DAP unlikely to be affected by order to repeat party ballot

KUALA LUMPUR (The Straits Times/ANN) - Opposition party's Lim Kit Siang and his son, Guan Eng, expected to keep firm grip in face of repeated challenges. 

The Democratic Action Party (DAP) has gone from strength to strength in Malaysia's last two general elections, and is perhaps the only opposition party certain of a strong showing in the next nationwide polls due in a year.

But on July 7, the Registrar of Societies (ROS) ordered the Chinese-dominated outfit to redo a leadership ballot dating back five years, a move widely seen as a government bid to derail its momentum.

Back in 2012, as is the situation now, DAP was rocked by the ROS declaring its party polls invalid because of irregularities just months before a general election was due to be called by Prime Minister Najib Razak.

"This ROS move is clearly designed to derail if not sabotage the DAP and its planning for the GE," said S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies' senior fellow Yang Razali Kassim.

Deputy Prime Minister Zahid, whose Home Ministry administers the ROS, said a week ago that the DAP will be barred from contesting the general elections unless it holds a revote.

"If the line-up of party leaders who want to submit a candidate (for the GE) is not recognised by the ROS, then the letter of appointment cannot be issued or accepted," he said.

But it is unlikely that another vote will destabilise a party that has seen its secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and his father Kit Siang, a stalwart still regarded as its de facto leader, becoming more entrenched over the past decade.

In 2013, despite the ROS controversy, DAP stormed to a record 38 parliamentary seats and was unbeaten in its Penang stronghold.

It is now the second largest party in Parliament after Umno, and has been part of four state governments since 2008, and still governs Penang and Selangor.

"The ruling Barisan Nasional could potentially benefit if DAP leaders who are more aggressive in challenging Malaysia's established social compact emerge victorious. This damages the opposition as a whole, as it could scare off the Malay majority," Vriens & Partners' political risk consultant Adib Zalkapli told The Straits Times, but noted that leaders who were more pragmatic have triumphed in recent party elections. He was referring to DAP's long-held view that the pro-Bumiputera policy that helps Malays and the indigenous races is unfair and prone to abuse.

DAP has become used to repeated controversy surrounding the election of its leaders. Even Lim Guan Eng, who is also Penang's Chief Minister, bounced back after a poor showing in the 2005 Malacca state leadership ballot when he ended at the bottom.

Those aligned to him and his father have triumphed ever since, and what few dissenters there were have been marginalised. They include Lim Guan Eng's rivals in Malacca, led by Kota Melaka MP Sim Tong Him, who quit DAP along with three other lawmakers this year.

In Penang, calls for a two-term limit for the chief ministership, which would force Lim Guan Eng to step down at the next state polls, have been soundly defeated. The strong backing for the status quo means DAP's national leaders are less concerned with dissent over its political direction.

The Lims are helped by the fact that their trusted lieutenants have shot up the party hierarchy. Kluang MP Liew Chin Tong, a trusted adviser to Lim Kit Siang, garnered the most votes at the 2013 revote of the nullified 2012 party ballot. Others in Lim Kit Siang's inner circle include DAP's publicity chief Tony Pua and whip Anthony Loke. All three have been bandied about as Lim Guan Eng's potential successor as secretary general.

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