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PUBLISHED: Oct 29, 2013 3:44pm

Will a party rejuvenation program save Gerakan from its impending doom?

Gerakan Conference

By:
Lh Tay

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Gerakan Conference
Gerakan Conference

KUALA LUMPUR, Oct 29 – Gerakan, which started as an opposition party in 1968, claimed to be multiracial but has 80% Chinese members, 15% Indians with the rest Malays and other races.

However, despite the large number of Chinese members, it does not champion issues affecting the Chinese community alone. It tries to “struggle” for all Malaysians.

But by the 12th general election in 2008, it was left with two Parliamentary seats – one in Gerik, Perak and another in Simpang Renggam Johor. Both are Malay majority constituencies.

Five years later, in the 13th general election on May 5, 2013, the party was left with only one Simpang Renggam Parliamentary seat. At the state level, it managed to cling on to two seats — all are in Sabah (Tanjong Papat and Elopura).

Last Saturday the Gerakan held its party election. The new president is Datuk Mah Siew Keong (Perak) who defeated another candidate, Datuk Teng Chang Yeow, the Penang Gerakan chairman. Dr Cheah Soon Hai from Kedah was elected as the deputy president.

Gerakan acting president, Datuk Chang Ko Youn, had a week earlier declined nomination for the presidency despite the fact that he was handpicked by the former president Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon who resigned on May 11.

In his outgoing interview with the local press, Chang spoke at length about the dominant “Big Brother” in the Barisan Nasional – Umno. He urged Umno to give a bigger say and role in policy-making to the other non-Malay component parties.

“Umno’s dominance is inevitable as they are the dominant party with more seats. But any policies must get the consensus from BN members since the government is made of BN. Like the BN election manifesto, it was a BN manifesto.

It was done together. We must work together, then only people would see there is consultancy and partnership,” he added.

The “Umno dominance” is what caused the non-Malay community to lose faith in the Gerakan, MCA, MIC, PPP and others. The non-Malay voters perceived these parties as being weak in “fighting” for their legitimate rights in Malaysia.

Most of them voted for the opposition –Malay & non-Malay parties!

It is recalled that after the 12th general election, Gerakan president Dr Koh Tsu Koon launched in May 2008 “a party rejuvenation campaign in its bid to rebound in mainstream politics and to regain people’s confidence”.

The programme has outlined three thrusts, namely to voice Gerakan’s ideology, policy position and advocate Malaysian solutions for various major issues, to rebuild, rebrand and re-empower the party at all levels, and to regain people’s confidence.

The party leadership chose the slogan, “Forward Together with One Heart” (Satu Hati Gerak Bersama), and focused on eight strategies:

1) To formulate and voice principled policy positions and solutions for major national issues;
2) To be constructive opposition in Pakatan Rakyat-led states;
3) To pursue reforms of the BN as an effective multi-racial coalition;
4) To effectively rebuild and revitalise the party, to forge smart partnership with society and NGOs;
5) To embark on membership expansion and consolidation;
6) To boost and train more leaders;
7) To re-energise and revamp the party at all levels;
8) To further improve communication and public relations strategies.

The party leadership became more proactive and vocal in raising issues concerning the Malaysian people of all races.

But after the condemnation by the Malay right-wing NGOs such as Perkasa and vocal Umno state leaders, the Gerakan had ceased to be acting as the “conscience of BN”.

In May 5 general election, the party suffered the worst defeat thoughout its history.

Wither the party with its new team?

To be relevant and popular again in the nation, especially among the non-Malays, Gerakan needs strong leadership.

The leaders must be able to engage the “big brother” Umno to acknowledge the discontentment among the non-Malays in not having been treated fairly by the Government.

Obviously it cannot do that alone.

It is suggested by some political observers Gerakan should merge or at least cooperate with the People’s Progressive Party (PPP) which is led Datuk M. Kayveas. PPP, with 300,000 members today, did not win any state or Parliamentary seat in the May general election.

The merger was first proposed by Kayveas himself in 2006. Gerakan welcomed the proposal but no progress was achieved until today.

Number is strength. The bigger the membership, the louder the voice of the party. If Gerakan chooses to remain solo, it is doubtful that it can recover from its sick bed!

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