KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 23 — Seen as a Chinese party, DAP’s attempt at projecting a more multicultural image is failing to gain traction among the Malays as the country’s largest voter demographic group is still largely conservative and want to retain their privileges, analysts said.
Political pundits noted that the federal opposition party’s strong anti-hudud stance and continued defence of Chinese vernacular schools only served to distance the DAP from Malay-Muslims, who are becoming increasingly religious.
“The large part of the Malay community is not yet ready for equality among the races and so on,” Dr Oh Ei Sun, a senior fellow at S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies at Singapore’s Nanyang Technological University, told Malay Mail Online in a recent interview.
“I think they’re still for special privileges and position for the Malays and so on. It’ll be futile to try and reach out with DAP’s philosophy of Malaysia for Malaysians and so on. It’s just not the right timing yet,” he added.
A recent study by Selangor government think-tank Institut Darul Ehsan (IDE) indicated that the campaign to vilify the DAP as an anti-Islam and anti-Malay party has gained traction, particularly among Malays in rural areas where the party is traditionally weakest and rivals Umno and PAS, strongest.
According to the survey, over two-thirds of respondents considered DAP to be a racist party that was concerned only about the interests of the Chinese community.
Oh said it was unnecessary for the DAP to reach out to the Malays and urged the party to allow its Pakatan Harapan partners — PKR and Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) — to work with the predominant community instead.
“The cold harsh fact is that in Malaysia, it’s still very much race-based politics. Don’t waste time trying to change it,” he said.
Ibrahim Suffian from independent pollster Merdeka Center said the DAP’s perceived political aggressiveness in expanding into Johor and other places dislocated the party’s Malay allies in PKR, PAS then, and now Amanah.
“Given the relative lower profile of the rest of the opposition’s Malay leaders, DAP seems to have taken the mantle of the de facto leadership of the opposition, thus sharpening the dichotomy,” Ibrahim told Malay Mail Online.
The political analyst said the DAP should consider a major shakeup of its senior leadership and have more prominent Malay faces.
“It needs to take its leadership role to moderate ethnic Chinese demands and find ways to accommodate the fact that Muslims here are becoming more religious.
“At a time of rising economic uncertainties, low income voters will be feeling insecure. Unfortunately in Malaysia, it also goes along ethnic lines, hence a rethinking of the party’s approach is needed. If it keeps going for more seats, it will be perceived simply as wanting power and at the expense of its Malay allies,” the Merdeka Center director said.
Selangor DAP chief Tony Pua announced last October that the DAP has begun preparing the groundwork to contest PAS in eight state seats currently held by the Islamist party in Selangor.
Dr Lim Teck Ghee from the Centre for Policy Initiatives said the DAP’s outreach towards the Malays has not been failing, but that progress has been slow because of the initial small base and the incessant anti-Chinese and anti-DAP propaganda in the mainstream media.
“The party has to fast-track the development and advance of younger Malay leaders within the party and outside it. It is not an easy approach, but the only realistic one if the party is to avoid its Chinese dominance image,” Lim told Malay Mail Online.