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A MAJOR leadership transition is about to take place in DAP next month.
Seremban MP Anthony Loke is in line to take over the party’s secretary-general post from Lim Guan Eng, who is at the end of his three-term tenure.
Loke, who is normally quite low profile, has been in attack mode of late, which some see as him signally that he is a worthy successor for the party’s top job.
DAP is due to elect its next national leadership at its national congress scheduled for Dec 20, that is, if it goes ahead.
The party is waiting to hear from the Registrar of Societies (ROS) on postponing the election because of Covid-19 restrictions on gatherings but if it happens, it will be an election like no other for the party.
The party is at a unique crossroads. It is at its most successful with 42 MPs as well as 101 assemblymen nationwide, yet morale is low and the party is unsure how to move ahead.
Its Chinese support has slipped, its image among Malays has sunk to new lows and the incumbent secretary-general’s corruption trial has cast a pall over the party.
“Our supporters were unhappy that some party leaders had still wanted Mahathir (Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad) after all that has happened.
“The election has to reflect the new direction because people are also asking whether the party can be truly Malaysian if it is only accepted by non-Malays. We are at a critical juncture, ” said Penang Deputy Chief Minister Dr P. Ramasamy.
The previous national election in 2017 was about strengthening the status quo and getting ready for the general election.
But do the rumblings in the party point to a shake-up in the status quo?
The “rocket brand, ” said a DAP insider, is still strong but there may be turbulence ahead.
The first salvo, said the insider, was fired by no less than the ideologue Hew Kuan Yau or “Superman” as he is better known.
Hew is still an influential voice although no longer a party member. His views represent what is known as the “hua sa” or Chinese-educated group in DAP and who are what one might call ultra-Chinese.
In a recent Facebook post in connection with a book by DAP veteran Liew Ah Khim, Hew criticised party leaders who were “too subservient” to Dr Mahathir and said that DAP should share the blame for the collapse of the Pakatan Harapan government.
He also criticised the “young YBs” who parachuted in after the 2008 general election as “opportunists” and claimed they had betrayed the old guard and the party’s founding ideals.
Actually, the rumblings were already evident in a number of state-level DAP elections held towards the end of 2018. Leaders associated with the powerful Lim family were toppled or had to struggle to hold on in several states.
In Selangor, Damansara MP Tony Pua was shown the door, whereas in Melaka, the line-up loyal to the Lims was completely wiped out.
In Johor, Senator Liew Chin Tong, another loyalist of the Lims, struggled to stay in charge of the state.
Some saw the Oxford University-educated Pua as a potential secretary-general but his ouster in Selangor has cleared the way for Loke.
Loke, who is currently the national organising secretary, did not parachute in like many of the new stars in DAP. He rose step by step and has come across as a more moderate voice in a deeply divided political environment.
He is also rather shrewd and strategic. Instead of moaning and groaning after Pakatan Harapan fell, he headed to his father’s chicken rice stall and donned an apron to help out.
It was a clever way of showing that he can take the ups and downs of politics without rancour. He was also the first to take to Facebook to thank his staff in the Transport Ministry, singling out his former driver, a Malay gentleman, for special mention.
Last month, Loke, who speaks fluent Bahasa Malaysia, gave an interview to Utusan Malaysia which was carried over two full pages.
It has been ages since a DAP leader granted Utusan Malaysia an interview.
It was not so much what he said but the way he said it that gave the paper’s readers an idea that he will not oppose for the sake of opposing nor is he the type to insult people and quarrel with the media.
In a recent Facebook post, he described Umno deputy president Datuk Seri Mohamad Hasan as a no-nonsense leader whom he respected. He noted they had joined the Negri Sembilan state assembly after the 2004 general election but from opposite sides of the floor.
“I hope Malaysia’s political culture will grow more civil and mature. Political differences does not mean we are enemies, ” he wrote.
Are all these signals of how Loke wants to mend the image of the party?
According to the above insider, the party will be largely determined by three key states which command the most number of delegates.
They are Perak with about 350 delegates, Selangor with 250 and Penang with 200.
The powerful Perak cousins, Nga Kor Ming and Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham, control 70% of Perak DAP.
Lim still has a firm hand over the party in Penang where he was chief minister for 10 years and where his sister Hui Ying is now the state’s party secretary.
However, Selangor is riven by factions with no particular faction having the upper hand. Pua’s Selangor defeat in 2018 was due to various factions ganging up against a common enemy.
One of these factions revolves around the formidable warlord and Sungai Pelek assemblyman Ronnie Liu. The outspoken Liu represents what DAP used to be and his influence over the Selangor delegates should not be underestimated.
But according to the party grapevine, a bombshell move is developing on the part of another Selangor DAP strongman, who is planning to exit the political stage.
The Selangor figure believes the party needs a renewal to be able to rise to the challenge of the next general election and he means to do something about it.
His intentions will become more apparent in the coming weeks.
It is unclear if all these undercurrents will turn into a perfect storm but it will be an election like no other for DAP.