KUALA LUMPUR, June 10 — Despite successfully defending the Seremban parliamentary constituency for two consecutive terms, Anthony Loke is still anticipating new challenges in the coming general election.

This, he said, was due to the ever-changing demographics in Seremban.

“Seremban is a challenging seat, because the demographic of the constituency is very mixed, and in fact, it has become almost a Malay-majority seat.

“It’s almost 50 per cent Malay; Chinese voters make up almost 40 per cent and the balance are Indians.

“So in that kind of demographic makeup, it is always challenging for DAP. But I have been taking up the challenge since 2013, for the past two elections, and I managed to fend off two challenges,” he said.

Loke was referring to the past two general elections where, in 2013, he ran against a strong candidate, the late Datuk Dr Yeow Chai Thiam, who was an MCA legend and former Negri Sembilan MCA chairman, followed by 2018, when he faced down Datuk Chong Sin Woon, an MCA challenger who was, at the time, deputy education minister.

“But I didn’t run away. I took up the challenge, and I won with a bigger majority,” Loke told Malay Mail in an interview.

Not yet a stronghold

With this in mind, Loke, who is the recently installed DAP secretary-general, said the Seremban seat is not under threat, but that DAP has yet to call it a party stronghold.

“It is not easy to put that kind of tagline on that seat, although Seremban was a DAP stronghold in the past, but because of Dr Chen Man Hin, our founder who won that seat for many years.

“But the demographic of that seat keeps on changing, and right now, the demographics is more Malay-majority. I’m not saying that the seat is under threat, but I am saying that the makeup of demographics is a challenge for DAP. Even though we won a 30,000 majority last election, it does not mean that we will continue with that kind of strength.

“My hope is that, we want to make it a stronghold even though as a Malay-majority seat, it is something we want to prove — that DAP can win those seats — and that a DAP leader is able to win in such a demography, winning the support of Malay voters,” he said.

Recalling the past, Loke said for four consecutive elections since 1990, DAP lost that seat right up to 2008.

MCA’s then president Tan Sri Lee San Choon had in 1990 captured the seat in Seremban, the seat that DAP chairman Dr Chen had held since the establishment of the federal constituency in 1974.

Over the years, in every election, different dynamics emerged, and in the 2018 general election, it was because of Pakatan Harapan’s (PH) cooperation with Bersatu and the influence of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad that PH managed to increase its majority in Seremban.

Loke also explained that Seremban started out as a mixed seat 20 years ago, which over the years evolved from a Chinese-majority seat into a Chinese-minority one.

While there are predominantly Chinese areas in the constituency, Loke said the constituency had been enlarged to cover a lot of rural areas including kampungs; for example, Lenggeng, half of which is rural, and mostly made up of Malay kampungs.

“In the past, of course, I know, DAP would not have been able to penetrate those areas. In fact, during campaigning time, hardly any DAP candidates would go to Malay areas to campaign because we had no machinery in the past.

“I know for sure because I helped to campaign as a young boy in 1995 — when I was still in Form Six, so I knew the campaign was very much just concentrated in the Chinese areas,” he said.

Things changed in 2008, he said, because of the party’s cooperation with PKR, and over the years, DAP managed to win the seat, just as PKR also won the state seat.

Initially starting off in Rasah in 2008, which he won, Loke said he switched over to Seremban and managed to secure the seat with the support of a PKR assemblyman, Datuk Seri Aminuddin Harun, who is the current mentri besar.

In the 13th general election, Loke managed to increase the majority to 12,553 votes, against MCA’s Dr Yeow, capturing the seat with 45,628 votes.

In GE14, Loke defended the Seremban seat with 55,503 votes and a majority of 30,694 against MCA’s Chong.

Staying in Seremban

With this in mind, Loke said he has no plans to leave Seremban and will face the new challenges that await as he is both an incumbent in a parliamentary and state assembly seat.

“Negri Sembilan, while it is a Pakatan Harapan (PH) state now, it is not a safe state for PH compared to Penang and Selangor as PH had only won the state for the very first time in the 2018 general election with just a four-seat majority.

“It will be a challenge for us to defend the state and for PH, but we must defend it because it was a hard-won state.

“We have the potential to win a second term, so I think I need to play a role in Negri Sembilan because at the same time, I am also an assemblyman in the state,” he said.

In terms of preference, Loke said, Seremban was a constituency dear to him, as it was his hometown and where he grew up.

“Of course, I would like to defend my own seat in Seremban, that is a constituency which I have sentimental values for, because that is my hometown and where I grew up, and that was where my political base has been all this while,” he said.

Looking at the current dynamics, Loke said he will be focusing on fortifying the seats that DAP has won in the last general election.

“I think the approach that I’m taking in the next election is that we have to make sure that the seats we won are more deeply rooted where incumbents must play a role to make sure that seats that were won can continue to stay with the DAP and that needs a lot of groundwork.

“I know to harness a seat we need time and effort on the ground to spread our influence, and to gain the strength and support from the voters in those particular areas.

“The advantage that we have today is that many of us are incumbents, so you have to play your role as an incumbent to strengthen that seat for the party, and if the incumbents have been doing well and are strong enough they should stay in their seats,” he said.

However, this should not be compared to what veteran DAP man Lim Kit Siang did in the past, contesting in various seats in different states.

These were steps leaders had to take in the past, Loke said, to win stronger constituencies for the party.

“But we have come to the point that we are a bit more mature right now, in the sense that we already have so many incumbent seats.

“In the past, Kit Siang was always shifting seats from one election to another election, trying to build up the party’s strength. We are thankful to him that he was able to do that, taking that kind of risk and to win those seats and make them DAP strongholds.

“When he first started to contest in Penang, Penang was not a DAP stronghold, so over the years, Penang parliamentary seats in particular Tanjung have been won by DAP since 1986 until now.

“We have never lost that seat, Ipoh Timur another example, so those are the seats that were won by Kit Siang. He passed them on to other candidates so that he can help the party to capture more seats,” Loke said, indicating that those were needs of the past, and right now incumbents needed to nurture their current seats,

This will be DAP’s way forward, he said in the coming general election.