KUALA LUMPUR, June 19 — DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke said the party was not alarmed by some senior leaders’ decision to sit out the next general election as there was a pipeline of potential candidates being groomed to contest.
He said even the withdrawal of two strong party figures — Lim Kit Siang and Ong Kian Ming — ahead of the 15th general election was not cause for concern and should instead be viewed as signs of a healthy democracy within DAP.
“Every election cycle, the party must be prepared that there are people who will take a back seat. That’s when new faces emerge and this is part and parcel of the party’s renewal process.
“To me that is something normal, and actually it’s normal throughout the world. If you look at other countries with more advanced democracy, they will announce it way before an election,” he told Malay Mail during an interview.
He stressed that senior party members withdrawing ahead of elections was a common occurrence in thriving democracies, and should not necessarily be taken to indicate distress in the affected party.
Loke explained that such ebbs and flows were an unavoidable part of life and need not be an issue for DAP or any other party so long as preparations were in place for such eventualities.
In March, Lim, 81, announced his retirement as an active lawmaker after over half a decade in Malaysian politics. Last month, Ong also said he would not defend his Bangi seat as he wished to “regroup and recharge”.
Turning adversity into opportunity
Looking at the situation positively, Loke said the party should choose to see these unexpected vacancies as more opportunities for new talent to emerge and flourish, and not become over-reliant on a handful of personalities.
“A party can only be strong if you have a ready pool of people who can take up leadership roles anytime. That’s why I coined the term that we are 3G (third generation), and after the 3G we have to prepare the 4th, 5th and 6th generation.
“I can already see potential 5th generation talent — members who are in their 20s, they are the people who will make up the 5th generation of the party 20 years from now,” he said.
To make his point, Loke said the search was already on for his successor as the DAP secretary-general as the post came with a two-term limit.
Loke said term limits were important to prevent stagnation, especially at the top of the party.
“We don’t want to be stuck with the same faces for a very long time, the party cannot grow,” Loke said, before thanking his predecessor Lim Guan Eng, the son of Lim Kit Siang, for leading the efforts to prepare the next party leader.
Loke also said the pursuit of new talent was not a new ideal, and was an idea Guan Eng pushed aggressively as the previous secretary-general.
“During his time those whom he recruited were Tony Pua (Damansara MP), Ong Kian Ming (Bangi MP) and Teo Nie Ching (Kulai MP); they were recruited and put to contest in the 2008 general election.
“So, from that of course we have a group of leaders who were quite young at the time — who were in our late 20s or 30s,” he said, adding that he and leaders from this generation have had time to grow in experience since then.
DAP differed in this area compared to rivals such as Barisan Nasional (BN) components, Loke said when stressing that his party was committed to grooming new leaders.
Now the party secretary-general at 45, Loke said he started out as an assemblyman at the young age of 27, noting that other younger leaders in DAP were on similar trajectories.
“If you look at other parties right now, especially in BN, how many of their national leaders are in their 40s?
“Very few and this is because opportunities were not given when they were young. Next year for example, they won’t really have any national faces who are of that age cohort,” he said.
Starting young was vital to let politicians develop from the ground up, Loke said when stressing the importance of grassroots support.
Loke also said most of DAP’s parliamentarians graduated from being assemblymen, which also made them familiar with working with state constituencies under them.
He gave examples such as Kota Melaka MP Khoo Poay Tiong, Rasah MP Cha Kee Chin, Bukit Bendera MP Wong Hon Wai, Bakri MP Yeoh Bee Yin and Kluang MP Wong Shu-Qi.
“Like Bangi, when we won the area, we definitely had to develop our grassroots and nurture the new branch. That’s the process,” he said, referring to the outgoing Ong’s seat.
Old guard presence
When asked if he expected resistance from the older generation or rival factions to this renewal, Loke said he preferred not to take an adversarial view.
“I won’t use the word faction, I’d say they are different forces within the party, different influences but the way forward of the party is that in any decision that we make, we have to arrive at a consensus.
“Although we have people from different backgrounds, I don’t see this as a problem. We just need to combine the forces,” he said.
On the older generation being a potential hurdle, he said this had never been the case before.
“I have never seen Kit Siang stopping anyone from doing good for the party although he has his approach but he has never stopped anyone,” he said.