VETERAN politician Karpal Singh yesterday announced he will step aside as DAP chairman pending his sedition appeal. He said he would, however, continue serving as Bukit Gelugor member of parliament (MP) until the courts decide on the appeal against his conviction and sentence.
His decision has garnered a mixed response. While party hardliners rallied behind him, others, including Kedah DAP chairman Lee Guan Aik, said Karpal should relinquish his MP's post immediately.
Karpal said yesterday he was stepping aside as party chairman because he was no longer eligible to remain an office bearer, adviser or employee of a registered society following the March 11 Kuala Lumpur High Court decision to fine him RM4,000.
He was fined after being found guilty of sedition for questioning the removal of Datuk Seri Mohammad Nizar Jamaluddin as Perak menteri besar by the sultan of Perak in 2009.
Under Section 9A of the Societies Act 1966, anyone who has been fined more than RM2,000 or sentenced to one year's jail is barred from holding office.
Karpal can also be disqualified as a member of the Dewan Rakyat and lose his parliamentary seat if his appeal against the sentence is unsuccessful.
Describing the Sedition Act under which he was convicted as an "outdated and irrelevant legislation that is 66 years old and a sad relic of British colonialism", Karpal said: "I cannot, until the conviction is set aside or the fine reduced to one under RM2,000, continue to remain chairman of DAP.
"Under the circumstances, I am publicly announcing that I am, pending my appeal to the Court of Appeal against the conviction and sentence which has been filed, stepping aside as chairman of DAP. "
He said party deputy chairman Tan Kok Wai would be stepping in as acting chairman in the interim.
Karpal said although he could apply to the Registrar of Societies to grant him an exemption from being disqualified, he would not do so.
"I will not demean myself by applying for exemption. I will leave it to the Court of Appeal to decide on the matter."
DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng said the party was saddened by Karpal stepping down.
"We will stand together in solidarity and wait for his return. His position will be reserved and kept vacant. This is not the end of Karpal," he said, adding that the DAP central executive committee would miss Karpal, who has been chairman since 2004.
In Alor Star, Lee welcomed Karpal's decision.
Describing it as timely, he said Karpal was also no longer fit to be an MP following the sedition conviction and RM4,000 fine. He suggested that the politician retire from the party as it "was high time for him to do so".
Former DAP vice-chairman Zulkifli Mohd Noor echoed Lee's sentiment, saying Karpal should also quit as an MP if he "really wants to show integrity".
Penang Malay Congress chairman Rahmad Isahak concurred, saying it would be better for Karpal to step down as MP.
"We do not know how long the proceedings will be. Instead of putting everyone in a limbo waiting for the decision, it is best for him to step down."