Learn to be a statesman, Kit Siang

JUNE 6 — Government of the day. Five federal ministers including the son, Lim Guan Eng. Second largest bloc in Parliament with over 40 seats, and in control of Penang. 

DAP has had quite a great spell. Probably the time to ease up and stick to being party adviser and not remain the lightning rod for the right wing’s spite, eh? If only someone can pass the note to Lim Kit Siang.

The member of parliament for Iskandar Puteri has to chill down, somehow. Stick to his constituency and other party work. For the benefit of DAP and its own future.

Why?

Bromance

The former prime minister Najib Razak now trolls Kit Siang, named him Menteri Hal Ehwal Najib (MENHEN, minister for Najib affairs). The ridicule is not by accident, it’s strategic.

Since 1969, Lim Senior has been the face of ethnic Chinese chauvinism and threat to Malay rights. The various communications chiefs of Barisan Nasional have trained their public relations cannons on him and caricatured him. 

Even the 2013 film “Tanda Putera” was challenged for misrepresenting Lim and unfairly placing him at the centre of the May 13 riots. 

Truth has no value when a tale has been passed on for two decades with the assistance of the state propaganda machine.

It’s convenient to raise support from the Malay heartland when Kit Siang is held up as the arch nemesis.  When the DAP adviser is so keen to pick up all the noises from Najib’s camp it is child’s play for a struggling Umno.

The latest debate debacle, where Kit Siang withdrew from the debate he agreed to — on grounds it may lead to racial strife — reveals his surprising naivety.

The Najib team were playing him from the start. Don’t play the bad hand.

‘But I’m right’

Kit Siang’s riposte would be he can defend each one of his positions, from how Najib is undermining the Rukun Negara with his Bossku antics, to how he has also contravened a 2012 law no voter cares for.

It does not matter whether he has an argument to make, the side opposing him relies on not what he says but that he is saying it to re-establish support in spots Barisan Nasional (BN) lost ground in 2018.

There are battalions of mainly Chinese educated Malaysians who hero-worship him and want him to stay in the national limelight perpetually. 

But they must realise, for every vote he retains for DAP and Pakatan Harapan by being this version of Lim Kit Siang, he aids Umno and PAS to acquire votes in the Malay heartland. He is truly a divisive figure in national politics.

This is not to reduce his contribution to the cause, but being right is not how perceptions are changed when feelings are deeply rooted by psychological conditioning.

The new DAP

In the last decade DAP has attempted to reinvent itself as a Malaysian party, not a Chinese party with other Malaysians in it.

It’s a mountain to climb considering the unfair national press the party experienced for generations, but it becomes even more impossible with the persistent presence of Kit Siang on the national stage. 

It’s a cliché which the 53-year-veteran won’t come to terms with. The new can’t progress when such a giant figure remains in the centre, soliciting as much interest to a series of national issues he’s championing.

How can they progress when the former secretary-general sucks up so much of the oxygen the party needs to turn a vital corner?

Simply put, Kit Siang is not who the party sends to connect with young Malay undergraduates trying to learn about a party their parents despise.

Oppose the Opposition

Thirty years as opposition leader, Kit Siang lives to object.

Today he is left to oppose the people he helped depose.

He does it with too much vehemence, as if he’s the underdog. He’s not anymore. It’s undignified.

The residents of Iskandar Puteri do not suffer due to a lack of public services because its MP is from the opposition. If there is a residential issue, he can speak to the local council under PH or the PH mentri besar for Johor. 

When a constituent, a single mother, misses welfare cheques he can WhatsApp Women, Family and Community Deputy Minister Hannah Yeoh. From his party.

It appears, elder Lim can only oppose, and in these days of power he seems to have lost his bearing on how much protesting is polite when one is in power.

Institutional memory

This is not a plea for Kit Siang to abandon politics, but rather for him to right-size his role in the current climate. There is a place for him, but not the one he seems to be determined to hold on to.

DAP for all its election heroics is a party with no membership depth. It has many voters but no sturdiness to the organisation, bodies to fill the vessel. 

Now in government, there is a chance to increase membership depth, and who better than the longest serving secretary-general?

See the journey of the party, and the acceleration in the recent past.

Until 2008 it was only 10 to 20 MPs serving in Parliament, with little role in governing. From 2008 to 2018 it was the control of a state, and active role in Selangor, along with more than 30 MPs in the Dewan Rakyat. Together with 50 plus local councillors in the two states.

But since 2018, DAP’s contingent to government has exploded to as far as Endor.

The 41 MPs today are either ministers, deputy ministers or backbenchers heading to the soon to be formed select committees. They form excos in six states and still run the Pearl in the Orient. 

They can position local councillors to more than half the country, and station operators everywhere in the federation. 

They oversee the nation’s finance, transportation, energy/environment, communication and human resources.

It’s a colossal increase and the know how Kit Siang can bring to them will enhance their abilities to serve. DAP can be a stronger force, organisationally with his contribution.

That’s the role of an elder statesman in a party set to thrive. It is about a jet pilot accepting the war is over and to head to the flying academy as head instructor.

He can do that and embellish the party he spent a lifetime to build, or to remain overexposed and steal the thunder the next generation should be possessing.

The choice is his. To be the guy who leaves a legacy or the other guy, the one no one wants to chat with at the bar, the one who does not know when to give up. Either read this quietly and ruminate, or go all fiery because he can.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.