THERE was a sense that ties between Sin Chew Daily and DAP were about to get off to a new start when Anthony Loke arrived at the newspaper’s headquarters for an interview after taking over as the party’s secretary-general.
It was well-known in the media community that Sin Chew Daily and DAP have had a tumultuous relationship in the last few years.
There were even accusations that the leading Chinese daily had an agenda against DAP which the paper has denied, or as its editor-in-chief Kuik Cheng Kang famously wrote in an opinion piece: “Let our readers be the judge of that”.
Politicians and the media often have a love-hate relationship, but it is apparent that Loke wants to improve ties with the media.
He even gave an interview to Utusan Malaysia, the first time a DAP leader had done so in a long while.
Loke has been with DAP for more than 20 years, but everything changes when one becomes a leader of a party that has such influence over the Chinese electorate.
He has stepped into the most important post in DAP with a vastly different leadership style.
It is still early days and he has yet to be tested, but the reviews so far have been positive.
He has been described as civil and willing to listen and engage. He is not the bombastic type and he is certainly not quarrelsome or antagonistic.
One of the reasons why he has been getting good press coverage is because he is approachable and likeable.
“He has been quite well-received by Chinese groups. I think he may bring a more positive image to his party,” said former Chinese school administrator Lai Sin Siang.
Loke, a product of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, is also Seremban MP and Chennah assemblyman.
At the recent appreciation dinner for Lim Kit Siang, Loke reminisced about the first time he stood on the same ceramah stage with the elder man in 1999.
He also recalled tagging along as a young boy with his father whenever Lim spoke at rallies in Seremban.
However, Loke has quashed speculation that he will be a “puppet leader” of DAP’s powerful "Lim Dynasty".
Aged 44, he is two generations behind Lim and a generation behind leaders like Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Mohamad Sabu. He should be able to bring a different mindset to the Pakatan Harapan table.
It might be a case of a new broom sweeps clean, but Loke has been going at full speed in his new role.
There have been meetings to connect with the party rank and file and to exchange views on the general election.
The ambassadors of China and the United States have called on him while he has made courtesy calls on the Opposition Leader Anwar.
He has also been reaching out via live streaming on Facebook to discuss a variety of issues like the anti-hopping law and the future of Pakatan.
His sessions on Facebook draw quite a multiracial audience, many of whom commend his fluent Malay and objective opinions, while some cheeky ones suggest he needs to lose weight.
Top most on his mind is preparing the party for the general election.
Asked on his priorities at this point in time, he told The Star that he wants to inject a renewed sense of hope and confidence among the party rank-and-file ahead of the general election.
Grooming and training is important and he wants to create platforms and opportunities for younger members to perform and shine.
“I also plan to provide a clear direction and approach for party leaders at all levels, as well as strengthen ties with our partners,” he said.
He would also want to present a definitive report card upon his 100 days as secretary-general and spell out the direction for a stronger DAP.
But Loke is stepping onto centrestage at a difficult juncture.
The outcome of the Johor and Melaka elections has shaken the party. Its hardcore Chinese base is intact but its hold over the middle ground is shaky while Malay support has disappeared.
Internally, the DAP election result suggested that the Chinese-educated segment of the party does not see the need to be apologetic about its overly Chinese image.
Loke has to strike a balance and nudge the party back towards the centre so that the party does not veer into Chinese chauvinism.
If the party is to move forward, it has to be accepted by a more multi-racial audience.
Loke wants to give everyone a role and has personally persuaded Tony Pua, who was ousted in the party polls, to continue to be active.
Those he will be relying on at this stage include Johor chief and strategist Liew Chin Tong, national organising secretary Steven Sim, Perak warlord Nga Kor Ming and publicity chief Teo Nie Ching.
They are part of the generational shift unfolding in the party.
Sim is seen as being groomed to be the future Penang chief minister, while Nga is an influencer and has been dubbed as the “spiritual leader” of the Chinese-educated group.
Loke will be interesting to watch and he knows the Lim family will also be watching him.
His big test will be leading the party into a challenging general election.
It is unlikely the party will be able to match the golden performance of 2018, but to stay in control, Loke needs to ensure that it does not slide too badly.