IN politics, one can win big and yet lose at the same time and that was more or less what happened to DAP leader Chow Kon Yeow at the Penang DAP election on Sunday.
DAP’s Mr Nice Guy powered home with an astonishing 654 votes, which meant that 86% of the delegates voted for him. The late Karpal Singh’s son Jagdeep Singh Deo came in second but was almost 100 votes behind Chow.
Chow had once again emerged tops in the state polls and was duly reappointed the Penang DAP chairman. But he is a marooned man because 13 of the 15 winners are aligned to Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.
The headline in a Chinese vernacular daily summed it up beautifully: “Chow’s heaven surrounded by Lim dynasty soldiers”.
Chow will be a general who has to march to the tune of his soldiers rather than the other way around.
Long-time DAP warlord and state executive councillor Phee Boon Poh barely survived in 14th place. Those aligned to Phee and Chow, who, by the way, are rivals, were also wiped out.
Phee’s placing near the bottom of the heap was a shocker. He had campaigned hard, he had his younger brother Boon Chee, who is the Bagan division chief, to help him. Yet, he was overtaken by those who were younger, less well-known and without his kind of resources.
Lim is finally in control of the state DAP for the first time since parachuting into Penang in 2008.
Where Lim is concerned, it was a case of how one can win big without even contesting. The Chief Minister has never contested in the Penang party election.
He had learnt from his humiliating experience in Malacca where he and his wife were booted out of the Malacca DAP committee.
He has shown that real power comes from a big government post and a famous family name.
What happened at the DAP polls had a lot to do with the Chinese saying, “jie dao sha ren (borrow a knife to kill someone)”, which loosely translates as making use of somebody to cause the downfall of another.
The implication is that those around Lim had used Chow to undermine Phee.
They had reportedly painted Phee as ambitious and out to replace Chow. They argued that Chow must be saved and delegates must give him their votes.
“Chow was the knife used against Phee,” said a Penang DAP politician.
Chow was also the unwitting victim of a clumsy attempt by outsiders to promote his cause.
Protest banners slamming Lim and supporting Chow for the chief minister’s post appeared several days before the DAP election. It was obviously the work of people from outside DAP, who thought they could bring down Lim by elevating Chow.
A Penang lawyer called it “utter stupidity”. The move backfired and caused the delegates to circle the wagons.
It also put Chow under tremen-dous pressure and he tried to clear his name when he spoke at the opening of the convention and declared he has no intention of trying to take over the chief minister’s post. He had to defend and save himself.
The new line-up, said the above DAP politician, is a sign of the generational shift taking place in DAP.
The younger generation who joined the party after the 2008 tsunami have started to make their presence felt and many of them gravitate towards Lim. They do not agree with everything he says or does but he calls the shots and he can help them realise their political ambitions.
The defeat of old-timer Lim Hock Seng was also a signal for the old guards to make way for younger faces in the next general election. The elderly former contractor has been with the party through thick and thin but is woefully ill-equipped for the job of governance.
The most asked question when the results came in was what caused party rebel Teh Yee Cheu to lose so badly. The avowed greenie, who had dominated the local headlines in the last few weeks, crashed out with only 190 votes.
The Tanjung Bungah assembly-man is a hero to his constituents but he is zero in his own party.
“I told everyone he would lose badly. To be associated with Umno is a big no-no for the DAP people and he paid the price,” said the above Penang lawyer.
Teh’s dilemma is a classic lesson in politics. Many in DAP are uncomfortable with the extent of reclamation around Penang island. They cannot explain to their supporters or friends what is going on, the story keeps changing and they are also confused whether the reclamation going on was approved by their own government or the previous one.
But, as far as they are concerned, Teh crossed the line when he followed his conscience and voted for the Umno motion calling for greater accountability on land reclamation projects.
Lim seized on the moment to set the tone – whoever is against him is with Umno to topple the state government. It was very clever and, after all, Lim is not known as the King of Twists and Turns for nothing.
In party politics, principle and conscience are secondary to loyalty to the party and leader. The party comes first even if one does not see eye to eye with the top leader.
There were direct calls from the delegates at the convention to impose a two-term limit to the Chief Minister’s office and also for the post to go to a Penang-born and there was loud applause from the floor.
Lim’s high-handedness, said the above lawyer, is starting to jar on people, including those within his own party, but by and large they like his showmanship and strongman tactics.
Chow is popular but Lim is feared and, as they say in politics, it is better to be feared than to be loved if you cannot be both.
DAP’s Mr Nice Guy has the love and support of his party but the love is unlikely to carry him into the chief minister’s office.