IT is a known fact that Selangor will be a fierce battleground in the DAP election.
The party had big, sparkling personalities in Selangor and the rivalry between the different camps have been bubbling away for years.
Nevertheless, the war of words that erupted this week surprised many in the party and it broke the momentum in what had been a generally smooth run of state elections in the run-up to the national congress on June 20.
Outwardly, it was a classic clash between the English-speaking group associated with former state chief Tony Pua and the more traditional Chinese-educated group epitomised by firebrand Ronnie Liu.
Or as one lawyer noted with some irony, it was a clash between those who saw themselves as “Chinese first” and those who preferred to be known as “Malaysian first”.
Liu, in a speech at a book launch last weekend, had basically said there was no need for the party to be apologetic about its “Chineseness” in order to woo Malay support.
It was unclear if what the Sungai Pelek assemblyman said was lost in translation or misconstrued, but he was slammed for going against the multi-racial aspirations of the party.
“We like to say we are Malaysian, but the DAP base relates better to people like Ronnie, ” said the lawyer.
Those in the know think there is more to it than meets the eye.
Liu has made a remarkable comeback after winning the Sungai Pelek state seat in 2018. He feels the Chinese pulse and his voice gained traction during Pakatan Harapan’s time in Putrajaya when DAP leaders were criticised for being too subservient to Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
There are whispers in the party that Liu is aiming for the post of the party's Selangor chairman and some saw the attacks as an attempt to stop him.
The powers-that-be in DAP are in favour of retaining current state chairman Gobind Singh, who has worked well with the different factions.
The thing is that Liu is not the only warlord in the party’s Chinese-speaking base.
There are other persons of influence such as senior state exco member Datuk Teng Chang Khim and Seri Kembangan assemblyman Ean Yong Hian Wah.
It is learnt that Lim Kit Siang - the power behind the curtain - had sent emissaries to seek support from Teng and Ean Yong.
Deals were struck. For instance, Ean Yong is said to have been offered a Parliament seat in the next general election whereas Teng, who is planning to retire, will have a say on who succeeds him in his Sungai Pinang seat and also in the state exco.
Teng and Kit Siang are not on the best of terms. But Teng told some friends that it was an “irresistible deal” because it gives him a chance to choose clean and capable people to take over from him when he exits the political stage.
Kit Siang seemed to confirm the deal by visiting Sekinchan and meeting up with its most famous personality Ng Suee Lim, who is also the state assembly speaker.
They posed for photos next to a mural of a red car, looking as though they were about to jump in and drive off together.
It was quite a savvy move because everyone knows that Ng is Teng’s protege.
The stage is set for control of the party in Selangor, and there has been immense interest in the DAP polls as a whole.
The Chinese electorate are watching closely to see who will lead DAP into the general election.
They are keen to know who will be DAP’s next secretary-general. Will it be someone gentler, less confrontational and more acceptable to the Malays?
DAP could also be the kingmaker after the general election given the splits in the Malay parties. Whoever helms the party could also determine the nature of the next federal government.
Seremban MP Anthony Loke is one of the most watched leaders in DAP. He is the national organising secretary, fluent in Bahasa Malaysia, gets along well with people and had stood out as a minister.
The DAP polls in Negeri Sembilan last week did not draw much interest. But it was significant in establishing Loke’s hold over the party in his homestate. His team made a clean sweep, signalling that he has a solid political base.
Loke seems to be the people’s choice for secretary-general but the gossip among the Chinese media circle is that no one from the top has ever indicated to Loke that he is in the running. He has been kept in the dark.
What it means is that the secretary-general’s post is still anyone’s game.
The DAP election system enables delegates to elect a 15-person state committee which will then choose the office-bearers and appoint five more persons.
At the national level, a total of 30 members will be elected to the central leadership which will then appoint 10 more persons.
Whichever side emerges with more numbers in the national election will have a bigger say on who becomes the next secretary-general and on other key posts.
But “lao da” (elder brother) as Kit Siang is known in the party, will probably have a big say.
Turning 80 is not going to stop him and he has indicated that he will contest the party election.
His critics think he has the “Mahathir disease” of overstaying. Others claim he needs to be around to ensure that the party stands by Lim Guan Eng as he faces his corruption trial.
But the point is that no one in DAP comes close to Kit Siang’s experience and clout. One should never take the verbose stuff on his Facebook as a sign of a rambling old man.
Beneath the rhetoric is a strategic and focused mind. Kit Siang knows his party inside out and the way he has managed to neutralise the internal politics in Selangor says it all.
What Kit Siang says and does in the coming months could point to the final outcome of the DAP election.