A turning point in Gerakan’s fortunes

By Adrian Lai 
 
 

THERE is no denying that Gerakan, a party that endured crushing defeats in the last two general elections, has crossed the Rubicon.

The damage on the party’s hull, caused by the incessant political tidal waves in recent years, has been so severe that observers had written off any chance for Gerakan to resuscitate itself.

The fact that Gerakan only won a handful of seats in the 2008 general election and its equally dismal performance in last year’s polls, seemed to show that the 46-year-old party was in a downward spiral.

Gerakan’s electoral debacles only exemplified the cruel reality that the party, which was once one of the most influential political entities in the country, has been reduced to a shadow of its former self.

After losing its crown jewel, the Penang state government, in the 2008 general election, many were of the opinion that Gerakan’s fortunes could never be recovered.

But despite all the gloomy predictions by Gerakan’s doomsayers, the party, under the leadership of new president Datuk Mah Siew Keong, achieved something that many deemed impossible.

Facing the seemingly indomitable task of subduing DAP in the Teluk Intan by-election in May, Mah, despite initial hesitation, had taken the plunge at the eleventh hour.

In that do-or-die battle, Mah was able to muster his troops and sprang a huge surprise by achieving an astonishing victory, turning DAP’s offensive into an ignominious rout.

Mah proved to not only his naysayers, but also to his party, that it is not over until the fat lady sings.

“There is always hope as long as one does not give up easily. This will be the main theme of Gerakan’s 43rd National Delegates Conference (NDC) this weekend,” former Gerakan acting president Datuk Chang Ko Youn said yesterday.

“The Teluk Intan campaign taught us a very valuable lesson: we can overcome any challenges in the face of adversity as long as we are able to work together.

“Delegates must make use of the NDC to explore ways to put aside differences and foster unity. Division within our ranks will only undermine Gerakan’s mission to reinvigorate itself,” he added.

Gerakan has been knocked off its pedestal in recent years, but the 1,200 delegates at the NDC this weekend will have something to cheer about following their chief’s momentous achievement.

They now regard Mah’s victory in Teluk Intan as the turning point for Gerakan, especially after Mah pledged to transform the constituency, his hometown, into the party’s new fortress.

Mah, who took over the party’s helm in October last year, had earned the trust and respect of party members, party insiders said.

They said this was the main reason why the party plans to extend the term limit for party presidency from two to three as Gerakan members wanted to give Mah time to turn things around.

“The initial proposal was to limit the post to only two terms, but feedback from the grassroots favoured three terms. Seventy per cent of the delegates felt that two terms would be too short,” Mah was quoted as saying recently.

Nonetheless, the spectre of factionalism continues to threaten Gerakan’s hopes to revive.

On Oct 3, it was reported that eight Gerakan Youth leaders resigned over differences with Youth chief Tan Keng Liang.

According to party sources, Mah had persuaded the eight to retract their resignations, but Tan was resolute in accepting them.

An insider also revealed that Mah had expressed his disappointment over Tan’s refusal to bury the hatchet.

“The party president must put his foot down and keep his subordinates in line. The party must focus on playing its role as a critic and conscience of Barisan Nasional,” the source said.

In its glory days, Gerakan was widely admired, especially in Penang, for being the intellectual arm of BN.

But that “gentleman” period is over and has been replaced with ruthless politics unfamiliar to Gerakan and its leaders.

Yes, Gerakan may be at the point of no return, but it is showing signs that it is finally headed towards the right direction.

Gerakan must, however, be careful not to crumble from within if it hopes to reclaim its crown jewel.

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