stood against the incumbent chief minister of Penang, Koh Tsu Koon, who held the position for 18 years.

Most political observers thought Ramasamy would be “toast” in Batu Kawan, against Koh. But the erstwhile professor rode the tsunami, and emerged with a 10,000-plus majority. Ramasamy was a giant-slayer. Perhaps this is why he was given the job as the second deputy chief minister.

I told Ramasamy, when we met, that I supported his stand for another term. He just replied “Shankar, don’t simply support me because you like me. Support me only if you think I’m doing a good job, and can continue doing it”.

I have since had time to reflect.

I am a Penang Indian, and grew up there. I come back to vote. I spend half my week on the island because of my work. But I also live half the week in Kuala Lumpur.

There is a palpable difference in the Indian community in Penang compared to elsewhere in Malaysia.

Penang Indians seem to be more confident and comfortable in their own skin. They walk with pride, regardless of their station in life. They get jobs on merit with the state civil service. Penang politicians treat them with the respect and dignity that they deserve as Malaysians.

Their houses of worship no longer get demolished willy-nilly, like elsewhere in the country. They have proper avenues to channel their grievances. Penang Indians know that they can ascend to the 52nd floor of the Komtar building with any issue.

If they are displaced; if they have land issues; if their children need aid for higher education; if their temple needs an upgrade; if their welfare association needs a grant; or if they just need to complain about some injustice, they know that their voice will be heard.

Ramasamy’s main office door on the 52nd floor is always open. Perhaps a throwback to his 25-year tenure as a professor in Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), he also keeps his room door open.

If I think about when the change in the Indian community in Penang happened, I can trace it to 2008, when BN was demolished, and Ramasamy was appointed to the newly created position of second deputy chief minister.

The Penang Indian community started walking with their heads held up high. And in no small measure, Ramasamy is instrumental for this. Perhaps, DAP should think seriously and rationally before dropping another effective, well-respected, sterling Indian politician from their ranks.

If DAP opts to drop Ramasamy on the shabby excuse of being a three-time assemblyman, it is ridiculous since the decision to drop him will be made by DAP leaders who themselves stay for terms longer than anyone cares to remember.