MALAYSIA Tanah Tumpah Darahku


Friday, August 19, 2022

‘Dr Chen can shout, San Choon need only whisper’


From Terence Netto

No one who witnessed the 1982 general election will forget the battle between DAP founder Dr Chen Man Hin, who died on Wednesday at the age of 97, and MCA chief Lee San Choon for the Seremban parliamentary seat.

Chen lost that battle narrowly, but it would be true to say he was the sentimental favourite.

Ads by 

His loss by some 800-plus votes was seen as the defeat of the popular incumbent by the candidate of machine politics, Lee.

Chen, who retired as DAP chairman in 1999, was liked and respected even by people who were averse to DAP.

He was seen as a decent type, someone from whom you could purchase a used car without qualms.

DAP adversaries who looked askance at their slogan of a “Malaysian Malaysia” had to comport their suspicion of the party with the decency of its founding chairman.

Chen’s battle with Lee in the 1982 general election came about only because a brash Lim Kit Siang had challenged MCA to stand against DAP in the urban seats along the west coast of Peninsular Malaysia.

Lee surprised by taking up the challenge, moving away from the fastness of MCA strongholds in Johor to contest in Seremban.

It was a bold move. It had DAP rattled.

Lee had already moved to consolidate his hold on MCA by dropping deputy president Richard Ho as candidate for Sitiawan from the party line-up.

A surreptitious politician who didn’t say much and never tipped his hand about his moves, Lee had already shifted voters from elsewhere to Seremban.

As the labour minister, he had the discrete support of trade union friends to shift voters to Seremban in advance of his decision to contest against Chen.

The contest between incumbent Chen and interloper Lee was the crucial battle of GE6.

It overshadowed even the headline-grabbing entry of Anwar Ibrahim, the Abim leader who was lured into joining Umno by Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

Anwar caused a huge surprise when he chose to join Umno and was fielded as their candidate in Permatang Pauh in Penang, the only seat held by PAS outside their traditional stomping grounds of Kelantan and Kedah.

Lee needed Mahathir to put in a campaign appearance in Seremban to boost his chances of prising Seremban away from DAP.

Mahathir had become prime minister in July the previous year and together with deputy Musa Hitam had injected new vigour and vitality into Umno and Barisan Nasional.

Elegant elocution was part of the makeover so that when Mahathir told a Seremban crowd that “Dr Chen can shout, San Choon need only whisper”, both the optics and rhetoric of the BN campaign enjoyed a cachet it did not have before.

Lee carved out a slender victory over Chen though it needed a second recount to affirm the winner.

However, his win was a pyrrhic one. Chen returned to Parliament and the state assembly of Negeri Sembilan in subsequent elections until his retirement, following another defeat in the 1999 general election.

He then became a lifetime adviser to DAP in which role he was crucial to the decision to withdraw the party from the opposition coalition, Barisan Alternatif, in late 2001, an association with PAS that had proved costly to the party’s fortunes in the November 1999 general election.

In early 2018, as the opposition debated whether Mahathir should be PM-designate of Pakatan Harapan going into GE14, Chen expressed qualms about the choice but eventually yielded to the emerging consensus.

His doubts turned out to be prescient, a reflection of the common sense and decency of which he had a large store that posterity will judge as crucial to the building of a viable opposition in Malaysian politics.

Though born in China, he was never anything but Malaysian, first and foremost. He was the triumph of the common man as a patriot. - FMT

Terence Netto is a senior journalist and an FMT reader.

The views expressed are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of MMKtT.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.