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Malaysia's oldest opposition voice quits as party chief

Date: 02 Dec 1999
Time: 19:26:13


Malaysia's oldest opposition voice quits as party chief

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 2 (AFP) - Malaysia's leading opposition voice for three decades quit Thursday as party secretary-general and was made chairman following what he called the party's "catastrophic" election defeat.

Lim Kit Siang took over as Democratic Action Party (DAP) chairman from Chen Man Hin who stepped down Wednesday following Monday's general election.

After three decades in parliament Lim lost his parliamentary seat Monday, as did Chen and deputy chairman Karpal Singh. Lim also loses his post as parliamentary opposition leader which he has held since 1975.

Lim told a news conference that Kerk Kim Hock, 43, would become secretary-general while Tan Seng Giaw would take over as party parliamentary leader.

The chairman's post was traditionally subordinate to that of the secretary general. It was not clear whether Lim, given his vast experience, would effectively remain party leader behind the scenes in his new post.

Kerk, 43, was previously DAP national organising secretary and won his seat in southern Malacca state in the polls.

Lim said Chen has been appointed DAP "life adviser" for his 33-year contribution to the party as chairman since its inception.

LIm, a fiery critic of the ruling National Front coalition, entered parliament in 1969 and was twice detained without trial under security laws.

In his resignation letter released to the media, Lim warned that the ruling United Malays National Organisation (UMNO) might push an Islamic agenda now that the main opposition force was the Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).

PAS more than tripled its parliamentary seats to 27, kept control of Kelantan state assembly and won neigbouring Terengganu. The DAP won 10 seats, just one more than in 1995, and lost its top leaders in parliament.

It blames its poor showing on a "scare" campaign by the ruling coalition which said that a vote for the Chinese-dominated DAP was a vote for PAS and its ultimate goal of an Islamic state.

The DAP, PAS and the National Justice Party formed an Alternative Front alliance to contest the polls. But PAS was the main beneficiary of a protest vote by ethnic Malays against the treatment of jailed ex-deputy premier Anwar Ibrahim and other issues.

The ruling party campaign was seen as effective in securing the votes of minority Chinese frightened by what was depicted as an Islamic threat.

Lim said UMNO "will find it very difficult to desist from increasing Islamisation policies" to compete with PAS for influence among Malays.

This, he said, would "threaten a democratic secular Malaysia" and sideline other major national issues.

Lim noted that UMNO, dominant party in the National Front, had lost 16 parliamentary seats compared to 1995 as well as many state seats in what he called a "historic" setback for it.

Lim said his DAP took a decision in the national interest to enter the opposition alliance. He blamed its failure to achieve a breakthrough on the ruling coalition's "campaign of fear and falsehoods" on the Islamic issue.

Last changed: December 02, 1999