KUALA LUMPUR, June 2 — By going against the current, the DAP challenged a pattern of communal voting that has been ingrained for decades.
It lost the contest for Teluk Intan, but it remains to be seen if the gambit of fielding the likes of 26-year-old Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud will work out in the next general election in which political analysts say the makeup of voters and issues will vary.
“It is work in progress and DAP has taken the lead,” said Ibrahim Suffian who heads Merdeka Center. “I’m confident that in the long run people will vote for policies and no longer just for one’s skin colour.”
The head of the independent pollster noted that while it is tempting to blame DAP’s loss on racial silos, the result may also be skewed as by-elections are generally “tougher” for the opposition as it cannot match the might of Barisan Nasional’s (BN) federal strength.
“[By-elections are] unlike in a general election, [where] the resources of both sides are spread out thinly so that allows a smaller party to ride on the national sentiments and issues,” said Ibrahim who heads independent pollster Merdeka Center.
In Saturday’s Teluk Intan by-election triggered by the death of DAP’s Seah Leong Peng last month, Dyana Sofya took 19,919 votes to lose to BN’s Datuk Mah Siew Keong’s by a 238-majority.
Comparing DAP’s support in the constituency now to last year’s national polls, Ibrahim concurred that local issues had a significant impact and the party with better resources have an advantage in rural constituencies.
While Dyana stumped on national issues such as inflation and an impending Goods and Services Tax (GST), Mah had campaigned on more tangible issues such as better broadband connectivity and securing Unesco status for Teluk Intan’s iconic clock tower.
Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak also pledged a Cabinet spot for Mah if the Gerakan president succeeds in defeating DAP.
Preliminary analysis indicated that voters were likely to have voted for BN’s promises of development, rather than DAP’s campaign of breaking racial barriers and combating corruption.
Ibrahim conceded that the loss was exacerbated by the absence of outstation voters; unlike Election 2013 where DAP won by over 7,000 votes due to a turnout of 80 per cent voter turnout. Only 66.7 per cent of registered voters turned up to make their choice on Saturday.
“It’s a common by-election phenomenon... a lot of people did not make that trip back,” added Ibrahim.
According to DAP campaign director Tony Pua, the issue was exacerbated by a drop in support of the Chinese community from a high of 85 per cent in Election 2013 to 70 per cent in the past 12 days of campaigning.
Monash University’s political science professor James Chin said that despite being a multi-racial constituency, Teluk Intan “is not a good example for cross-ethnic voting pattern”.
He said DAP’s decision to field a young Malay woman was a gamble in a Chinese-majority seat as many of the resident voters were over 40.
DAP’s misstep was to use a strategy “suitable” for an urban setting where people have become more averse to race-based politics.
“In the rural nooks and corners of Teluk Intan, religion plays a big part... and though Dyana is Malay and Muslim, she is not conservative enough,” said Chin.
Conversely, BN’s campaign for the Gerakan president was successful despite Mah being Chinese, said Chin, as the component party is still seen as a subordinate to lynchpin Umno.
“That’s is how Umno sells its non-Malay candidates, because they indirectly tells their voters that Umno is still in charge and the only party that represents the Malays and the Muslims,” he said.
But Ibrahim pointed out data from polling station showed Dyana Sofya managed to help DAP make inroads in the Changkat Jong state seat, with its sizeable Malay and Indian community.
Yesterday, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng insisted that Dyana’s unsuccessful bid will not deter the party from its bid to move beyond communal politics.
“In the future, DAP will have to work hard to convince outstation voters to return home to increase voter turnout; to convince voters that development is a right not a privilege; as well as accept a new Malaysia without racial politics where a Malay can represent a non-Malay and a non-Malay represent a Malay,” he said yesterday.