It’s ‘Dia mau kerusi’ season again in the DAP

Kua Kia Soong, Free Malaysia Today

It has been a long running joke within the DAP after years of seeing desperate leaders fighting to garner seats, that democracy in the party should be more aptly called “dia mau kerusi”, or “he/she wants a seat”.

I had to laugh when I read that a rather petrified foreign observer commented that DAP leaders were having another slugfest between “Chinese chauvinists” versus “Malaysian Malaysians” and yet all the protagonists on both sides had western names like Ronnie, Tony, Hannah, Anthony.

Yes, you do not have to be an expert political analyst to know that it is election time again in the DAP at federal and state levels, and that all the name-calling has less to do with democracy than with “dia mahu kerusi”. Certainly, factionalism in the DAP is as old as the gerontocrats in the party.

The jostling to be on the nomination “menu” for the election means it is a zero-sum game – one more “multiracial” leader means one less “Chinese chauvinist” and vice-versa. The prize as always is a “kerusi” (seat) in the state or national party committee which gives the winners a better chance of contesting in the general election.

I do not think outsiders should get involved in the factionalism although it is good for the nation to remind the wrestlers in the slugfest that these are important factors for the DAP to ponder when they elect their leaders for the next term, no matter if they are “Chinese chauvinists” or “multiracial chauvinists”.

Reforms not opportunism

DAP leaders should explain to their members how they could accept the former Mahafiraun (Mahathir Mohamad) as the head of the supposedly “Reform Movement” in 2018. Was it not bare-faced opportunism? It was like choosing to invite a fox into the hen house, an analogy that was proven valid in 2020 when the fox revealed his true nature.

Then, while the Pakatan Harapan manifesto prohibited the prime minister from also taking on the finance portfolio, Mahathir succeeded in taking over the prime companies, namely Khazanah Nasional Bhd, Permodalan Nasional Bhd and Petronas under his Prime Minister’s Office. It was a return to the old Mahathirist autocracy.

Was the Cabinet consulted on the decision to start Proton 2, privatise Khazanah and the revival of the failed F1 circuit? The appointment of Mahathir and then economic affairs minister Azmin Ali to the board of Khazanah also went against the PH manifesto promise of keeping politicians out of publicly funded investments since it leads to poor accountability. DAP leaders in his Cabinet need to explain their compliance with Mahathir’s actions.

And while those in PH were still licking their wounds after February 2020, what was bordering on extreme opportunism was when negotiations were ongoing to form a coalition with Umno, led by the same Mahafiraun. What happened to the slogan “No kleptocrats”? How has Umno transformed to make them possible partners in a coalition?

As events have unfolded, PH has become more and more like Barisan Nasional 2.0 especially with the assimilation of Umno MPs into PPBM. Even Anwar Ibrahim was considering accepting the former BN minister Salleh Said Keruak into his party. He has definitely not broken any laws in his confidential phone call to the Umno president but it has certainly exposed his duplicity and hollow commitment to “reformasi”.

A Malaysian Malaysia that accepts Malay dominance?

The most revealing and distressing initiative of all during the brief PH rule was the so-called “Malay Dignity Congress” with its racist resolutions which the PH prime minister patronised, continuing the New Economic Policy in the new Shared Prosperity Vision.

And as this short rule ambled along, it consistently failed to meet manifesto promises and voter expectations in numerous ways. We witnessed the flip-flops over PH’s promise to abolish toxic institutions and laws, such as Sosma and other detention-without-trial laws in the country. On top of all that, we saw a disturbing trend of autocratic decision-making and policies symptomatic of the old Mahathir 1.0 era.

Bowing to “Malay dominance”, it was equally absurd to tell Malaysian Independent Chinese Secondary School graduates that their UEC certificate could only be recognised in five years’ time.

This is a serious breach of promise in the PH 14th general election manifesto since more than 80% of Chinese voters voted for PH because of this promised reform. It has nothing to do with “Chinese chauvinism” or “Malaysian chauvinism”. It was simply a breach of their promise.

Democracy means having elected local government

The failure of DAP leaders to push through the long-awaited local council elections during the PH administration will now haunt them. The excuse of the government debt to delay local government elections which have been suspended in our country since 1965 is not acceptable.

It is a simple matter of abolishing a provision under the Local Government Act 1976 and reviving the Local Government Election Act to introduce local government elections. DAP members should question their leaders on this.

In a democracy, any leader charged with a felony MUST step down

It is a matter of principle and procedure under a democratic system that anyone in a position of power who has been charged with serious felony such as corruption, MUST step down. This includes the prime minister and the chief minister. This means that any elected leader who has been indicted on such a charge, is required to step down, at least temporarily, although they remain innocent until proven guilty.

This rule of democracy applies to ALL leaders, irrespective of whether they are federal, state or municipal leaders. Which DAP leader – apart from the late Karpal Singh – is lion enough to call on their “dear leader” to step down temporarily?

For a regenerative democracy, gerontocrats should step aside

As for DAP, their great leader since the sixties remains the helmsman while the hand of his closely nurtured pedigree is firmly on the rudder of the party. As 2020 ended, the call for the father and son combo in DAP to step aside for other leaders by a retiring DAP leader of Selangor (who is only in his fifties!) is a refreshing aspiration for leadership regeneration.

So what hope is there of any political regeneration in DAP in 2021? Will these gerontocrats be generous enough to step aside for new young leaders with fresh progressive visions and skills? Let’s face it, the number of available seats in Parliament and state assemblies is limited.

To have served three terms in Parliament is surely a reasonable limit and allows new candidates to have a go at representing the people. Term limits for elected representatives will create the opportunity for the youth and more women as well as minority representatives to get elected to public office.

To conclude, if DAP is to credibly live up to its name, they must elect leaders who are principled and consistent, and who stand up for the demands and aspirations of the people as well as protect the rights of the marginalised and minorities.

To regain voter trust, democratic practices must be seen to prevail within the party, not overridden by opportunists jostling for a seat for themselves or their faction while smearing their opponents with labels such as “Chinese chauvinists” or “multiracial capitulationists”.

Kua Kia Soong is adviser to human rights NGO, Suara Rakyat Malaysia.