Troubling times ahead for Gerakan

KUALA LUMPUR: Datuk Mah Siew Kong (pix) has been Gerakan president for just over a year and is already bracing for a "tough and challenging" 2015 as he anticipates lots of internal party squabbling.

But he will be taking it in his stride because this is expected when he breaks with tradition and comes out with his party's finalised list of potential winnable candidates for the next general election (GE) – not due until 2018 – next year.

"I will not reveal the list publicly but you will know who they are when they go to work in the consistency," said Mah, who is also minister in Prime Minister's Department, in a recent interview with theSun to mark his one year as party president, at his office in Parliament building. He was elected Gerakan president on Oct 26 last year.

"If the members want to fight each other over the list, then go ahead. Fight over it for the whole of next year.

"After that, I want them to stay focus on the battle to come in the general election," said the 53-year-old Mah who explained that even if the list was announced, as usual, at the last minute, there would still be internal squabblings.

"It is quite stressful to settle the internal crisis and handle the general election at the same time. I rather overcome the party internal squable first and then get all of them to focus on the next general election," he said.

He said the list was expected to have many new faces, and while it would be hard to drop incumbents, nevertheless, decisions have to be made in the party's interest.

Acknowledging that Gerakan cannot afford another poor showing in the next GE, he said if his plan does not work, "I will take responsibility and resign as party president".

In the 11th GE in 2004, Gerakan won 10 parliamentary and 30 state seats. It only lost one state seat – Triang – and two parliamentary seats – Kepong and Tanjung.

In the 2008 GE, it won only two of the 12 parliamentary and four of the 31 state seats it contested, while in last year's GE, it won one of the 11 parliamentary and one of the 31 state seats. However, its fortune took a climb when Mah won the by-election for the Teluk Intan parliamentary seat in May this year.

Following are excerpts of the question-and-answer session with Mah.

Q: How has your victory in the Teluk Intan parliamentary by-election helped re-energise the party?
A: It has given us a bit of "umph".... however, I think the real challenge is ahead. No doubt, all party members were very united in the Teluk Intan by-election after Barisan Nasional's defeat in the Kajang by-election and in Bukit Gelugor (where BN did not contest the by-election).

Q: What party goals have you achieved after being president for one year?
A: I am trying to strengthen the party after its poor showing in the last two general elections ... it is not easy task but I am trying to make certain changes such as organising more training for members. We have also taken a big step to set a limit to the term of the party president and state chairmen.
I also like to see a limit to the terms of the party branch and division chairmen. 
However, a party survey last year showed that over 2,000 branch and division chairmen were not in favour of it ... so I have to take some time to have further discussions and convince them.

Q: After last year's general election, some BN leaders blamed a certain community for the poor results, do you hold the same view?
A: I think it is totally wrong for us to blame and punish a certain community as it is the voters' choice. 
We should instead find out our weaknesses and improve on them. Blaming and punishing is not a wise strategy ... it will not help us in the next general election.

Q: During the recent party national delegates conference, BN chairman Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak had asked Gerakan to regain Penang in the next general election. What is Gerakan's next move to woo back Penang voters?
A: I have discussed the matter with Penang party chairman Teng Chang Yeow. He is doing a comprehensive strategy plan which will be presented to the prime minister in March next year. I admit it is not going to be easy to win back the state, but Penang was always Gerakan's base, so we have to work hard to achieve this goal.

Q: What were the weaknesses that caused Gerakan to be badly defeated in the last general election?
A: We need to work hard on certain issues such as education and costs of living.We have to start listening to the ground and convey the people's concerns to government. We are remedying and improving the party.

Q: Gerakan has always upheld moderation against extremism. What do you think of the recent extremist statements made by some political and non-government organisation leaders in the country?
A: We always practise moderation, hence we have Malay, Indian and Chinese members who hold high-ranking posts in the party. We take sometime to discuss a matter due to the many different views but we eventually come to a consensus.
For example, the "burning the bible" remark by Perkasa chairman Datuk Ibrahim Ali, I think the Attorney-General should review the matter and prosecute him for creating a lot of anger among various communities and harming national harmony.




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