Kuek Ser Kuang Keng | May 2, 09 12:09pm
For outsiders, the Penanti by-election may be a forgone conclusion, where PKR is expected to retain the seat regardless of whether Umno is contesting or not. However, for Penang PKR party insiders, it is the beginning of a new chapter in the power struggle within the party.
It is an open secret that Penang PKR is bitterly split into two factions.
The first group belonging to the 'pioneer' faction consists of mostly members from NGOs and civil society groups who help formed the party since the Reformasi period in 1998.
The second group, the 'former BN' faction, are largely defectors from Umno and BN component parties before and after the March 8 general election.
However, since those in the 'former BN' faction are seasoned politicians who are much more savvy in political manoeuvring, they end up as the dominant force within Penang PKR, and the Penang Pakatan government which came into power last year.
Meanwhile, the pioneer members saw themselves very much marginalised - their rumblings and grumblings has turned into backstabbings as undercurrent grows by the day.
An example is the events that led to the resignation of former deputy chief minister and Penanti assemblyman Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin, who quit under a cloud of corruption allegations linked to illegal quarry operators.
He was however subsequently cleared of any wrongdoings and has always maintained he was a victim of conspiracy and sabotage by his own party comrades.
As soon as Fairus resigned, the lobbying for the state PKR’s highest official post - DCM 1 - in the DAP-dominated Pakatan state government began.
The frontrunners are current Penang state chief and Bayan Baru parliamentarian Zahrain Mohamed Hashim and his deputy, Mansor Othman.
Anwar acted swiftly to name Mansor
Although both were former Umno members, Zahrain (left) is seen as the leader of the 'former BN' faction and Mansor is much more accepted by the 'pioneer' faction.
Some grassroot members suspected that the earlier move by the state party to nominate Mansor for the senator’s post is a move to prevent him from contesting in Penanti.
However, when Fairus formally vacated his seat, Anwar acted swiftly to name his former political secretary as the candidate and recommended him for the post of deputy chief minister.
Some viewed this as a strategic move to contain the 'former BN' faction, which was largely to blame for the fall of Fairus.
Members of the 'pioneer' group have big plans - they see Mansor as their new hope to regain the soul of the party.
They accused Zahrain and his protege, Abdul Malik Kassim, one of the two PKR executive councillors who seem very close to Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, as practising political patronage and monopolising the state GLCs and local government positions.
Not surprisingly, many of the 'former BN' faction appointees were put in charge of land and development matters.
The most glaring example was the appointment of former Gerakan and MCA strongman Lim Boo Chang as Penang municipal councillor.
Lim created controversy after “defecting” from Gerakan to MCA in 1999 and it almost caused the regime change of the then Penang Gerakan state government.
He contested against DAP's Karpal Singh in the Gelugor parliamentary seat in 2004 and was defeated. He was not picked to contest in the March 8 general election, and Lim quit again - this time from MCA - under the pretext of being bored with internal party struggles.
Many party veterans were understandbly unhappy with Lim's appointment whose party membership is no more than one year old, and were particularly miffed by his habit of constantly changing his political shirts.
Using positions to buy loyalty
A leader from the 'pioneer faction' told Malaysiakini that such an appointment without taking into consideration the contribution by party veterans only goes to show the old BN political practices of using government positions and resources to buy loyalty.
However, there are concerns whether the academician-turned-politician who is seen as a “nice guy” would succumb to Zahrain's strong-arm leadership.
Although Mansor was Zahrain’s predecessor, and led Penang PKR for eight years before handling the post to Zahrain in 2006, the latter’s election record is much more impressive.
Meanwhile, another position that was said to be desired by both sides is the unofficial Chinese campaign coordinator’s post for the Penanti by-election.
The coordinator is responsible for capturing the crucial Chinese support in the by-election and his performance will be closely watched by Anwar and party leaders.
So far, four names has been mentioned as frontrunners for the post - Machang Bubuk assemblyperson Tan Hock Leong, supreme council member Cheah Kah Peng, state exco Law Choo Kiang (left) and Nibong Tebal parliamentarian Tan Tee Beng.
Cheah and Law has been with the party since its inception and are both classified as part of the 'pioneer group' while Tee Beng, a former Gerakan member is seen aligned to 'former BN' faction.
Hock Leong, although a former MCA member, is said to be a more neutral figure and accepted by both sides.
To date, no official decision was made for this “unofficial post” but party insiders believe Hock Leong will be the compromise candidate as his easy-going character won him more friends than foes. Moreover, he was appointed state deputy chief in the recent party reshuffle in January.
However, many party leaders believed tension within the Penang PKR will heightened after the by-election as the 'pioneer faction' is expected to launch a counter attack against the 'former BN' faction with the appointment of Mansor.
A 'pioneer group' leader sums up the whole scenario: “Instead of allowing the state party to turn itself into another form of Barisan Nasional, we would rather go through the pain of internal party struggle to clean itself. There is no other choice."