DATUK Tan Lian Hoe’s suggestion that Gerakan pull out from the Barisan Nasional (BN) was the main focus of various commentators from the Chinese dailies.
On 20 Aug 2008, Tan Poh Kheng wrote in Sin Chew Jit Poh that although many people applauded the party Wanita chief’s courage in speaking out, many were later surprised when she immediately turned to Umno president Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his deputy Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak to clarify that she was misquoted by the press.
Poh Kheng said if 80% of party delegates at the Perak delegates conference on 17 Aug passed a resolution to pull out from BN, what was wrong with expressing the delegates’ views to the BN leadership?
“[If] high-ranking [party] officials lack the courage to keep their words, they should not fantasise about becoming national heroes. This episode finally lets people understand why Umno is so arrogant in manipulating racist issues and boorish towards other component parties. The timid attitudes of some Gerakan and MCA leaders is what has fuelled Umno politicians’ egos,” she wrote.
She noted that since the BN’s formation, Umno politicians have often used racial issues to promote their political careers. She said without playing up racial issues, it would seem impossible for these politicians to have a place in their party. Poh Kheng said the objection by Higher Education Minister Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin to opening up 10% of student places in UiTM to non-bumiputeras is one classic example.
“Gerakan formed the Penang state government with Umno from 1972 under Tun Lim Chong Eu. They have worked together for 36 years. It is unlikely that Gerakan does not understand Umno’s ‘Ketuanan sendiri’ mindset,” she added.
Poh Kheng said for many years, both senior and junior Umno leaders have championed themselves as heroes of the Malays at the expense of their allies.
She asked who in the party, under former Gerakan president Datuk Seri Dr Lim Keng Yaik, ever challenged these “big-headed” Umno leaders.
She said if Gerakan truly wants to withdraw from the BN, the reasons have to be more visionary, instead of using Umno’s outdated culture as an excuse.
Chen Li Liang wrote in Oriental Daily on 16 Aug that after the March 2008 elections, many grassroots leaders have proposed withdrawing from the BN as the only option for Gerakan, and these reverberations cannot be ignored.
Gerakan leaders such as Datuk Lee Kah Choon and Datuk Dr Tan Kee Kwong, who accepted the Pakatan Rakyat government’s appointment in key government agency positions, are being pressured to resign or face disciplinary action. This has led to dissatisfaction among the grassroots, Chen wrote.
“They feel that under the Pakatan Rakyat government, many of the high-ranking department directors are members of BN political parties, but they have not been urged to resign. Instead, Gerakan’s members are pressured, in yet another example of how Gerakan is bullied,” he said in his column.
Chen said Umno’s secret talks with Pas have also frustrated Gerakan members.
For Chen, Gerakan is a Chinese-based political party with a multiracial ideology.
However, under the BN’s structure of unilateral raced-based political parties, Gerakan has no mileage compared with the three main parties, Umno, MCA and MIC.
Furthermore, Chen said, Gerakan also lacks a determined and charismatic leader. Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon is a “yes man” and his noncommittal style is one of the reasons for Gerakan’s impasse, he wrote.
“Gerakan’s political struggle post-March election is at a bottleneck, and the leadership under Koh is unable to reform Gerakan. In the short term, it also seems unable to sail through this party crisis,” Chen said.
He added that many loyal members are today anxious and disheartened, and leaders like Lee and Toh have instead placed their hopes elsewhere.
“If Gerakan wants to have comprehensive reform, it first needs to change its sluggish leadership. But Gerakan and MCA have the same problem. If they change their current leadership, who else do they have to lead their parties?”
Kwong Wah Yit Poh’s Ng Miew Luan wrote on 20 Aug that she doubted Koh has listened to the grassroots, or taken note of the message from key leaders who have resigned from the party.
She questioned how Koh is responding to the wishes of the Perak delegates who want to withdraw from the BN.
She said after the March 2008 elections, Gerakan Youth has been an effective opposition in Penang, just as the DAP was previously, and should be given a thumbs up. However, party reforms by the central leadership seem “slow”.
She asked if Koh is bold enough to make a decision based on the grassroots’ and Chinese community’s demands to withdraw from the BN, and avoid competition with the MCA for Chinese votes.
“The ball is with Koh,” she wrote.