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KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 9 ― The controversial alliance between Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and the DAP, a party he once fought against, will not be enough to help the party win favour with the Malay community, according to analysts.
Dr Mahathir's unprecedented presence at the party's national convention on Sunday triggered mixed reactions from members, some of whom openly questioned the leadership's decision to forge ties with a former prime minister known for his strongarm tactics against dissenters.
The grumbling have led some political observers to suggest that the DAP could lose some of its hardcore Chinese supporters, especially since Dr Mahathir was also deemed by some to be an “ultra-Malay”.
But observers believe most Chinese voters ― who have displayed political maturity by their ability to step out of their communal mindset to support Malay parties and leaders in the recent past ― are not likely to be swayed by the disquiet within the DAP.
“The Chinese Malaysian, like minorities everywhere disadvantaged by majority-favouring policies, welcomes pluralism and inclusivity,” Iseas-Yusuf Ishak research director Ooi Kee Beng told Malay Mail Online.
However, it will be long before the DAP could expect to see significant gain in Malay support from the historic alliance despite Dr Mahathir's entrenched influence among the community, one analyst said.
Datuk Shamsul Amri Baharuddin of Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia said while the political friendship could boost DAP's popularity among younger Malay voters, this will not have any real impact on Umno for now.
“The DAP had been trying to get Malay support by fielding young Malay leaders, this have been established already.
“But I don't see Mahathir's presence in DAP will add on Malay votes for the party. Maybe the young, those with no knowledge of May 13 as for those older, with memory of what happened and lived through Mahathir's era itself where he constantly portrayed the DAP as a chauvinist party, they won't change their mind,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Malaysian voters have traditionally voted along racial lines, including the Chinese which form the country's second biggest ethnicity.
But Ooi noted that voting patterns have changed tremendously.
For the past decade, electoral data show significant increase in policy-oriented voting trends among both Malay and Chinese voters.
Whereas previously voters would have picked candidates based on their ethnicity, today, issues like good governance and accountability have eclipsed communal preference, he said.
“These characteristics are best expressed in objective governance terms and rule-of-law principles”.
During the convention, Penang Chief Minister and DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng sought to address uneasiness over the party's alliance with Dr Mahathir's by calling the former prime minister a useful and powerful ally.
Former political advisor of Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and analyst Oh Ei Sun concurred, saying their new friendship could lend the opposition party some added credence, but was otherwise largely just novelty value.
“Most Chinese voters are diehard DAP voters. For them Dr Mahathir attending their dinner is a plus, as it further proves the legitimacy of the party's struggle all these years.
“So no gain no harm,” he told Malay Mail Online.
Dr Mahathir could also take over the role of bridging trust between the Malays and DAP in the absence of Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, Ooi said.
Anwar's clout among Malay voters was crucial in helping the DAP gain Malay trust.
“Dr Mahathir annus 2016 provides that vital channel following the jailing of Anwar Ibrahim as the ethnicity-bridging Malay voice for Malaysians in general. That is of course welcomed,” Ooi said.
Anwar, perhaps the only leader apart from Dr Mahathir with strong multi-racial support, was convicted for sodomy in 2014. His jailing, for a sodomy conviction he claimed was rigged by the government, have left the opposition divided.