DAP goes a-courting for Malay votes

Long branded a chauvinist party, DAP is shedding its Chinese-centric image in trying to win multiracial support ahead of the next national polls, writes ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR


IT is no myth that Malays have warmed to Malaysia’s opposition Democratic Action Party in the past couple of years.

Malays who once shunned DAP as a party stridently championing Chinese interests now view the party differently.

DAP leaders claim that Malays are no longer as turned off by the party’s socialist roots, which used to be seen as sidelining the Malay agenda.

They are beginning to understand the party’s vision of establishing a peaceful and prosperous social democracy that can unite the country’s races, religions and cultures in a “Malaysian Malaysia” concept, forging a “Malaysian race” with universal moral values, equal access and opportunity, democratic governance and rule of law, and equitable wealth creation and distribution without corruption.

DAP’s success in drawing Malay support in the 2008 general election was due to Malay disillusionment with Umno.

The party’s subsequent ability to reach out to Barisan Nasional supporters was also largely attributed to the Umno-led BN component parties being too engrossed in resolving their internal conflicts.

BN leaders’ attention to the goings-on in Parti Keadilan Rakyat and Pas has also allowed DAP to progress on its outreach programmes without much hassle.

DAP deputy secretary-general Datuk Ngeh Koo Ham claims the party now has “a few thousand” Malay members. New, exclusively Malay party branches have been set up since the last general election, mainly in Perak and Selangor. Although their numbers are still small, DAP leaders say they are encouraging.

Efforts to recruit more Malays in existing branches have also been given more emphasis, says central executive committee and DAP Socialist Youth (DAPSY) chief Loke Siew Fook.

Young men and women under 30 are among those DAP has recruited since the last national polls. DAP, as confirmed by Election Commission deputy chairman Datuk Wan Ahmad Wan Omar, has taken the lead among more than two dozen political parties in the country in registering new voters, especially among younger Malay-sians, since the 2008 elections.

Though some analysts argue that appointing former Transparency International Ma-laysia president Tunku Abdul Aziz Ibrahim as party vice-chairman and making him a senator is unlikely to persuade the Malays to join DAP, party chairman Karpal Singh thinks otherwise. “Tunku Aziz’s presence has enabled the party to reach out to more Malays,” he says.

“So has our cooperation with Pakatan Rakyat, with PKR and Pas.”

Although Malays are not exactly flocking to sign up as DAP members, the party now having more Malay faces should be of concern to BN and Umno in particular, as it is still fighting to regain the Malay votes.

Umno should be on red alert because today, DAP is not just talking about turning itself into a truly multiracial organisation in its membership, it is implementing measures to reach out to its target groups.

Early last year, Perak DAP promised to field more Malay candidates, including Islamic scholars, in the next general election.

Launching the Kampung Ayer Tawar DAP branch in Perak, Ngeh said the political trend in the country had changed tremendously and showed that DAP continued to be accepted by voters, especially among Malays. “In the 1990s,” he said, “voters, especially Malays, were scared of DAP to the extent of taking it out on the party’s flags and posters.

“But everything has changed now. Malay voters are eager to register as DAP members and set up new branches in which they are the majority members.”

This Sunday in Ipoh, 1,284 delegates to DAP’s national conference will debate amendments to the party’s constitution to raise the party’s profile at all parliamentary constituencies.

“We are making organisational changes that will strengthen the party at the parliamentary level,” said central executive council member Liew Chin Tong. “Our strength in the past has always been at the branch and division levels.”

Under the proposed amendments, the parliamentary liaison committees, which were made part of the party structure seven years ago, will be given a more prominent role in strengthening public organisations and coordinating party activities.

The party has about 40 parliamentary liaison committees. Their duties include coordinating the activities of DAP branches (about 400 nationwide in all) within the same federal constituency.

Party vice-chairman and national conference organising chairman Tan Kok Wai says these committees will be formed in all the country’s 222 parliamentary constituencies.

“It’s not easy to form new committees because of logistic and financial constraints,” Tan says, “but we hope the amendments to the constitution empowering the committees to send delegates to the national congress and conference will be an encouragement.”

At present, delegates are only elected at branch level.

Under the party’s constitution, a national conference must be held every 18 months, while a national congress is held every three years for the election of CEC members.

Themed “Transforming Malaysia”, the Ipoh conference seeks to call Malaysians to move forward with DAP in the party’s quest “to transform Malaysia into a united nation that cherishes democracy, justice, fair play and equality regardless of skin colour, religious differences, gender and political background”.

DAP, founded in 1966, has contested in 10 general elections since 1969. It won the lion’s share of Chinese votes in the 2008 elections, with 28 parliamentary seats and 63 state seats.