After the March 2008 General Elections which all but eliminated Gerakan from the
political scene, the party has failed to find its feet since then. One could
not think of a more demoralising or resounding rejection of their mandate,
which gave the DAP a shock win, and being cast out into oblivion.
Brains but no brawn
Party chairman Koh Tsu Koon, with all his brains and his doctorate should have seen this coming from miles away. After helming Penang for 18 years, he fell with a mighty thump onto a massive pile of discontent, along with the rest of the Gerakan leaders who have helmed
along with him.
Serving under the legendary Lim Chong Eu as political secretary and then his chief aide, one would have thought that Koh was groomed for greatness when he took the reins as Chief Minister. However,
never again reached the spectacular heights that his predecessor
Though progress did come to
it came slowly. Koh Tsu Koon can tout that the building of the PISA indoor arena and the registration of Penang as an UNESCO World Heritage site
as achievements during his tenure. However, his government was very
much in the Barisan Nasional fold, practising closed tenders, cronyism,
widespread corruption and graft.
Katy Perry sums up Koh quite nicely. As a man known as "The Thinker", his indecisiveness and notoriety for changing his mind like a girl changes clothes has become folklore, both amongst Penangnites and his own party. Despite being fully tri-lingual in Bahasa
, English and Mandarin,
talk is all he appeared to be capable of doing. Malaysia
A member of
research unit told me once that the former Chief Minister used to get only 3
hours of sleep a night as he was always deep in thought. "Unfortunately,
that's all he seemed able to do," she quipped to me with a smile.
After becoming Gerakan President in 2008, the image of the party has sharply declined, mostly thanks to him. Gerakan was seen increasingly as Umno's lapdog, just like the MCA and MIC. Koh appears physically frail, and that has translated to Gerakan's fall from grace as they had no voice or intention to affect real change.
After losing his parliamentary bid, the new Najib administration took pity on him and appointed him as a Senator and a Minister in the Prime Minister's department. This obviously was met with clear indignation with from the people. This man had lost the trust of the electorate which led him to be rejected in the polls, and yet the Prime Minister had the temerity not just make him a senator, but a Minister?!
To add salt to wound, the role given to a man famous for being unable to make decisions was to take charge of the National Key Result Areas. It was so ironic. If he had done such a good job as Chief Minister of
Penang, why did Gerakan lose so badly?
Obviously he was not very good at his new job, and soon he was replaced by the more capable Idris Jala. He has just been floating about, making occasional appearances for his token existence in what is an already over-bloated cabinet.
Calls for him to step down and dissenters within Gerakan started to rear their heads. He was undoubtedly considered a liability and represents everything is wrong with the party. In order to stop the rot, they had to cut of their head so to speak.
Wanita Gerakan Chief Tan Lian Hoe made clear her gripes against his leadership at their national delegates conference only last month, calling on him to be brave and "make decisions or step aside". Koh stepped up to say that he would make the tough decisions and lead the party through the next election.
How things can change so quickly.
Stepping aside best for Gerakan
With Koh announcing that he will not contest in the next general elections for either the state or parliamentary seats, I anticipate that many opposition politicians would be disappointed that he is no longer a target, nor a candidate which they could have an easy win over.
I would venture to speculate that the Prime Minister obviously feels that Koh is not a 'winnable' candidate, and made this clear to him during the meeting in Putrajaya with the BN heads on Tuesday. Koh himself, should have seen this coming.
By stepping aside, this has also led to his successor, Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng to enter the debate by saying that Umno wanted to sideline Koh. Although speculation was rife that Koh's 'sacrifice' would be to contest in the next GE against the incredibly popular Lim Guan Eng, but it appears that what he meant was 'self-sacrifice'.
No wonder Muyhiddin Yassin was so keen to accept the decision. Obviously this administration has no faith in this Gerakan leader or his ability to stir the hearts and minds of the grassroots. Koh stepping aside gives the party a chance to reinvent themselves.
However, it would be unfair to say that Koh is solely responsible for tarnishing the image of the once-opposition party. Other contributors to the decline of Gerakan's popularity has to be the Penang duo of Tweedle-Dee and Tweedle-Dum, otherwise known as Thor Teong Ghee and Baljit Singh, made infamous for giving the Penang state government an 'F' for performance. The public reaction and scorn against this statement forced them to retreat back into a hole, after being branded as having taken the people to '
Recent surveys show that Malays living in
view the state government as a 'Chinese' government, not one of Pakatan Rakyat.
Gerakan is viewed as better representative of Barisan Nasional, therefore
better equipped to protect their rights. However, before Gerakan and Umno jump
for joy, public perception can very quickly change.
Gerakan will be all but eliminated in the next General Election, and even Umno would struggle in
has turned into a DAP stronghold. Nevertheless, with Koh moving on, they will
have a couple of years to take the time to elevate the image of the party.
Unfortunately the biggest obstacle would be voicing out dissent against Umno, so perhaps the best thing to do for themselves and the people, is to withdraw from the Barisan Nasional coalition. As long as they remain in BN, they shall continue to be an impotent party.