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Last Updated: 10:32am, Oct 01, 2013

GEORGE TOWN (Oct 1): The saga of the DAP’s central executive committee re-election on Sunday (Sept 29) had a dramatic prologue when one of its most veteran members accused the party’s leadership of racialism and manipulation.

In two consecutive press conferences over a few days, Zulkifli Mohd Noor, a veteran of 26 years, specifically offered himself to take over as DAP’s chairman, saying he was doing so in the name of his Malay race and "marginalised representatives".

Stunning his comrades, he claimed that despite its multi-racial objective the party had never been headed by a Malay in its 47-year history.

Now, Zulkifli is no small fry. He was an elected deputy secretary-general and national vice-chairman of the DAP.

And so when he raised a poser before the re-election – directed by the Registrar of Societies – over how many Malays would actually be voted in, many were certainly compelled to take attention.

As it turned out, of the seven Malay members who contested, only one – Zairil Khir Johari with 1,132 votes – managed to make it into the twenty elected slots for the CEC.

The eighth, Roseli Abdul Ghani, was among 17 DAP members who withdrew from the race. Zulkifli himself failed, getting only 220 votes, far less than the 808 attained by Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham – the last among the twenty voted in.

(During the original CEC election on Dec 15 last year, Zulkifli garnered 216 votes and after a tabulation error was announced, he recorded 249; then also neither enough to win a place in the CEC.)

'No place for Malays after 2008 GE'

As a postscript to the saga, Zulkifli later declared that his earlier criticisms had been vindicated.

“The DAP is not a place for Malays after 8th March 2008,” he stressed. “Not a single ‘original’ Malay leader has been elected (in the CEC).”

He labelled Zairil as a “special Malay” whose victory was due to support from the party’s top leadership, and described the appointment into the CEC of Senator Ariffin Omar (who got 441 votes – still insufficient to be elected), as mere “wallpaper”.

Party members however have asserted that it was just a case of allowing democracy run its course, with individuals being voted for their intrinsic merits rather than their race.

Zulkifli also claimed that his criticisms against secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and his father, adviser Lim Kit Siang, had “opened the delegates’ eyes”, thereby reducing the duos’ share of votes although both managed enough to remain in the CEC.

Backing his claim that the re-election outcome was manipulated, he pointed to the 17 who withdrew from the race.

“Were they protesting or was it to aid the evil plan of deception and lies by certain parties?” Zulkifli said. “The delegates, many of whom are new members, are easily influenced and trust those above them in their strategy of deception and lies.”

A spirited and vocal DAP member

For many DAP members who have known Zulkifli all these years, all this has come as a shock and a tragic turn of events.

I, myself, used to meet him while covering DAP events in the 1990s.

He had always been a very spirited and friendly politician who genuinely believed in the ideals of the DAP, and generally got along with most party members and the media.

No doubt, he was opinionated and did not mince his words; I personally remember seeing him make whipping comments to fellow party members.

But, whatever he wanted to say was expressed straight in the presence of those whom he ticked off.

For the 18-odd years that I have known him, I have never heard him lash out at the party’s leadership in public or the media. Never.

The press conference on Sept 19 was the first time that he openly criticised the leadership to the media, after some 26 years in the party.

But 2008 was a watershed for a veteran member like Zulkifli.

When I met him again in the later part of that year, following the DAP’s massive electoral victory in Penang in the general election of March 8, he seemed very disappointed and indignant, almost hurt.

Despite him being fielded in many previous elections, Zulkifli had not even been chosen as a candidate in that fateful election of March 8, 2008, in which he may well have won in view of the enormous public mood and political swing at that time. (Among others, he had previously contested and lost the Bukit Bendera and Bayan Baru parliamentary contests for the DAP in 2004 and 2008 respectively.)

Nevertheless, Zulkifli was appointed as a councillor in the Penang Island Municipal Council (MPPP) where he worked assiduously, going to the ground to tackle various problems, from matters related to hawkers to illegal parking attendants.

I remember accompanying him during a field trip with councillors to inspect a new bridge project in Jelutong. He spoke privately about his intense disappointment, that not a single Malay DAP member was fielded in Penang, and that as a veteran of so many years he was sidelined from that very important election of 2008.

Umbrage as seats given away to PKR

To make it worse, key multi-ethnic constituencies where DAP’s Malay members could possibly win, like Bayan Baru and its three state constituencies of Batu Maung, Pantai Jerejak and Batu Uban, were given to PKR to contest. (Bayan Baru was won by the late Ahmad Nor – former president of the public and civil service union body Cuepacs – on a DAP ticket in 1990.)

Things came to a head in August 2011, when Zulkifli issued a statement that the DAP had “no choice” but to request at least one parliament and five state seats from PKR in Penang in the next polls.

He warned that the DAP may be perceived to be "anti-Malay and chauvinistic" should it fail to field Malay candidates in the next election.

At about the same time, the Penang Malay Congress was formed and headed by president Rahmat Isahak, a DAP member. For quite a while, the PMC supported the DAP-led state government while berating Umno.

Interestingly, Rahmat also led a series of attacks against state PKR leaders like Datuk Mansor Othman and Datuk Abdul Malik Abul Kassim, especially the latter who had, in 2008, won the Batu Maung seat that could have been won by a DAP Malay candidate.

Rahmat only recently left the party and was seen lending support to Zulkifli at the recent press conferences.

Whatever happens now – there are speculations that he will quit the party and join another – is really academic, perhaps even inconsequential.

For the real heartbreak is that such a veteran who has seen the party’s trials and tribulations for so long should have a falling out with the leadership in such an ignominious way.

That is the tragedy of both the party and the veteran who has long served with it.

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