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Thursday, 11 April 2013

DAP strongman Lim Kit Siang's biggest political gamble

A victory against Johor Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman would mean the first time in the DAP veteran’s 50-year political career that he has defeated a major Malay challenger. A loss would see him packing out of Johor and, probably, out of politics as well.

DAP adviser Lim Kit Siang, who is contesting in Gelang Patah, is not as invincible as he might seem. He has been defeated before – not once but five times in a career that spans nearly five decades.

Besides, Kit Siang and his junior – DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng – have upset the apple cart in Johor and sparked the sudden disbanding of the three-man state DAP candidate selection committee.

State DAP chairman Dr Boo Cheng Hau, one of the panel members, has told friends he had invited Kit Siang in good faith to fight in Gelang Patah, which he had earlier been eyeing.

The veteran politician accepted but he is bringing along his “cronies” and this has caused bitter in-fighting and dissension among state leaders.

Kit Siang would need all the support and help he can get from Dr Boo, the current assemblyman for Skudai, one of the two state seats in the parliamentary constituency. (The other is Nusajaya.)

If he crosses the Johor chief, as he and Guan Eng had done, Kit Siang could hurt his chances in Gelang Patah.

The Lims, who control the party, are also bringing Liew Chin Tong from Bukit Bendera in Penang to Kulai and fielding “Superman” Hew Kuan Yaw in Labis.

Kit Siang and son, who is the Penang Chief Minister, had also used their “central power” to move current elected representatives from one seat to another in Johor.

All these moves, insiders say, is to cut Dr Boo down to size, as he seldom sees eye to eye with Guan Eng.

Besides, if Barisan Nasional fields Mentri Besar Datuk Abdul Ghani Othman in Gelang Patah, as is widely speculated, Kit Siang will probably face the toughest political fight of his life.

A victory would see him make history by defeating a Malay candidate and capturing a constituency that is synonymous with the ambitions of Umno.

On the other hand, a defeat would send the DAP stalwart packing – not only out of Johor but, probably, also out of politics.

Kit Siang is pushing 72 and a defeat may well sound the death knell of his long and illustrious career.

He has contested in 10 parliamentary and eight state seats, the first in a by-election in Serdang, Selangor in 1968.

He moved to Malacca, then back to Selangor, and, after that, to a disastrous showing in Penang with his failed Tanjung projects to wrest the state from the Barisan.

After his defeat in 1999, he emerged in Ipoh Timur in the 2004 general election and remained there for another term.

He is trying out Johor, as he did in Penang and Perak – a tried and tested strategy to expand the DAP’s reach, to find new territories for the party and to help the opposition front capture Putrajaya.

His nomadic political lifestyle is part of a strategy to also centralise national attention on himself and to make the state he migrates to the focal point of his party’s national election battle.

He never contested to serve as MP but, always, to expand the party among mostly Chinese voters.

While his political enemies have coined for him the phrase “touch and go politician” to describe his migratory practices, Kit Siang remains confident of his politics.

He hopes his venture into Johor, designed to take the Barisan by surprise, would have the “awe and wow” effect for the upcoming “mother of all battles”.

By his calculation, Kit Siang is sure of the Chinese voters, who form a slight majority in Gelang Patah. But he had not banked on the Barisan pulling a surprise of its own.

Ghani entering the fray, if it indeed happens, is wholly unexpected and is fraught with danger for Kit Siang.

This would make it a “Malay vs Chinese” electoral fight, the first time in Lim’s 50-year political life that he would be facing a major Malay challenger.

Besides, Ghani is mild-mannered, soft-spoken and enjoys a special relationship with the Chinese in Johor who, unlike their cousins elsewhere, did not wholly contribute to the 2008 political tsunami.

Kit Siang’s confidence is drawn from the party’s performance in Sarawak in the 2006 state polls, where it contested in 15 state seats and won 12, 10 of them with big majorities.

The DAP also won the Sibu seat by a slim majority in a hard-fought battle with the Barisan in a by-election.

With such a performance behind him, the hardcore politician is tuned to the possible – confident and willing to bet everything in one throw of the dice.

But the Lim dynasty, in their over-confidence, has upset the apple cart that had been carefully nurtured by Dr Boo in Johor.

Not only is the Gelang Patah contest much in doubt now, the party’s entire foray into Johor is being questioned by state DAP leaders.

Comment By Baradan Kuppusamy

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