DETRACTORS can say what they like — the Chinese-dominated DAP is serious in wanting to become a truly multiracial party as it moves to re-brand itself for Malay support.
It appears that the party is in an aggressive bid to correct its lack of Malay members and representation in the party’s hierarchy and as state and federal elected representatives by implementing specific measures to reach out to this target group.
This is a development which should not be taken lightly by both Umno and PAS, the two main political parties fighting tooth and nail for the Malay ground for decades.
Both have to be wary of their “new and common” enemy — they now have to seriously check DAP’s advance in rural areas where their vote banks are, aside from monitoring Parti Keadilan Rakyat and new kid Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah).
PKR and Amanah, being a PAS offshoot, also have some appeal among the Malays, including those residing in rural and semi-urban areas.
Just recently, some 200 DAP party leaders spent two days at its national leadership retreat in Selangor working out strategies to shed its “anti-Malay”/ “anti-Islam” image and seek solutions.
The party’s launch of its Impian Malaysia truck in Subang Jaya on Sunday is yet another effort by DAP in seeking acceptance from Malaysians of all races and religions.
The truck is to be a key feature of an ongoing campaign to empower marginalised rural communities, traditionally seen as vote banks for Umno-BN and which PAS also had a considerable share of support, especially in rural Malay heartland.
Apart from plans to field more Malay candidates in the coming general election, DAP is working on a 50% target of Malay/Bumiputera membership, a development which calls for both Umno/Barisan Nasional and PAS, which currently is a standalone party, to raise the red flag.
With the Malays and other Bumiputeras forming 61.4% of the population and growing, their importance in determining the future of politics is obvious.
It is no myth that some Malays who once shunned DAP as a party stridently championing Chinese interests now view the party differently.
We can see that more Malays are warming up to the party, leading to DAP leaders claiming 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.
But DAP finds this development rather slow, hence the need for a more aggressive campaign, especially with the continuous attempts by Umno and right-wing Malay groups to demonise DAP as a Chinese chauvinist party.
DAP was founded as a multiracial party with membership open to all races, but over the decades had attracted more Chinese members, which in turn reflected in its leadership line-up.
The party had struggled to attract more Malay members and make itself more acceptable to Malay voters but had not been able to make very significant breakthroughs to date although it successfully put Malay representatives back in the Dewan Rakyat and state legislative assemblies after a long absence following the 13th general election.
The party is still struggling with its “anti-Malay” image due to opposition, including from among its older members who are happy with the party’s current Chinese-dominated entity.
But DAP leaders are pushing the party’s plans because they believe more Malays will board their ship in the present political climate.
It is believed that 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.
After emerging as the second most powerful party after Umno with close to 40 seats in Parliament after the 2013 general election, DAP found itself under more intense attacks, with detractors accusing it of being anti-Malay and anti-Islam.
DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng refuted such claims at the launch of the Impian Malaysia truck, suggesting Umno was attempting to divert attention from its own failure to address public concerns over the troubled 1MDB and the RM2.6 billion donation scandal.
Saying that DAP had recorded a growing number of Malay members, Lim reportedly said the party’s membership was open to all Malaysians and that it had in fact recorded a growing number of new Malay members.
“They (Umno) are trying to racialise the issue so that they don’t have to explain about 1MDB and the RM2.6 billion scandal,” noted Lim in response to Communications and Multimedia Minister Datuk Salleh Said Keruak’s comments on DAP’s Chinese image.
Although Malays are not exactly flocking to sign up as DAP members, the fact that the party now has more Malay faces should be of concern to parties depending on Malay support in the 14th general election for relevancy.
More so after DAP now has plans to move into semi-urban seats which have a larger Malay population.
A significant number of urban Malay voters, who believe that a strong opposition is essential to good governance, sided with DAP in the last two general elections.
With Penang and Selangor practising good governance, DAP thinks it has a point to sell to Malays to join the party in its fight for “a better Malaysia”.
Will this work with Malays in rural and semi-urban constituencies?
* Seasoned journalist Zubaidah Abu Bakar takes a keen interest in Malaysia’s vibrant and sometimes dramatic political landscape.