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Tian Chua, the reformasi icon in the political wilderness

Analysts say it will be difficult for the former PKR man to make any sort of comeback after going against the party's decision at the 15th general election.

Azzman Abdul Jamal
3 minute read
Former PKR man Chua Tian Chang, better known as Tian Chua, was active during the reformasi movement.
Former PKR man Chua Tian Chang, better known as Tian Chua, was active during the reformasi movement.

Analysts have played down the odds of a political comeback for reformasi icon Chua Tian Chang, better known as Tian Chua, who was sacked from PKR after running as an independent candidate against the will of its leaders at the recent general election.

Tian Chua, an early supporter of the reformasi movement led by PKR president Anwar Ibrahim, had held the Batu parliamentary seat for a decade since 2008. However, he was unable to defend it at the 14th general election in 2018 due to a RM2,000 fine from a court case.  

Voters were instead urged to support P Prabakaran, who was endorsed by PKR and joined the party after winning the seat on an independent ticket. 

At the most recent election in November last year, Prabakaran defended his seat for a second term against a whopping eight other contenders – including Tian Chua, who contested as an independent after being dropped from PKR's list of candidates for the polls. 

Tian Chua himself suffered a heavy defeat, winning only 4,603 votes and losing his deposit. He was sacked from PKR on Jan 8 although he recently apologised to Anwar and asked to be taken back into the party. 

Jeniri Amir, a senior fellow at the National Council of Professors, said while Tian Chua had contributed greatly to the party, he was also seen as having transgressed against it by defying its decision. 

If PKR did not take stern action against him, he said, it would send the wrong signal to other members.

"What happened to Tian Chua is disappointing but appropriate as a message that no single individual is above the party," he said to MalaysiaNow. 

"He made a wrong call. He thought he would be able to win the support of voters there, but it turns out that they backed the party instead of individuals." 

Jeniri said Tian Chua had also missed a golden opportunity as Anwar, the party president, had since been appointed as prime minister. 

"His services would certainly have been appreciated if he was still with PKR," he said. 

"But he miscalculated and now it has backfired on him."

James Chin of Australia's University of Tasmania said PKR had taken the same action against Tian Chua that any political party in the country would. 

"All the major parties have an automatic law that you will be expelled if you stand as an independent or go against the party," he said. "So he knew it was coming."

Adding that Tian Chua should not have run as an independent candidate, he said it only showed his lack of support on the ground. 

"He received so few votes that he lost his deposit," he said. 

"Now it is even more difficult for Tian Chua to make a political comeback." 

Mujibu Abd Muis of Universiti Teknologi Mara meanwhile said that Anwar might forgive Tian Chua on a personal level. 

However, he said it was next to impossible for Tian Chua to be received back in the fold as this would be opposed by the camp loyal to PKR deputy president Rafizi Ramli. 

"It is abundantly clear that Rafizi is not always in step with Anwar, so of course his camp will exert great pressure to ensure that individuals who oppose or turn their backs on the party are not taken back," he said. 

But Oh Ei Sun of the Singapore Institute of International Affairs said that given time, Tian Chua might return to the political arena with either PKR or Pakatan Harapan. 

"Where else would he go? Perikatan Nasional?" Oh said when asked if Tian Chua's supporters would rebel against PKR. 

"He might have contributed a lot, but in politics, one fatal mistake will set you back significantly. 

"You could always bounce back, though, when the time is ripe."