Unity & Challenges, 1980-1989

The correctness of the party’s non-communal stand was strikingly reflected in its horizontal and vertical concepts of expansion towards political influence and political power in the 1970’s. When 1980 set in, the party, besides being the premier component in the Barisan Nasional Government in Penang, was wielding more and more influence at the national level. It enjoyed the confidence of the Barisan Nasional as a responsible partner. It also commanded the respect of the public as an efficient technocratic party through its representatives in the Federal and State Governments.

After appraising the continuing growth of the party and its members’ adherence to the basic political ideology of uniting all- Malaysians, Dr. Lim Chong Eu, the respectable senior statesman of Malaysia, decided not to accept nomination for the post of National President to make way for the many young and capable leaders in our party. His announcement immediately caused some internal stir. It also precipitated some healthy campaigning by interested contenders. On 17th August 1980, when the 9th National Delegates Conference in Port Dickson entered its second day to elect a new Central Committee it was preceded by a Presidential Speech which advised all members to ensure party unity and organisational cohesiveness. In the election, Dr. Lim Keng Yaik became the new Party President for a term of four years, and Paul Leong Khee Seong, after being elected as the Deputy President without contest, pledged his support and co-operation with the same party office-bearers which included Ong Boon Seong as another Deputy President, Teh Ewe Lim as the Secretary-General and Dr. Goh Cheng Teik as the Deputy Secretary-General. Another revision to the Party Constitution was also approved by the Conference to promote cordial relationship between the members and party organisations of various levels. As such, unity was maintained and democracy upheld. The ‘Port Dickson Spirit’ was thus born.

Confronted with the many social, economic and political problems that were then gripping the nation, the new party leadership set about to strengthen and expand party membership, and at the same time, to attract committed intellectuals into the party. In the government sphere, it was decided that the Party President would continue to serve the people in his capacity as an Exco Member in the Perak State Government, and that his deputy would again be the party representative in the Federal Cabinet as the Minister of Primary Industries. Viewed as a strategy to enhance the party’s political influence, such an arrangement had worked extremely well. It enabled Dr. Lim Keng Yaik to concentrate on party work and at the same time voice our views on national issues without fear or favour. It also enhanced our credibility in the Barisan Nasional Government through Paul Leong Khee Seong’s many contributions to the country’s economic stability.

As a conscientious effort to further expand the party an open door policy was adopted by the liberal and democratic new leadership. This had led three groups of people to join the party during the years 1981-1985. The first was led by Michael Chen Wing Sum and ex-MCA members. This resulted in an upsurge of new members and the formation of many new branches and divisions in Perlis, Kedah, Johore, the Federal Territory and the East Coast states of Kelantan, Pahang and Trengganu in 1981 and 1982. Of much significance was the second group of Chinese educationists who had been closely associated with the United Chinese School Committees’ Association and the United Chinese School Teachers’ Association, popularly known in its Chinese acronym as the ‘Dong Jiao Zong’ group. It included Kerk Choo Ting, Ong Tin Kim, Dr. Kang Chin Seng, Dr. Koh Tsu Koon and others. On joining the party on 31st March 1982, the group categorically stated its stand on language, education and culture to create an integrated Malaysia. It assumed the form of a joint statement with the Central Committee which promised to co-opt it as part and parcel of the party’s political programme. Together with the ‘Dong Jiao Zong’ group came along a group of young, concerned and committed intellectuals who would soon emerge as the ‘think tank’ of the party with regards to its stand on national social, economic and political issues. The third group comprised well-known trade unionists headed by former CUEPACS President, T. Najendran. It helped to strengthen our relationship with the Malaysian working class.

Another milestone was achieved when the Central Committee appointed the National Organising Committee to organise the party’s youth and women wings. To realise the noble aim of providing training ground for future leadership, Wanita Gerakan was launched in November, 1982 and Pemuda Gerakan in January 1983. A series of activities involving political and leadership training were held at both the national and regional levels. The activeness of the two movements had undoubtedly expanded the party’s organisational base.

Meanwhile, in Penang, with the completion of the Penang Bridge on 14th September 1985, the Pearl of the Orient entered a new phase of social and economic development under the Gerakan-led State Government. It was by then not only a state with one of the highest per capita GDP in the country, but also a centre of rich and diverse Malaysian culture. Parti Gerakan’s ideological commitment and technocratic strength are well demonstrated in Penang.

With these records and achievements, the party went to the polls in 1982 and 1986 to be gauged and evaluated by the people. Our honest, sincere, capable and responsible leadership won the masses’ trust and support in the country’s 6th Election in 1982. Though given a much reduced number of seats in the Penang State Election, we secured a 100% win by capturing all the 8 seats. We also had some breakthrough in Kedah, Perak, Selangor, Pahang and Johore bringing the total win in these states to 7. In the Parliamentary Election, a 100% record was attained in Perak by winning all the three seats allocated, and in Penang we captured two out of the three given, including one by Dr. Koh Tsu Koon in Tanjung, an opposition stronghold. This was the best performance of the party after becoming a component party in the Barisan Nasional. It clearly demonstrated our good standing with the people. However, in the 7th General Election held in August, 1986, against the backdrop of corporate scandals, administrative deviations, cultural intolerance and economic recession, as well as widespread anti-establishment sentiment in the urban areas, the party lost 4 out of the 9 parliamentary seats allocated nation-wide. At state level, though we managed to win 9 out of 11 seats in Penang, we suffered great losses in other states, securing only 4 out of 11 seats.

Though the party leadership was aware of the ups and downs in seat allocation and electoral performance it felt that they should not be regarded as the sole yardstick in measuring the success or failure of its political struggle. Nonetheless, such a misconception was often brought up in party election campaign by aspiring candidates. The party election which was held on 29th September 1984 in Kuala Lumpur according to the amended Constitution approved a year earlier witnessed the first keenly contested match. The incumbents were put to the acid test before emerging as the final victors in the race. Dr. Lim Keng Yaik and Paul Leong Khee Seong were both re-elected as Party President and Deputy President respectively, with Kerk Choo Ting as the new Secretary-General. Committed to the task of winning more right-thinking Malaysians to its struggle, the new leadership began to expand the party organisation in the midst of a move to encourage weak-hearted and opportunist members to desert the party. With a record 95 new branches and 28 new divisions established in 1985, the party could now advance with greater confidence to combat some disturbing symptoms that afflicted the party and the society at large. However, such effort was temporarily thwarted with another major contest for party posts in June, 1987. Fortunately, with greater political maturity and a better understanding of democratic principles, the 16th Annual Delegates Conference proceeded peacefully, and the present leadership was given another mandate to lead the party for another three years.

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