|Exodus from LDP closely watched
The Star: 18 July 1998
KOTA KINABALU: A storm is brewing in the Liberal Democratic Party which is seeing a spate of resignations lately.
The feud in the Chinese-based party, a Barisan Nasional partner since July 29, 1991, has been closely watched as the Chinese community are considered "king makers" in state elections.
Chong has been accused of putting his brother-in-law Lee Chuen Wan and sister Naomi Chong to take charge of the Sembulan division.
This irked Joseph Tham, a close aide of Chong. He and 28 others resigned on July 7.
It is the second crisis for LDP since Barisan took over the state government in 1994 and 30 months after Chong defeated his deputy Datuk Kong Hong Ming. Kong later brought Gerakan to Sabah and is now in the opposition Parti Bersatu Sabah.
"Every party has its problems, now it's LDP's turn," said Chong's confidential secretary Roger Lee, who resigned citing personal reasons six hours after he told the media "everything is okay."
Roger's resignation came hours before a sudden decision by the party's supreme council to sack him as LDP youth chief and dissolve his Api Api division along with eight branches.
LDP secretary-general Anthony Lai, in announcing Roger's sacking, was quick to say that the supreme council wanted to weed out "trouble makers as they intended to resign from the party anyway."
Roger was held responsible for the mass resignations in three of the party divisions.
However, Roger and another party vice president Henry Lee have remained out of public eye since quitting. The spate of resignations also seemed to have abated.
"We just could not take Lee's leadership style. He failed to respect our contributions to the party for the last 10 years," said Tham adding that the division's wanita wing was also unhappy with Naomi (Lee's wife).
Tham said that the party president was aware of the problems but did not act on it.
"He (Chong) should remember that we stood by him when Kong challenged him for the presidency," noted Tham.
Chong, who headed the Sembulan division before moving back to head Kudat division, denied he practised nepotism and explained that Lee and Noami were elected through a democratic process last year.
However, he accused the group of wanting candidacy for the Sembulan seat and were against an "outsider" in the event LDP was offered the seat.
Barisan gave LDP the seat in the 1994 elections but it lost to PBS candidate Datuk Chau Chin Tang.
Some LDP dissidents believe that Chong, although back in Kudat, wanted to keep the Sembulan division under his influence and may want to contest there as it is considered a safe Barisan seat.
Chong's leadership style has also come into question, as some observers noted that the exodus of party leaders, especially from the youth and wanita wings, indicated that the president was keeping aloof from partymen beyond his circle.
What was surprising to many was that none of Chong's party deputies or vice presidents came forward to defend the leadership amid the resignations in which dissidents claimed that an "elitist" group was ignoring the grassroots.
"The silence of the second echelon of leadership seem to confirm what the frustrated lower ranks are claiming," noted one observer.
Despite the resignations, Chong's position as president of the party, a post he has held for the last seven years, is unlikely to be affected.
With elections in nine months, Barisan component parties are watching LDP closely because if the dissidents opt for the opposition, their problems may mount.
Observers believe that although LDP which has 60,000 members
hold no seats in the state assembly, the departure of the dissidents may
have an impact on Barisan which needs all the support it can muster to
win the coming elections.