Dennis Ignatius: The DAP’s selectively ticking clock

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Seldom have we seen voters from across the communal spectrum all come together to plead for an MP to stay.


In explaining why the DAP leadership decided to drop Charles Santiago – its very popular three-term member of parliament for Klang – Selangor DAP chief Gobind Singh Deo was reported to have said that the clock had been ticking against Santiago.

He noted that there were requests to replace him going back to 2008 when Santiago was first elected a member of parliament. He added that “the party has to look and consider different persons or new personalities to take over in parliament” and that it needed “to give others the same opportunity to contest as was given to Santiago”.

Gobind’s statement is troubling for several reasons.

First, the revelation that some in the party were pushing to have him replaced as far back as 2008, when he was first elected, suggests that the move against Santiago has more to do with internal party politics and power struggles than anything else. It does not speak well of the DAP.

Second, all the talk about giving others an opportunity and bringing in new faces sounds very nice until you remember that it is coming from a party leader who has himself been an MP for as long as Santiago. Others in his party, including Lim Guan Eng, Tan Kok Wai, M Kulasegaran and Teresa Kok, have been MPs for even longer.

It smacks of hypocrisy for anyone to talk about new faces or giving others a chance while they themselves hold on to power. If they really believe that the party needs rejuvenation, they should set the example and step down themselves.

Third, parliament is not some place where people are given a chance to play politician for a few years. Shouldn’t there be definite criteria for selecting or maintaining a candidate for election? By what criteria was Santiago dropped and by what criteria was his successor chosen? Is this about serving the people or being subservient to the party leadership?

Interestingly, DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke justified dropping the party’s incumbent MP in the Bentong constituency because he was “not that popular on the ground” and that a survey that they conducted indicated “low levels of satisfaction with his performance.” But in Klang, they drop a candidate who is widely popular and who has performed better than many other DAP MPs. Where’s the consistency?

Fourth, shouldn’t the wishes of the people matter? When asked about the outpouring of support from the community for Santiago, Gobind glibly replied that the candidate replacing him would “win them over in time”. Such an attitude is insulting to the voters and it suggests that they are being taken for granted. It betrays a certain arrogance even. It is surely dangerous to taunt voters this way on the eve of a general election.

Seldom have we seen voters from across the communal spectrum – Chinese guilds and associations, Malay community leaders and Indian NGOs – all come together to plead for an MP to stay. It is a testimony to his integrity, commitment and selfless service to the people of Klang.

Even after being unceremoniously discarded, Santiago, always the gentleman, graciously called upon the people to support his successor. Such is the calibre of the man.

Indeed, Santiago embodies the Malaysian spirit. He unites people and brings them together to work for the common good in a way few others have done. This is exactly the kind of politics we all want to see, certainly something that the DAP itself has long championed. Santiago is a political treasure; to discard someone like that simply to give others a chance is just plain wrong, if not downright stupid.

All political parties – the DAP included – should be aware that Malaysian voters are growing increasingly disgusted with all the politicking and jockeying for power that is going on; they are fed up of politicians who think we owe them a living.

Whatever it is, the DAP leadership shouldn’t be too cavalier about the way it tramples upon the wishes of voters, especially when those wishes have been so clearly, loudly and passionately expressed. They should remember that the same clock is ticking for them too. – Dennis Ignatius