Gerakan Continues Its Marginalisation
As most newspaper-reading Malaysians probably already know, Lim Keng Yaik has finally retired as President of Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia, 26 years after taking office. Throughout his tenure, Gerakan has been relegated more and more to the sidelines of Malaysian politics.
Gerakan was one of the founding members of the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, which was basically an enlarged version of the Alliance, which had ruled Malaysia beforehand.
The premises Gerakan was founded on, and on which it contested the 1969 general election were fundamentally sound. Their ideals are those which resonate with intellectuals and liberals, without resorting to the extremism, defeatism or simple impracticality that has characterised parties attempting to fill a similar niche, such as the Democratic Action Party.
What did Gerakan stand for when it was founded? It stood for human rights. It stood against corruption. It demanded justice for all ethnic communities. It grabbed the middle ground between the extremism of the DAP and the Alliance.
It had a strong leadership who could have made it a formidable force that might even have resulted in a change of government. After all, they had the brains and the guts to put their ideals into practice through policies. Moreover, Gerakan was truly a multiracial party, seeing as how one of its foremost leaders was the renowned Malay intellectual Syed Hussein Alatas.
So what happened along the way to Gerakan? It joined the Barisan Nasional coalition after the catastrophic racial riots of 13 May 1969 — although they did not do so immediately, it seems that the riots were the main catalyst for this decision.
Unfortunately, what happened when Gerakan joined BN is that BN continued to cling to the old Alliance concept, marginalising the non-Alliance parties. To this day, the three most powerful parties in the country are UMNO, MCA and MIC, in that order.
What happened to Gerakan and the other parties which joined BN, such as the People's Progressive Party? They got the scraps that the three major parties threw them, and were also forced to conform to the ethnic-minded niches that the Alliance favoured.
That's why Gerakan lost so much of its multiracial nature. Today, look at Gerakan and the PPP — they talk the multiracial talk, but they are walking the monoracial walk. It's sickening to hear them talk of the need for multiracialism when the party leaders that people like Lim Keng Yaik are addressing are almost uniformly Chinese (or Indian, in the PPP's case).
The main reason Gerakan is in such a sad state is mainly due to its roots — it was an offshoot of the MCA that happened to have people like Tan Chee Khoon and Syed Hussein Alatas join its ranks. These brave people tried to make the fundamental premises of Gerakan work, but in the aftermath of May 13, the ex-MCA men like Lim Chong Eu steered it back to the BN fold, having been jolted by the riots. Then after that Lim Keng Yaik, another ex-MCA man, took the helm.
Basically, Gerakan gets the scraps of the MCA — the misfits who don't belong in the MCA, but still want the benefits of being in the government. It's truly saddening, because every time I hear the rhetoric of Gerakan's leaders, it reminds me of the promise Gerakan held, and the promise which was snatched away by their ill-fated decision to rejoin the government, which has marginalised Gerakan's pitiful efforts to restore a semblance of sensible multiracialism and liberalism to how this country is run.
Lim Keng Yaik has been succeeded by Koh Tsu Koon. I don't know much about Koh, but I wish him luck in his struggle to effect change from within — it's a losing fight, and he needs all the luck he can get. But if he truly wants change, I implore him to leave the BN fold when the next election comes around. Gerakan can still make its founding premises work — it just can't make them work as long as it's a member of BN.