Commentary Politics

Ruling party had it easy in Perak for years but was jolted in 2008

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April 18, 2018

The DAP was the only opposition of any significance in Perak since 1955 but struggled to be a real threat to the Alliance or Barisan Nasional


SINCE the ruling government in the old Malaya was known as Perikatan or the Alliance, it was very much business as usual in the once tin-rich state of Perak, with the ruling party winning handsomely since the first general elections in 1955. Mundane stuff really.

The opposition parties rarely threatened, with the DAP being the biggest spoiler to what later became known as the Barisan Nasional but even then it never managed to secure even 30 per cent of the state seats.

At least that was the case – until the 2008 elections.

DAP, the predominantly Chinese party, made its first significant inroad into Perak in 1974 when it won 11 of the 42 state seats (now increased to 59) or 26.19 per cent. It was an almost doubled gain since the party’s debut in 1969, when it won only 6 state seats or 15.00 per cent.

Interestingly, the DAP’s 1974 electoral results happened against the backdrop of the racial riots starting on May 13, 1969, which sort of gave credence to claims that the result had a chauvinistic undertone to it. Furthermore, 10 of the 11 seats won were Chinese majority areas.

However, a group of elderly Chinese who were sipping coffee at a local kopitiam in Teluk Intan argued against this view, insisting that DAP Perak’s feat in 1974 was because it was the only opposition party.

DAP became the sole opposition in Perak in 1974 after PAS, Gerakan and the People’s Progressive Party joined the Alliance in 1972, which was a year after Parliament reconvened after it was suspended following the riots.

Aside from 1974, the most state seats the DAP had ever won on its own in Perak was during the 1986 and 1990 elections, gaining 13 seats or 28.26 in both elections. But the party was cut down to size in 1995 when it won only one seat.

Although it recovered in subsequent elections, the DAP experienced a windfall in 2008 after it cooperated with PKR and PAS under the now-defunct Pakatan Rakyat.

But Pakatan’s victory was historic and controversial, as not only did the coalition manage to wrest Perak from BN but later became entangled in a constitutional crisis which saw it lost control.

The crisis went through a legal tangle and a slew of unsavoury remarks directed at the late Sultan Azlan Shah in what was deemed to be an illegal takeover by BN.

A BN assemblyman defected to Pakatan and then returned to BN while three Pakatan assemblymen left the coalition to be BN-friendly independents, thus equaling the number of state seats BN had.

Some in BN say that how the opposition behaved during the constitutional crisis in 2008, especially the strong words used, didn’t go well with the palace

After losing its simple majority, the then mentri besar Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin wanted to dissolve the state assembly and call for new elections but the Sultan rejected the idea as BN had proved to him that the three independents were on its side.

“It was also wasteful to call for another election in 2009 because we just had one in 2008,” commented a pro-BN man.

Although the Sultan had invoked Article XVIII (2)(b) of the Perak Constitution which states that it is within his discretionary powers to refuse Nizar’s request, DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang cited Article 16 (6) in insisting that the ruler must act on the advice of the MB.

The opposition leaders and supporters were so enraged with the Sultan’s decision to the point that many had amassed outside the palace in Kuala Kangsar to protest the appointment of Pangkor assemblyman Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir as MB.

The late-DAP chairman and Bukit Gelugor MP Karpal Singh issued a notice saying he would sue the Sultan and BN for acting beyond the constitution. Nizar filed an application in court to declare Zambry’s appointment as unconstitutional and illegal while NGO Bersih organised the infamous 1BLACKMalaysia campaign.

On May 11, 2009, the Kuala Lumpur High Court ruled that Zambry’s appointment was illegal since there had been no vote of confidence. He however countered by appealing to the Court of Appeal which overturned the high court ruling. The rest is history.

Against such a backdrop it was a no-brainer why some in BN think that the current ruler, Sultan Nazrin Azlah Shah, had issued a tacit warning to Pakatan when he dissolved the state assembly.

“It was a first in Perak’s history (for a Sultan to dissolve the state assembly)! In other kingly states it’s always the MB who does it. If that is not a warning then I don’t know what is,” commented a source.

Zambry is uncertain if the wounds from the 2008 crisis have healed.

“It is hard for me to judge how they (the palace) took it but both the public and the palace definitely heard the speeches uttered by them (Pakatan),” said Zambry.

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Zaidi Azmi and Ahirul Ahirudin