DAP chairman Karpal Singh is unapologetic about taking on personalities within his own party as well as those in Pakatan Rakyat.
DAP chairman Karpal Singh has been in the news every day, often with a picture of him looking like an angry lion.
He is on TV, in the Malay news, in the Chinese newspapers and even in the English daily that his party in Penang has banned from covering functions of the Penang government. He does not give a hoot about what his party thinks of the daily, he still takes their calls and entertains all questions.
But Karpal has been fighting a lonely war on the issue of hudud the last few weeks. The latest salvo from him was to suggest that former Lord President Tun Salleh Abas who is a PAS member lecture his party on the Constitution.
In contrast, the other DAP leaders have been quite silent. Like Karpal, they are also against it but the party is in a partnership with PAS and PKR and the general attitude seems to be that compromises have to be made.
Their silence does not speak well for them but, as they say, the end justifies the means. Besides, DAP has read the Chinese ground well. They know the Chinese are not as spooked by the prospect of hudud as they used to be.
But Karpal has stuck to his guns and is quite proud of his much-quoted phrase, “over my dead body,” in connection to the PAS goal of implementing hudud when the time comes. He is not quite an enemy of PAS as yet, but some of the leaders have described him as ubat luput tempoh or expired medicine, implying that he is out of touch and should call it a day.
Karpal, 72, has to move about in a wheelchair and his fingers are not as dexterous as they used to be but retiring is the last thing on his mind. During an interview in his office, where framed newspaper reports of him compete for space with law books, he said there is still a lot of fire in him.
No one in DAP can stop him from pushing the hudud debate; likewise, no one would dare ask him to retire because if he has to go then so would Lim Kit Siang who is 71 and who has problems with his eyes. Retiring is a sensitive topic in the party especially when it concerns these two contemporaries who have taken the bullet for the party and their children are playing prominent roles in the party.
In fact, Karpal is set to play an active role in the selection of DAP candidates in the general election. He is in the three-man committee that will oversee the decision on seats and candidates. This time around, he is adamant about putting into force the one-man one-seat ruling.
“In the last election, people had to be forced to contest. Now they are forcing their way in,” he said.
The sole exception will be Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng whom, he said, needs a national political presence because he is also the party secretary-general.
Eight leaders in the party currently occupy seats at state and parliament level. Apart from Guan Eng, they are Deputy Chief Minister Dr P. Ramasamy, Perak chairman Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham, Perak secretary Nga Kor Ming, Selangor chairman Teresa Kok and Youth chief Anthony Loke.
However, party sources suggest that perhaps with the exception of Dr Ramasamy, the rest will probably continue to contest dual seats.
No one can quite see Seputeh MP Kok giving up her Kinrara state seat which has enabled her to enjoy so many privileges as a Selangor state exco member. Loke, on the other hand, has openly said that he will defend the Rasah parliamentary seat and also contest the Chennah state seat.
And who in the party would dare to bell the cats in Perak? The Ngeh and Nga cousins are too powerful to be told what to do and Nga, who is Taiping MP, is even said to be looking for another parliamentary seat that is closer to his current state seat in Pantai Remis.
Karpal, quite surprisingly, is not bursting with confidence about Penang. He knows that the Chinese support is secure but he is less sure about the Malay ground.
“DAP has only 19 seats. We cannot form the government with 19 seats,” he said.
Of the 40 state seats in Penang, DAP won 19, PKR 9, PAS 1 and Barisan Nasional 11. Karpal, it seems, is not sure whether PKR can deliver all of its seats.
“Anything can happen,” he added.
He was referring to the party’s ups and downs in Penang. In 1999, the party won only one state seat and Kit Siang and Karpal suffered shocking defeats in their parliamentary seats. While most of his party colleagues are confident that the party’s good fortune can only get better in the next election, Karpal prefers to keep both feet on the ground.
In the meantime, the fallout between him and Dr Ramasamy looks like it is over but is not quite over. There is some sort of truce going on and party sources said that it took Kit Siang and DAP adviser Dr Chen Man Hin to persuade Karpal to agree to a ceasefire.
On a shelf in Karpal’s office, there is a framed photograph of Karpal, Dr Chen and Kit Siang sitting companionably around a table after what looks like a tasty lunch. It was taken on the day when Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim won his acquittal in the sodomy trial. They are not only peers, they are equals and Karpal is the current party chairman after Kit Siang and Dr Chen.
His nostrils flared when talking about the spat which was sparked off after Dr Ramasamy had tried to position several of his cronies as potential election candidates. Karpal’s supporters took offence and soon it became known as the Godfather versus Warlord affair.
Asked whether they had patched up, he said: “There is nothing to patch up. What he did was wrong. I had to do the correct thing and all I said was that we don’t need warlords in the party. He said that if warlords have to be gotten rid of, so do godfathers. People said I was splitting Indian support but certain things cannot be left unchallenged, simple as that. If there is collateral damage, we have to take it.”
Is he, like others in his party, frightened of his secretary-general?
“I represent the party. I am given free rein,” he said without batting an eyelid.
It does seem like this old lion is afraid of no one.
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