Analysts: Zaid Ibrahim’s appointment as Kelantan DAP chief good move but needs time to pay off

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim speaks during a press conference in Petaling Jaya February 7, 2017. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Datuk Zaid Ibrahim speaks during a press conference in Petaling Jaya February 7, 2017. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa

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KUALA LUMPUR, Jan 15 — Despite Datuk Zaid Ibrahim’s apparent unpredictability, observers view DAP’s decision to appoint him as the party’s new Kelantan chief positively.

Universiti Malaya’s Centre for Democracy and Elections (UMCEDEL) research fellow Awang Azman Awang Pawi said Zaid is the most suitable candidate since he was a Kota Baru MP (2004 to 2008) under Barisan Nasional (BN).

“Because he was once the former MP of Kota Baru, we believe that he still has some influence on the ground with voters.

“Especially in Kota Baru, because that is one area where there is a good mix of different races, and this is what DAP represents,” he told Malay Mail when contacted.

It was reported that 16 DAP branches in Kelantan agreed unanimously to elect the lawyer-turned-politician as the party’s state chief.

However, Awang Azman said the move will not pay off overnight as it would take some time for Zaid to “convince” the Kelantanese constituents who are known for their conservative nature, even the non-Malays.

“Appointing Zaid for this position does not mean that DAP is immediately able to field a candidate in Kelantan in the next general election, but it is timely for the party to make inroads into Kelantan.

“Zaid is placed there not contest the next general election, but to help strengthen DAP’s presence in Kelantan. To expect Zaid to contest the next general election in Kelantan is a ‘suicidal’ move,” he added.

He further explained that Zaid’s appointment would also be able to neutralise views that depict DAP as a Chinese-only party.

“No doubt that Zaid is still viewed as a liberal Malay, but there is no better candidate than one who knows Kelantan well despite his ‘colourful’ political career,” said Awang Azman.

Under Umno, Zaid was the law minister during the administration of Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi in 2008, but he resigned from the post that same year in protest against a spate of arrests under the Internal Security Act 1960, resulting in his suspension from the ruling party.

The year after, Zaid joined PKR, and then contested the Hulu Selangor by-election in 2010. He lost to BN’s Datuk P. Kamalanathan, who was then deputy education minister.

However, he quit PKR later that year after pulling out of a race for the party’s deputy president post and formed Parti Kesejahteraan Insan Tanah Air (Kita).

Similarly, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia’s (UTM) Azmi Hassan views the appointment of Zaid as a good move for DAP but did not expect drastic improvements in the party’s image in Kelantan.

“I don’t foresee there will be a drastic change of DAP influence in Kelantan since DAP has a very negligible influence in this state.

“Compared to MCA, I think MCA exerts more influence than DAP. Yes, it’s a good move by DAP, but all things stop there.

“By appointing Zaid, DAP is sending out the signal that Malay members have a role to play in the party since the perception is that DAP is only for the Chinese,” said Azmi.

He said, however, that it was unrealistic to expect the appointment to be a significant factor in Kelantan where voters typically count on either PAS or Umno to champion their interests.

“To use in analogy, if MCA appoints Zaid as its Kelantan chairman, then I believe it will make a dent in the Kelantan political scenario since the Chinese there are conservative too.

“I think the move is positive for DAP not in Kelantan, but for the party on a national level,” he added.

In addition, Azmi said not only is MCA a more established presence in the state compared to DAP, but crucially, the Malays in Kelantan view the former more positively.

This is due to its affiliation with BN which translates into MCA being less chauvinistic.

Universiti Sains Malaysia’s (USM) Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid, on the other hand, said Zaid’s appointment as DAP Kelantan chief would not make much difference to DAP’s fortunes in Kelantan.

“Among Malay circles, Zaid, with all due respect to him, is known as a ‘liberal’, which does not jive with Kelantanese Malays’ largely conservative character.

“But it’s better than nobody, what more with Zaid being a former Kota Baru MP,” said Ahmad Fauzi.

He cautioned that the appointment, however, may hurt Zaid’s image rather than DAP’s.

“It won’t make things much worse for DAP, as much as it would for Zaid, having to rebut allegations of being a ‘Chinese stooge’ after this,” he said.

DAP has been among the fastest-growing parties in the state administered by Islamist party PAS since Pakatan Harapan won the 14th general election.

In November, then state chairman Chua Chin Hui said DAP planned to contest three “potentially winnable” state constituency seats in the next general election: Kota Lama in the Kota Baru parliamentary constituency, and Galas and Guchil, both of which fall under the Gua Musang parliamentary constituency.

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