Over the years, Gerakan has tried to change or reform the Barisan “from within” – or so it likes to claim. Clearly, it has failed. Did the BN instead end up changing Gerakan? The question on many people’s minds is, now what for the party that had governed Penang for close to 40 years?
In a personal comment piece for the New Sunday Times, the former state exco member for Penang, Toh Kin Woon, suggested several options for Gerakan after its disastrous performance in the general election:
One is to stay in BN and have more of the same, with the party unable to abandon its racial character. This is the least desirable for it may lead to the party’s oblivion.
The second is to stay and seek reforms from within. One major reform, and one which had been advocated earlier by the party’s Youth chief, is for all component parties to merge to form a truly multiracial BN.
Besides doing away with racial appeals, it will avert the seemingly lack of parity in the relationship between Umno and the rest.
It was this that had, in part, cost MCA, MIC and Gerakan dearly in the recent elections. The party must, however, give itself a time frame to pursue this major change.
Should it fail to achieve this within the given time span, it must then consider leaving BN and independently develop the party as a multiracial social democratic party.
It could, for instance, join forces with other like-minded parties outside BN to forge an even larger multiracial movement for greater democracy, ethnic equality, gender parity and social justice.
Ultimately, it is up to the leaders and party members to consider these, and other, options for a revival of the party. But reform and change it must, if it is to remain a force that can fulfil the ever-rising tide of expectations of the Malaysian electorate in a rapidly changing world.
This prompted Dr Choong Sim Poey, a life member of Gerakan, to send a letter to the NST. Unfortunately, what was published was only an “emasculated” version. Here is the full version. (The bits that the NST left out are in bold. It looks like you are still not allowed to be critical of Umno in the NST):
I refer to Dr Toh’s analysis of Gerakan’s problems (New SundayTimes, 23 March 2008). His concluding lines on the possibility of Gerakan leaving the BN coalition as one of their options to revive the Party is not as radical a suggestion as the public may think. It is an issue familiar to many senior party members.
Even in the 1980s when Tun Lim Chong Eu was the CM in Penang (and de facto leader of the Gerakan), the ‘unfair’ allocation of seats to component parties was a chronic bone of contention. Suggestions raised to break away for this reason were rejected as unseemly and opportunistic. Nevertheless, it was generally agreed that this should remain an option when key issues were in dispute especially when it went against our basic party principles and objectives
Unfortunately, over the years of BN/Umno dominance, this seemed to have been put aside in favour of ‘pragmatic’ politics. This meant accepting anything that the Umno leadership came out with to curry favour with their own members with a total disregard for the position of their coalition partners.
This was tested when Umno sought to undermine Pas by becoming an Islamic State and ‘Ketuanan Melayu‘ became the battle cry for Umno to regain their grass-roots support during which time there was not even a squeak from any Gerakan leaders.
This pragmatic approach to politics by Gerakan included condoning blatant opportunism and cronyism by Umno leaders in the name of the NEP. All this Gerakan willingly accepted in exchange for remaining ‘permanently’ under the BN’s comfort zone, nominally governing the state of Penang, until this shock election defeat.
I am writing this to put in historical perspective the position of Gerakan vis-a-vis the BN. I maintain that there was never any acceptance or assumption that Gerakan’s membership in the BN coalition was a permanent partnership to be maintained at all costs! The Gerakan leadership will now have to seriously consider if the cost paid in this election has been too high!
Dr Choong Sim Poey
So do you think Gerakan should remain in the BN and hope to influence any reform process in the ruling coalition – or do you think the BN is beyond redemption and Gerakan should leave?