KUALA LUMPUR, May 5-- Despite being wiped out in Penang, its political base, and suffering a huge setback in the last general election, Gerakan seems to have strengthened its support in East Malaysia.
Since taking root in Sabah in the 1990s, the party has hardly made its presence felt there but the latest political move seems to have given the party the much needed boost in the state.
Gerakan might even have emerged as the biggest winner in the controversy over partyless Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Raymond Tan Shu Kiah and former SAPP Youth chief and Elopura assemblyman Au Kam Wah.
Tan has decided to join Gerakan at a time when Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak is in the state for a two-day visit beginning yesterday.
Things have become clearer now that Tan and Au have decided to join Gerakan as party president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon had flown in together with the prime minister yesterday for the state visit in what a party insider said was "to iron out any obstacle" for the duo to join the party for the "biggest break".
"The discussion went on until late last night. Only today Koh decided to announce it after the matter had been ironed out with the national and state Barisan Nasional (BN) leadership," the party insider told Bernama.
Gerakan has never contested in Sabah and the decision by the two assemblymen to join Gerakan is a significant boost for this multi-racial party as it will automatically have two state assemblymen in Sabah, bringing the total tally in the country to six for the party.
In the last general election, Gerakan contested 12 parliamentary seats and 31 state seats, but won only two parliamentary seats -- Simpang Renggam (Johor) and Gerik (Perak) -- and four state seats -- Derga (Kedah), Ketari (Pahang), Pemanis and Bukit Batu (Johor).
Party sources said Tan, who is also Sabah Infrastructure Development Minister and Tanjung Papat assemblyman, is set to be appointed Gerakan national vice-president while Au is likely to be appointed to the party's powerful decision-making body, the central committee.
The current Gerakan vice-presidents are Datuk Mah Siew Keong and Huan Cheng Guan (elected) and the two appointed vice-presidents, Datuk Seri Chia Kwang Chye and A. Kohilan Pillay.
Under the party constitution, the party president can appoint up to five vice-presidents.
"The party president has spoken to us about this. We welcome it as it is good for the party," said Huan.
To some political analysts, the duo's decision to join Gerakan is surprising as the party did not have any influence in the state compared to other national-based parties like MCA.
"This is rather surprising. I assume that the duo are more comfortable with Gerakan due to the fact that it is a minority party in the state, unlike MCA which has a strong leadership.
"However, I would like Gerakan to take note that their power base is still Penang, not other states, not far away in Sabah. If they don't have a base in Penang, their survival will be in question," said political analyst Datuk Seah Chee Kim.
However, for others the decision is not surprising at all as there has been close cooperation between Gerakan and other Sabah-based BN component parties as early as when PBS was ruling the state.
In fact, the Sabah chapter of Gerakan was formed in 1994 by PBS dissidents led by Datuk Kong Hong Ming.
While Gerakan is said to be more a Penang-based party, its leaders, for quite some time now, have been working to broaden the party base by working closely with other components in other places.
In fact, the discussion for Tan and Au to join the party started many months ago despite other BN components making similar attempts to court them.
"We have been talking for several months. We are happy that finally, they made up their minds to join us. We hope with this development, more SAPP members can join the party in future," said Gerakan deputy president Datuk Chang Ko Youn.
There are talks that several more elected representatives from SAPP and other Sabah-based opposition parties may join Gerakan after this.
Political observers note that the reaction to Gerakan's success in getting Tan and Au to join the party is much different from when former Independent MP for Sandakan Chong Hon Min wanted to join SAPP when the party was still in BN, receiving strong objection from the LDP.
The objection was understandable as the LDP candidate in the 2004 general election, Datuk Lau Ngan Siew, was defeated by Chong. LDP had cited BN's policy of not accepting an Independent candidate who stood against BN in the previous elections, as their basis for the objection.
Apart from that, the Sandakan seat remained with LDP as the precedent was that, if the person joined the other party, the seat would remain with the original party.
When Datuk Kong Hong Ming left LDP for Gerakan, the Kudat seat remained with LDP. It was the same when Datuk Michael Lim left PBS for SAPP; his seat did not go to SAPP in the subsequent elections.
However, in this case, the question is whether Gerakan will be allocated the two seats in the next general election. But Gerakan may get the seats as SAPP left BN in September last year.
Whatever it is, for now, there is something for Gerakan to celebrate.