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Thursday August 21, 2008

DAP young Turks on the rise

Taking on the role of ruling party is not as easy as the DAP once thought, as a surge in interest swells its ranks and a new crop of young leaders vie with veterans for top positions.

SUCCESS brings its own challenges as seen in the sharp rise in members and branches in the DAP and now candidates contesting for a place in the party’s Central Executive Committee over the weekend.

About 70 candidates filed to contest for the 20 CEC positions but with withdrawals, the numbers are down to about 60 – still a big number for a small opposition party that after March 8 was suddenly transformed into a ruling party directly in Penang and in coalition in Perak and Selangor, the three richest and most developed states in the federation.

With 72 assemblymen and 28 MPs, the change is dramatic. There is widespread grassroots interest to join the DAP and there is fierce competition to win positions as district and town councillors.

Membership applications have also shot up with over 10,000 joining in the five months since March 8.

One worry is that the DAP is taking in any and everyone, even those with unsavoury reputations.

Formation of new branches across the west coast and in Sabah and Sarawak is hectic now compared to before when it struggled to form branches.

As a consequence, the number of delegates to the weekend congress has also almost doubled to over 900.

“People are proud of the DAP now, they openly display the Rocket logo,” said CEC member A. Sivanesan, an exco member in the Perak state government.

“We are a ruling party now and seen differently.”

The surge in interest, membership and branch formation is putting pressure on that group of old-school leaders best described as veterans.

The veterans, numbering about 15, have between them traditionally shared the spoils, made the important decisions and stood back to back when under threat from within and outside the party.

Now a new crop of young leaders, many of them assemblymen and MPs, are contesting for the limited CEC posts and keen to take charge of the DAP and oversee its transformation.

“The newcomers are beginning to put great pressure on the veterans as they muscle in to sit in the CEC and hold party positions,” said a former leader still close to the party leadership.

“They are young and acutely aware that the next step in their political career is to get into the CEC, at least as a member, if not to hold one of the party leadership positions,” he said.

“Being a ruling party, there is keen contest for the limited posts. The old way of sharing it out over dinner won’t work,” he added.

“Success brings its own disease.”

The veterans – best represented by the likes of adviser Lim Kit Siang, chairman Karpal Singh and vice-chairman M. Kulasegaran – are facing keen competition for the first time in their careers from the young Turks.

Among the best-known new faces contesting are Puchong MP Gobind Singh Deo, Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi, Petaling Jaya Utara MP Tony Pua, Serdang MP Teo Nie Ching and Subang Jaya state assemblywoman Hannah Yeoh.

For the first time too secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and his father Kit Siang are contesting for CEC posts along with Karpal Singh and his two sons, sparking murmurs in the party of a “dynastic succession”.

The results will be keenly watched in the party and outside, especially whether Guan Eng, the Chief Minister of Penang, emerges first, party sources said.

Unlike other political parties, the delegates only elect the 20 CEC members, who then choose from among themselves the candidates to fill the important party positions.

In reality, it is more of “selection” than election, but this time, depending who gets in, party insiders predict stiff competition for the party positions.

The transformation of the DAP from an opposition to a ruling party is attracting appeal, but most of it is from non-Malays, a dangerous sign in the new political climate that favours real multi-racialism.

Eventually, the DAP will face the same unresolved dilemma that brought down the Gerakan – a Chinese party masquerading as a multi-racial one – that was eventually rejected by the people.

At one time, the DAP had several dynamic Malay leaders, like the late Ahmad Nordin, a former MTUC president, but for some years now Malay presences in the DAP is near zero.

It needs to transform itself in the years ahead into a dynamic multi-racial party as the PKR is doing successfully.

A clearly spelled-out people-oriented economic and political programme, the recruitment of dynamic multi-ethnic leaders and a major promotion of skills and intellectual depth seems necessary for the DAP.

The alternative is to remain a party representing hardcore Chinese interests headquartered in Penang, just like Gerakan, and its future dependent on how well it manages the state.

In which case, the DAP could well end up as a Chinese-adjunct to the PKR and gradually lose ground to the mass appeal of PKR.

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