Bogus Witness Against Malaysia's DAP?

The main complaining witness over alleged irregularities in 2012 internal elections by Malaysia's opposition Democratic Action Party may not exist, according to a probe by the Kuala Lumpur-based website Malaysiakini, adding to widespread suspicions that the government is using a subterfuge to put the party out of business.

The Registrar of Societies has demanded that the DAP, now the country's second-biggest political party, hold new central executive committee elections or face deregistration because of alleged irregularities in the election process, including not notifying hundreds of delegates the election was being held in an effort to preserve a majority vote for the party's leaders.

The attempt to deregister the DAP takes place against the backdrop of an increasingly fraught political atmosphere in Malaysia, with seemingly endless charges and countercharges being hurled every day by the Barisan Nasional, the ruling national coalition, and the opposition, most of them over religious or ethnic tensions.

The Barisan itself lost the popular vote to the opposition Pakatan Rakyat headed by Anwar Ibrahim on a 46.75-50.27 vote percentage split. It was the first time since 1969 that the Barisan has lost the popular vote although, as it did in 1969, it preserved its majority in parliament through gerrymandering. Since the election, both the Barisan and UMNO have been in disarray, seeking to come up with a strategy that would appeal to the majority of voters.

Even seemingly minor incidents, including one in which a Johor resort owner mistakenly allowed a Buddhist group to hold a worship session in a Muslim surau, or small mosque, ended up with the resort owner's arrest. A Muslim Malay woman – and member of the opposition – was also arrested recently over a three-year-old video showing her washing her dogs during a Ramadan session.

Malaysiakini said it had contacted the Catholic Bishop's Conference of Malaysia, which confirmed that there is no "Father Augustus Chen," the supposed author of the charges against the DAP, among the list of registered Catholic priests in the country. The Council of Churches of Malaysia, which represents the Protestant and Orthodox denominations, said Protestant priests do not use the title "Father" and the National Evangelical Christian Fellowship confirmed that evangelicals don't either. While orthodox priests do use the patronymic, there are no Chinese orthodox priests registered in Malaysia.

"Chen" wrote a 12-page booklet, titled "The Equity Report (CEC election fraud)," alleging that some 1,300 delegates were excluded from the DAP's Central Executive Committee elections in December 2012 because they didn't support Secretary-General Lim Guan Eng, and that another 547 illegal delegates were brought in to vote to ensure the political survival of Lim and his father, Lim Kit Siang. The pamphlet also alleged that DAP MPs Anthony Loke and Tony Pua manipulated polling numbers to allow Zairil Khir Johari to win a place on the executive committee so that the party could demonstrate its appeal to ethnic Malay voters.

Lim Kit Siang, in his blog, pointed out that 71 percent of delegates had attended the December conclave, far in excess of a 25 percent quorum and that "it is most dishonest for anyone to allege that the absentee delegates are caused by a conspiracy not to give proper notification - for on this ground, the legality and legitimacy of conferences of every political party or society can be called into question.

The DAP, he said, had cooperated with the Registrar of Societies, providing proof that the prerequisite notifications had been provided to all delegates. Lim Guan Eng said a formal letter has been submitted to the Registry demanding an explanation before the party decides its strategy.

The pamphlet is said to be the primary evidence used by the Registrar of Societies against the DAP in its ultimatum that the party hold new elections. The DAP has refused to hold new elections, demanding in turn that the registry make public its reasons for the executive committee election action. Political observers in Kuala Lumpur believe the demand for new elections is the first step in eventually de-registering the DAP, which in May 5 elections became the second-biggest political party in the country after the United Malays National Organization, which forms the backbone of the Barisan Nasional, the ruling national coalition.

A call to the Registrar of Companies to ask about Chen's supposed testimony turned up no answers.

None of this, of course, means Chen doesn't exist. However, Lim Kit Siang denounced "Chen" on his website as a "phantom" and a figment of the Barisan Nasional's imagination and gave the priest seven days to surface to prove his existence. Lim went on to add that, if "Chen" fails to materialize, the Registrar of Societies should withdraw its demands for the DAP to hold fresh internal polls.

"The question Malaysians are entitled to know is how the Registrar of Societies Director-General and the UMNO/Barisan leadership up to cabinet level could succumb to the lies and falsehoods by a totally fictitious character as to justify the invalidation of the ... elections last year and to demand a CEC re-election?" Lim wrote on his blog. "It is noteworthy that the UMNO/BN... propagandists and cybertroopers have started to change their tune, as they know their game of pretense that there is such a person as "Father Augustus Chen" who was supposedly my one-time close associate is up, with my challenge to him to surface in seven days or be proven to be a phantom."

To be sure, there have been other allegations over the central executive committee election. Two DAP members, the vice chairman and secretary of a local branch, lodged reports in January, saying the party's election results had been manipulated to exclude them.

With ethnic minority sentiment swinging steadily away from the Barisan Nasional, the Democratic Action Party drubbed its main rival for Chinese affections, the Malaysian Chinese Association, in the national election, taking 38 seats in Parliament. The MCA was so badly outpolled that it initially refused a position in Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak's cabinet following the election.

The election made the DAP a powerhouse in Malaysian politics, with the legitimate claim to represent the country's Chinese, who make up 24.9 percent of the country's population, if not other minorities as well.