Missing the usual sizzle and sparkle

  • Analysis
  • Tuesday, 08 Nov 2016

Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng

The va va voom was missing at the Penang DAP convention despite Chow Kon Yeow being named successor to Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and with the general election on the horizon.

LAW lecturer and DAP politician Shamsher Singh Thind posted a picture of the cows that he keeps on the family land in Prai on Facebook yesterday.

He wrote: “While observing my cows this morning, I have realised how strong they are but at the same time, how easily they can be exploited. Voters are like them.”

The straight-talking criminology expert had been bombarded by messages from friends following his rather colourful description of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad at the Penang DAP convention on Sunday.

He had criticised his party’s association with Dr Mahathir whom he called bapa ayam (pimp) and ular (snake).

To top that, he had said in his booming voice: “The stupidest statement said (about Dr Mahathir) is that the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Mahathir is not the enemy of my enemy. He is my enemy.”

Shamsher later retracted those words on the advice of his party secretary-general Lim Guan Eng.

DAP delegate Shamsher Singh Thind speaking at the DAP Penang state convention at Equatorial Hotel, Penang. Star pic by: Gary Chen/The Star/November 29, 2015.
"The stupidest statement said (about Dr Mahathir) is that the enermy is my friend. Mahathir is not the enemy of my enemy. He is my enemy.- Shamser Singh Thind

But he remains unapologetic and the observation about his cows resulted from his ire that some voters can be so easily led by the nose to now regard Dr Mahathir as their friend whereas he used to be their No. 1 enemy.

He had also written in his Facebook: “Some are asking me why I insulted Dr M and some are asking me why I retracted after insulting him. You see, I don’t do things to please anyone. I want the delegates to understand my view. They understood.

“State committee thinks that certain words were not appropriate (and not necessary). I retracted them but stood by my view.”

The Chai Leng Park delegate has become the one to watch at every state DAP convention. He speaks his mind, he is not afraid of stepping on toes and, of course, there is his unrestrained vocabulary.

If Shamsher stood out again at last Sunday’s gathering it was also because the debate this year resembled a local council meeting rather than the annual convention of an ambitious political party.

The delegates raised issues about drains, tree-cutting and the recent spate of flash floods.

A number of delegates spoke about issues affecting the Indians, complaining that the party was not doing enough to address problems affecting the community.

This despite the fact that Penang is facing issues such as jobs, affordable housing and a need for better public transportation.

“The horizon of topics raised was very narrow. The party enjoys support from the thinking population but we have not been able to attract members from among the thinking crowd,” said a delegate.

Not a single delegate spoke about 1MDB or Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak which are the two most beloved issues of so many national DAP leaders.

Neither was there a whisper about the undersea tunnel that had captured the imagination of Penangites nor questions about land reclamation or the much anticipated Penang transportation masterplan.

There was also no Umno-bashing. The debate was dominated by local issues so much so that state DAP chairman Chow Kon Yeow lamented that delegates had not raised national issues.

For a party where everything is about politics, the debate was also quite devoid of politics. Moreover, this is the last state convention before the general election.

The sizzle and the sparkle seemed to be missing even in the wake of the big announcement that Chow will be the next Chief Minister.

When Lim named Chow as his successor, there was a hesitant silence for a few seconds before the delegates burst into applause. These sort of moments can be quite awkward for party members – you want to be happy for the incoming man but you also do not want to appear too happy in case the outgoing man thinks you are eager for him to go.

Some reporters attributed the uninspired mood to the fact that even DAP members are feeling the political fatigue.

The official reason was that this was not a party election year. Hence, of the 1,000-plus delegates expected, only around 300 attended and loyal veterans made up most of the delegates.

According to Shamsher, the localised nature of the debate also has to do with the fact that DAP leaders are confronted with everyday issues on the ground.

“I help out in Batu Kawan. People there don’t ask about 1MDB or talk about Najib. They want things like a school, hospital, houses. They face relocation problems and they ask for our help,” said Shamsher.

Something has changed for the party in Penang. The guessing game over the Chief Minister post is over but leadership transitions are never easy especially when it is taking place against a backdrop of the corruption trail involving the Chief Minister.

The party election machinery has been activated but going for a third term is not as easy peasy as vying for a second term. Voters will expect a real report card and that may be why the delegates were focusing on local issues rather than national controversies.

The Penang Chinese are still with DAP, Lim’s government is in no danger. But the earlier aspirations to capture Putrajaya has died down and that has taken the va va voom out of the party and its partners in Pakatan Harapan.

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