SHAH ALAM, May 6 — DAP held its national conference yesterday for the first time in history as a ruling party, but there was a surprising lack of excitement.
According to party members who spoke to Malay Mail on condition of anonymity, due to an unprecedented media blackout on the debate session in the party’s annual assembly, the member party of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition government seems to still be grappling with PH’s upset victory in the 14th general election.
DAP leaders appeared to be trying hard to convince members that the party is still in a strong position, even reminding them the number of seats and government positions held by party leaders.
Contrary to the DAP’s previous 10-year tradition of allowing the media to attend and report the debate sessions in its national conferences, the DAP shut out journalists and photographers this year.
If anything, this is an indication that the party’s top guns do not want criticism from its members published, for fear of bad press and subsequent political fodder for the Opposition.
DAP is struggling to find its footing among Malay voters and retain its loyal base of supporters, amid Umno and PAS championing a race and religion-based agenda in favour of the Malays.
Here is what Malay Mail observed at DAP’s National Conference 2019, just five days before the May 9 anniversary of PH’s first year in office, by speaking to party delegates:
DAP's national conference proved to be a very intense school-report-card type of day, as ministers and deputy ministers from the party purportedly faced questions and criticism from the rank and file.
DAP delegates told Malay Mail that deputy education minister Teo Nie Ching was on the receiving end from party delegates, particularly ethnic Indians, who expressed frustrations over the government's decision to retain the 10 per cent quota system for non-Bumiputera for matriculation courses.
"The matriculation issue is a total letdown for the Indians.
"We are totally upset with the deputy education minister. Why? That day in Putrajaya, she could have called all the Indian students who qualify for matriculation intake to Putrajaya, to have an engagement with their Indian parents, but you (sic) avoided the parents. Why must you worry? Engage them and explain why the intake for B40 (bottom 40 per cent) Indians is low!" a source said.
Another delegate shared similar sentiments about the pre-university education and public university admissions.
"We hope for better opportunities for non-Malays, but issues like matriculation and increase [of] numbers in university for Malays and non-Malays is a big minus point. Seems like despite us being in office, we still may not have a strong enough voice," he said.
The government recently expanded the matriculation programme by 60 per cent from a student intake of 25,000 to 40,000, while retaining a 90 per cent Bumiputera quota, but critics have questioned if this will inadvertently disadvantage STPM students in admission to public universities.
Dissatisfaction over proposed Kulim airport
The federal government’s proposal to build an international airport in Kulim, Kedah, also took centre stage at the DAP’s national conference, according to delegates.
A party delegate expressed regret over the suggestion, lamenting a conflict of interest in the project as Prime Minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Kedah Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Mukhriz are related.
"They explained to the members — ‘The PM is from Kedah, his son is the mentri besar. When they want something, you want me to stand up and say no? As long as it's not public money, you can't say no’,” said a source who requested anonymity, describing how party leaders responded to the Kulim airport issue.
"The question was, why the transport minister is so quiet on this issue? But he said, how could he comment, when they've not done the study on the issue. I can understand their stance," he added.
Last month, Lim told the Penang state legislative assembly that there is no reason to block the federal government’s proposal to build the Kulim airport since will be funded by the private sector via the Private Finance Initiative, Bernama reported.
Penang Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow from the DAP however shot down Mukhriz’s proposed airport plan last Saturday, pointing out that the Penang International Airport, which is 40 minutes away from the proposed Kulim airport, has yet to reach full capacity.
Cost of living still high despite GST repeal
DAP delegates who spoke to Malay Mail added that living cost issues were also brought up during the debate at the party’s national conference.
The concerns, they said, surrounded the new minimum wage of RM1,100 and prices of necessities that they claim have not reduced even after the Goods and Services Tax (GST) was abolished.
"The increment is so little. This is wrong and people don't agree on that," a source said.
"Secondly, from GST to SST (sales and services tax), what's the difference? Cost of living is still the same. Cost of living is still high. It's still a lot," he added.
* Editor's note: A previous version of the report contained disputed information. The article has since been edited to remove this following clarification from Damansara MP Tony Pua.