January 3, 2013
Business-Politics Nexus: DAP reaffirms its stand against the Foochow cousins in Perak
by Terence Netto@http://www.malaysiakini.com
COMMENT: It’s been bruited about on the grapevine that the DAP has drawn a line against its elected legislators getting involved in business.
The issue came up when it was revealed in the Perak State Assembly last month that the party’s state chief, Ngeh Koo Ham, and his cousin, Nga Kar Ming, have landed interests in Kelantan.
Word has it that the duo would shortly announce a move that should see them divested of their holdings in Kelantan which had qualified them to be members of the landed gentry, a dubious distinction for politicos from a party of social democratic aspirations.
The business-politics nexus is the widely acknowledged cause of UMNO-BN’s decline as a political power. The corruption and nepotism that this nexus has engendered has left the once powerful coalition too enfeebled to implement the reforms deemed necessary to regain its popularity among voters.
Once this nexus is forged, it’s fiendishly difficult to eradicate. Unchecked, its tendrils penetrate to every corner of the polity and soon enough the conglomerate that holds power is in a freefall to disaster.
The DAP, poised with the rest of the Opposition Pakatan Rakyat to take federal power in the country at the coming polls, would be loath to see this canker in the ruling coalition replicated by some among the party’s Perak power brokers.
The question now arises whether the move by Ngeh and Nga in being involved in the business of plantation agriculture was due to a lapse of judgement or was the result of a mindset in which the acquisition of political power is prelude to the accumulation of wealth.
Fong Po Kuan troubled
For some years now, the DAP has been at a loss as to how to deal with the Foochow cousins who rule the roost in a state where the party has almost 200 branches and 17 state assembly representatives, figures that provide the contingent with formidable clout at both internal party elections and in state coalition politics.
Word of their overbearing nature started to spread from the time DAP’s MP for Batu Gajah, Fong Po Kuan, intimated that she was not willing to re-contest her seat at the 12th general election in 2008.
Though she was publicly discreet about the reasons for her reluctance, speculation arose that it was due to her dismay at the machinations of Ngeh and Nga, who combine like a tag team to wrestle away any threat from quarters they view as rivals to their grip on party affairs in Perak.
The feisty Fong (left)reconsidered her reluctance and chose to stand again but elected to remain distant from the state party affairs.
She retained her Batu Gajah seat in the 2008 general election and went on to become the DAP’s most regular attendee whenever Parliament is in session.
This is a feature of no mean worth given that at one time, when the DAP-backed Pakatan Rakyat held state government reins in Perak, the party had up to nine legislators serving in state executive council positions while being federal reps which compelled a juggling of responsibilities regarded as almost impossible to bring off.
Assiduity in the execution of a single role was Fong’s response to the schemes of the territorial barons in Perak. Because Fong chose not to publicly bleat about her discontent with Ngeh and Nga, observers could only speculate about the way the cousins operate.
When the DAP state assemblyperson for Jelapang crossed the aisle in February 2009, a desertion that brought the 11-month Pakatan government of Perak to an end, she muttered about the conduct of the cousins as having prompted her to leave.
However, the word of a quisling is seldom credible and so what blame there was to be apportioned for her desertion could not be fixed on the cousins.
‘One candidate one seat’ policy
But matters were different when a short while later the party’s MP for Ipoh Barat and national vice-chairperson M Kulasegaran verged on a decision to quit his posts when tensions from rivalry between state factions got to him.
It took a late night trip to Ipoh by the party’s national leaders to persuade Kulasegaran (far right) to stay put.
The latter’s grouse: party branches with his supporters were being deregistered while new ones, stacked with the cousins’ proxies, were being opened.
The party’s principal Indian leader who have worked hard to build up Indian support for a Chinese-dominated party seeking to widen its support base could not help but cry foul, particularly when the cousins enticed Indian leaders Kulasegaran had groomed to ditch him.
Against this backdrop the call sounded from national chairperson Karpal Singh for a ‘one candidate one seat’ policy that he said the party should adopt to widen opportunities for DAP members to be elected to state and federal legislatures. The Perak cousins were both state assembly representatives and MPs.
Soon anti-DAP blogs began to circulate stories of the business interests of the cousins, one item being Nga wife’s interest in a tailoring concern that was said to have had a contract to suit Ipoh City councillors when Pakatan was in charge of the state government.
But nothing more damaging to DAP’s image as a party set against corruption and cronyism emerged than when news broke last month that Ngeh and Nga had proprietary interests in a huge estate, slated for palm oil cultivation, in Gua Musang, Kelantan.
Casual observers of parliamentary proceedings in the month of October recalled that both Ngeh and Nga held forth on the oil palm industry in Budget debates, without declaring that they had a pecuniary interest in the matter.
This gave retrospective justification to all the earlier murmurings against the cousins in Perak. The national leadership of the party knew they must act: they have chosen to give the thumbs down to any attempt by their elected representatives to mix politics with business.
In the next days, DAP’s Perak cousins will have to tell of how they have trimmed their business sails to accord with the party’s directive.