KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 17 — Whichever way you look at it, DAP seems to be the country’s favourite punching bag at the moment.
The Opposition has been focusing rather successfully on its attack against the party by playing up its Chinese credentials and accusing it of being anti-Malay/Islam.
At the other end of the spectrum are the Chinese conservatives who now brand the party as a traitor for failing to stop the introduction of khat writing into Chinese vernacular schools.
Syahredzan Johan, who is party advisor Lim Kit Siang’s political secretary, said the anti-Malay perception did not start post-GE14.
“It is a narrative that has been repeated for decades, so much so that it has become ingrained in the collective psyche of the Malay community.
“BN, especially Umno, needed a bogeyman to justify representing itself as the one and only ‘defender’ of the community.
“To be a ‘defender’, one needs to have an enemy to ‘defend’ against and because of the ethnic make-up of the DAP, the party became the easiest target for the attacks by Umno,” he explained.
Syahredzan added there is already a perception among many in the Malay community that the DAP is a Chinese chauvinist party, a perception which has been created and “nurtured” over the years by DAP’s political enemies.
“When BN lost the federal government in 2018, they needed a narrative to attack the new government.
“With their leaders embroiled in numerous corruption cases, they needed a simple yet effective message to attack the Pakatan Harapan (PH) government.
“So together with their new ally PAS, they rely on the message that this government is supposedly a ‘Chinese-dominated or -controlled government.’ Of course this is completely untrue,” he said.
Unfortunately, it has been an effective strategy thus far.
“We have not been able to counter this because of the fact that it has been in-built for so long. We must also admit that as a coalition, we have lost the synergy and effectiveness in social media communications.
“The Opposition has taken advantage of the freedom returned to the people to spread their propaganda. We simply have lost the social media advantage we once had,” he said.
“I believe efforts are underway to regain what we lost. And the best way to counter the narrative is by working together as a coalition and not work in silos when it comes to social media engagement and communications,” he added.
Penang state executive councillor and DAP assemblyman Zairil Khir Johari too agrees that this strategy is not new, but admits it is a surprise to him that it appears to be gaining traction despite DAP being part of the federal government now.
“Previously, DAP was an easy target as there used to be an information monopoly in the pre-social media age.
“This was because DAP did not have much recourse to respond as there was little space in the mainstream media for DAP.
“Repeated often enough, many allegations and accusations have become easily believed,” he said.
However, Zairil said in DAP’s defence, the party managed to turn the tide after 2008 when DAP became part of a coalition government in a few states including Penang and Selangor.
Gradually, DAP was able to counter many of the lies by proving that a DAP-led government was not a racist one.
“But of course while perception did improve, progress was still slow because the propaganda continued.
“Umno continued to make DAP the bogeyman at every one of its general assemblies and MCA continued to blame DAP and so on,” he said.
He added that these narratives seem to be continuing, likely due to several reasons.
Firstly, unlike BN, Zairil said the PH government has made a policy decision to provide freedom to the media.
“But in the Malaysian reality, most mainstream media outlets are still privately owned by groups who are directly and indirectly linked to BN.
“It is little wonder where their editorial stance lies,” he said.
Secondly, he claims social media is now constantly bombarded by fake news and cybertrooper trolling.
“BN had resorted to this even before GE14 but has now stepped their game up.
“The amount of fake news being made viral on a daily basis is quite exasperating. The truth is often inundated by the false,” he said.
Thirdly, DAP seems to have become an easier target now that it is in government, he said, due to the politics of coalition requiring compromise.
“There have been a number of issues where DAP is seen to have compromised too much, although the fact is that DAP leaders in government are committed to implementing the reforms promised.
“Unfortunately, the slower than expected rate of reform also gives ammunition for hardliners both within and outside the party to attack our leaders. This then contributes to even more negative perception among the public,” he said.
In a nutshell, Zairil said it is a war of communication and public perception.
“DAP has been a victim for five decades. However, being in government, there is an opportunity to use whatever resources we have to not only counter but also build the right narrative of DAP’s struggle as a party for all Malaysians.
“This cannot happen overnight and an elaborate strategy has to be put in place. Our leaders realise this and are working on this,” he said.
* An earlier version of this story contained an error which has since been corrected.