Time for DAP to be truly Malaysian

JANUARY 17 — The Democratic Action Party (DAP) is 53 years old, and after half a century in politics it has only experienced federal power for eight months. 

Whether DAP remains relevant for the next 50 will be determined by its courage to change.

Change, not remain on its present course.

The current trajectory is untenable.

I do not posit that DAP has to crash course the matter; however, it must leverage the four years left in this administration to build its future as a Malaysian party, not just a Chinese party.

Topping the list of challenges are Chinese education, employment in the Chinese-controlled section of the economy and tribal business practices.

All demand lengthy reflections, while this piece focuses on the need for DAP to commit to a different path. Pardon the cursory treatment of the former.

Facing them would alter the national perception about DAP. Mindful they are not expected to resolve them in the short term but the willingness to confront them will be proof of self-criticism, for it risks their rock-solid ties with the Chinese community.

In the past, as the opposition with limited resources, DAP relied on ethnic Chinese support, purchased through unwavering commitment to the community’s education and business.

Today, as a national leader, it must ask itself, does communal interest trump Malaysian interest?

Over the years it avoided national demands by asserting clever cultural prerequisites while leaning on demographical complexities.

In short, realpolitik out of sticky situations. That must end.

But why DAP first, and not the other Pakatan parties?

Bersatu won’t bother and neither would Amanah. For PKR, it is a poisoned chalice.

Bersatu competes to be the best far-right possible in a universe filled with the worst kinds, and in the moderate space it competes hard with Umno and PAS to be the modern choice. 

Isma and Perkasa operate on the fringe — as existential proof in a perverted Malaysian reality to back moderate racism. 

Bersatu, Umno and PAS claim they are acceptable racists who just love Malays more than other Malaysians, but are proud of being Malaysian, regardless.

To be jaguh in dysfunctional central.

Which is why Bersatu can’t lead discussions on equality — as much as Youth chief Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman naively believes it can.

PKR won’t be drawn into a debate about fairness, as it may tear its thinning multicultural fabric.

Amanah has no interest in matters above its pay grade.

And all three have no demographic sunsets, DAP does. When the Chinese population drops below 20 per cent, DAP’s potency will drop substantially, as it stands.

Probably because of this, it has expressed interest to reform. Still, it projects itself as a Trojan horse. To be a Malaysian party without losing its ethnic Chinese support, or corrode its interests in exchange for greater national cohesion.

There are inherent problems with the approach. First, the hypocrisy. One nation, but the Chinese can have reservations as and when.

DAP supports equality in sweet spots where it plays to its gallery; admission for ethnic Chinese students into universities, recognition for foreign Chinese education degrees and fair employment promotion for non-Muslims in a culturally Malay civil service; and turns a blind eye when it does not appease the community.

It demands fairness when the community is at the receiving end of injustices, but may not be as vocal when the correction of injustices might infuriate the Chinese community.

In short, the Malay right wing, of all varieties; DAP cherry-picks.

To them, they are not champions of principles, but rather advocates of certain demands using the guise of fairness when it benefits their key supporter, the Chinese community.

The easy example is the current hullaballoo over federal funding for private Chinese education.

DAP’s mechanism to portray a multicultural party has been by increasing Malay candidates, advertise its increased funding for Muslim activities in the states under it and translate Malay content at its convention.

True reform hurts.

Ones which bleed in the short term and ultimately build the future. Like these below.

Talk about the impossible

Which bold decisions?

Hold national consultative discussions, open and inclusive, on education, employment and business.

When it is about national education, the following ensues.

Involve all the characters in these decades-long disputes. Chinese, Tamil, Malay and foreign educationists. Business chambers. The loudest and those who work the deepest in the issues.

The discussions are not binding. This is not about winning the argument, or total number of arguments available. It’s about parading all the arguments inside the same forum, for the first time, without the burden of outcome.

The first of many stages.

It will be time consuming, and over a period.

Every side has a story with a valid defence, it is just that when all the defences are allowed simultaneously, a country is disrupted.

History, culture and a certain method would be the defence for Chinese schools. The religionist will point to Article 3, and national schools because they compete with the vernacular and religions organically, they end up seasonal.

Malaysia discusses about financial allocations to schools, maintaining under-subscribed schools, protecting special purpose schools (boarding schools) but loses out on efficiency, cohesion and best value for tax ringgit.

Rather than how to teach remote or personalised education or behavioural engagements, we are stuck fighting about which race or religion is cared for best in the various schools important to respective groups.

The reason why the consultations will take time is because there is no intention to coerce, but to produce discoveries. And from the discoveries shape the policy proposals which require universal buy-ins to be adopted.

Whatever the future national schools should be, it will not mirror the present structure.

Education is about utility.

While languages and religious instructions matter to different Malaysians to different degrees, the need to empower most Malaysians to competently participate at all levels in the economy which will be realised in the future has to be the overarching objective.

We are at risk of denying a generation the best opportunity to compete with the world because of our own determination to play out our respective demands based on political calculations.

DAP in front

It’s shoddy, the deal. While Bersatu, PKR and Amanah can take their collective foot off the gas and rely on populism to survive for now, DAP has to tackle these to avoid extinction.

Such is the challenge for the accidental party from separation in 1965.

They’ve had good years because of their posture, and now a new one is necessary to continue the dance.

Which is why, they’d have to lead the charge. DAP’s deputy education minister Teo Nie Ching can either use her position to protect the Chinese schools, or pace-set the discussion for the future of Malaysian education, for instance.

It can be the opportunity to surge past the other Pakatan parties too. After all, it is comfort which initiates decay. 

DAP’s adversity and precariousness can result in it being far more nimble than its partners, and eventually far more potent.

But, will it?

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.