The sad decline of Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia

  • Making Progress
  • Thursday, 22 Nov 2018

I joined Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (Malaysian People’s Movement Party), better known as Gerakan, in February 2009.

I started to work for Gerakan-linked think tank SEDAR Institute in late 2008, in fact it was my first job after I graduated from university.

Gerakan has always held a special place in my heart. Even though I was very critical of Barisan Nasional and by extension Gerakan during my time in university. I felt Barisan needed a total reset to confront the new and emerging challenges facing Malaysia.

Barisan, in my opinion, was stuck in the post-colonial mentality and was not adequately responding to the hopes and aspiration of a Malaysia that was shedding its colonial baggage.

However, I did a volte-face and decided to be part of Gerakan and Barisan because I was taken in by the sincerity and earnestness of then Gerakan President, Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon.

Gerakan in 2008 was at a crossroads. The 12th General Election (GE12) was a rude shock for the party. It lost almost all the parliament and state seats it contested and the Chief Ministership of Penang which was the party’s crown jewel.

Only four (4) years prior to that, Gerakan was riding on a high after the 11th General Election riding on the wave of popularity that was engendered by Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.

I joined Gerakan because I believe the party had and in fact, continues to have, the right set of political values and principles, but it was forced to compromise on it and it was systematically constrained by the megalomaniac that was Umno and Barisan.

It was also an exciting time to be part for Gerakan because one could easily deduce that after the pounding it got during GE12, it would be ready to make the changes necessary to regain lost support.

I remember attending a strategy meeting and despite being a “young ciku” as I was pejoratively referred to sometimes, I spoke up. I said, DAP after their losses in the 10th General Election in 1999, made massive changes to their line-up, brought in new blood and promoted young faces.

The dour looks that met my comments told me that Gerakan was not ready to be radical. I told myself, soldier on as change takes time.

In April 2009, Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak became the Prime Minister. Gerakan was elated and for its continued support for Barisan, it was rewarded with a cabinet berth. Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon was made Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department and again, whilst not effusive about the portfolio we thought this would herald Gerakan’s second coming.

Alas, that was not to be as extremists forces acted up, especially to shore up the Malay base in favour of Umno.

Gerakan and other parties continued to stay silent and towed the Barisan line.

I have to apologise as I am guilty myself for towing the party line because I have always been a great believer in party discipline. In fact, I believe when one chooses to be a member of a political party, one voluntarily subjects one’s personal view to the collective wisdom of the party. In other words, the party’s view must always take precedence over personal views.

Under the guise of collective wisdom, many personal and more combative stands on issues of concern like Umno's racialist statements and utterances, the constant backpedaling of the Najib administration on reforms, the corruption and abuse of power and other issues were met with silence or docile rebukes.

Because we could not and would not want to upset the Prime Minister.

On issue after issue, from the reform of the laws on civil marriages and custody of children, PAS’ push for the implementation of Hudud in Kelantan, the 1MDB scandal, the death of Teoh Beng Hock and the arrogance of Umno leaders (to name a few) Gerakan was meek in its criticism.

The nature of Westminster style government and the concept of collective ministerial responsibility hampered any efforts to take contrarian views and in fact I would argue that DAP’s relative silence on the ratification of the International Convention of the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) is evidence of this.

However, my advice to DAP and other Pakatan Harapan parties is not to fall into the abyss Gerakan did as it will hasten its fall from power. The decline of Gerakan should serve as a lesson to those in power.

I have to admit culpability as well because I was part of the party high command and I have to accept responsibility for it.

That was the motivating reason for my refusal to contest any position at the national level at the recently concluded party elections.

The recently concluded party election was an intense battle. Datuk Dr Dominic Lau emerged victorious by defeating Andy Yong for the presidency.

I supported Andy Yong because I believed, and continue to believe, that he has the gravitas and courage to set the party on course of renewal and rehabilitation.

However, like most party elections, it is always dictated and managed by internal power machinations and this election was no different.

As things stand now, I do not know if Gerakan will return to its winning ways but I wish Dr Dominic the best and I hope he does what is right and does not kowtow to party barons and vested interests.

Andy Yong was brave enough to give the internal power cartel a bloody nose.

He lost because he went against the grain in a party that had become accustomed to compromises.

Team Andy Yong will play the role of opposition within Gerakan to ensure the party remains true to its struggle for a multiracial, fair and just Malaysia.

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