The fight in Malacca DAP has been brewing for some time now but of late, the tension seems to be on the brink of eruption. DEVID RAJAH explores the factional dispute that will see mounting pressure among the leaders as the general election draws nearer with the Kota Melaka parliamentary seat being in the middle of the feud.
THE Kota Melaka parliamentary constituency may be described as a “jewel in the crown” of sorts for the DAP as it is a seat that has been under the fold of the party since 1969.
Apart from the party's former deputy secretary-general Chan Teck Chan who served as Kota Melaka MP for a term from 1978 to 1982, chairman Lim Kit Siang and his son Guan Eng, who was then Malacca DAP secretary and DAP Socialist Youth chief, had each served three terms as the MP there.
However, Guan Eng's rise in politics took a setback when he was jailed for 18 months after he was convicted for sedition and printing of false news in 1998.
Talk had been rife about tensions in the Malacca DAP even before Guan Eng's temporary exit from politics,
The factional war is believed to have begun in 1997, when the then Durian Daun assemblyman Yew Kok Kee, said to be aligned to Guan Eng, was dropped as the state organising secretary by Sim Tong Him, who was the then state chief.
Sim was accused of sidelining Guan Eng's supporters then.
The factionalism is said to have taken a turn for the worse with the purported involvement of Kota Melaka MP Kerk Kim Hock, who is also the party secretary-general.
Kerk, who was perceived as “neutral” in the feud, is now seen as siding with those aligned with Guan Eng when he teamed up with Guan Eng and his wife Betty Chew, the present Durian Daun assemblyman, in dealing with problems faced by voters.
Recently Kerk, Guan Eng and Chew met Pulau Melaka housebuyers over the termination of their sale and purchase agreements while Sim, who is also the Banda Hilir assemblyman, formed a housebuyers action committee and held a separate meeting with the developer of the same project, which had been delayed for about five years now.
Kerk admitted that there were internal problems in the state DAP but claimed that the matter was not as serious as portrayed.
“Such problems exist in all organisations, including the DAP,” he said.
A party insider said groups aligned to Guan Eng and Sim were clearly “competing” to serve Kota Melaka voters on several occasions.
Among others, the insider cited the Pasar Ramadan and incinerator issues, where both camps championed the same issues separately.
As the general election draws near, talk is rife about a “house-cleaning” effort by those who want to bring Guan Eng back into political limelight after 2004.
Theoretically, he could actively engage in politics after Aug 2004.
Rumours of Guan Eng's comeback were affirmed when Kerk remarked that he could emerge as a party secretary-general one day and the message was meant to allay fears that Guan Eng's supporters might be sidelined.
A party insider said Guan Eng was expected to make a comeback as the Kota Melaka MP once he was allowed to take an active role in politics.
Guan Eng declined to comment on this issue.
A party source noted that party leaders carried a “house-cleaning” when Kit Siang dropped Chan as the Kota Melaka MP prior to the 1982 general election.
The source claimed Sim and the two assemblymen Goh Leong San (Tengkera) and Lim Jak Wong (Bachang) aligned to him would likely face disciplinary action for allegedly fanning the factional war.
Sim, active in politics since 1982, admitted that the factional fight was getting from bad to worse with the involvement of national leaders.
Sim, believed to have at least 75% of the state's support, said the factions were not new.
However, he was worried about how younger leaders such as Goh and Jak Wong would handle the situation.
Sim said that those aligned to him were not happy with certain decisions taken by top party leaders during the 1999 general election.
“This lingered on and I declined to contest for the state committee's post for the 1999-2000 term to make way for the younger leaders,” said Sim.
Kerk was then nominated as the state chairman but Sim came back to serve the state DAP when national leaders asked him to return to the committee.
A party source said Sim's pullout from the state party election in 2000 was linked to the allocation of seats in the 1999 general election.
Sim's supporters were upset with the Central Executive Committee's decision in fielding Kerk for the Kota Melaka seat instead of Sim who was considered the party's most senior man in the state.
In the 2001 party election, Sim and his team had full control of the state committee when they were voted in while leaders aligned to Guan Eng pulled out of the race, except for Joseph Sta Maria who contested and lost.
Party observers believe that Kerk, who filled the vacancy left by Guan Eng in 1998, may retire due to health reasons or contest outside Malacca to make way for Chew to become the next Kota Melaka MP.
“It will be easier for Chew to give up the seat when Guan Eng comes back to active politics,” said an observer.
The observer added that Kerk might just stay on for another term until Guan Eng could come back to active politics and Chew might continue as the Durian Daun assemblyman.
However, a party source said such “arrangements” would not go down well with Sim's supporters and committee, as they would put up a fight if the national leaders placed their own candidates without considering the state committee's views.
Whatever the outcome, the Malacca DAP cannot afford the on-going power struggle as it would confuse voters and at stake is not only the Kota Melaka parliamentary seat but also their strongholds in three of the five state seats.