KUALA LUMPUR, Sept 10 — DAP will hold its National Congress today amid a unique position in its history. Not only is it arguably in a strong position after the 15th general election (GE15) and this year’s six state elections, but the party is also now federal allies with staunch enemy Umno.
In the GE15, DAP’s federal seats tally of 40 was only surpassed by the Islamist party PAS, which secured 49 and even despite that has continuously attempted to paint DAP as pulling the strings of the Anwar administration.
In the six state elections, DAP also won 98 per cent of the seats it contested, making it the best-performing party nationally. It also won the most seats in Selangor and Penang, eclipsing Pakatan Harapan (PH) ally PKR.
Yet, not all is bright and sunny in DAP.
Even its allies in Umno have made a sly dig at DAP, with Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed recently challenging it to amend its party constitution to remove references to a secular Malaysia and the phrase “Malaysian Malaysia”. Similarly, it was lambasted by the Malaysian United Democratic Alliance (Muda) for seemingly defending the discontinuation of Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s graft trial.
Within the party, DAP recently faced dissent during the Penang state election, with accusations of a so-called political purge led by an “emperor” pulling the strings in the party to the detriment of some up-and-coming names.
Transport Minister and DAP sec-gen Anthony Loke (centre) is seen at the DAP 2023 National Women’s Congress at Cenro Mall Klang September 9, 2023. — Bernama pic
Can DAP resist calls to pander to the Malays?
Prior to Nur Jazlan urging DAP to amend its constitution, Umno Youth chief Dr Akmal Saleh had also demanded DAP apologise for its alleged past transgressions against Umno.
Both calls were made ostensibly as quid pro quo for Umno's attempts to convince its grassroots of the benefits of allying itself with DAP, which the Malay nationalist party claimed has not been easy for itself as DAP is seemingly not popular with Malay voters — especially in rural areas.
DAP has previously been adamant that it will not amend its constitution, with party secretary-general Anthony Loke insisting all members of the federal government coalition have already agreed to uphold and defend the Federal Constitution which includes the positions of Islam as the religion of the federation, Malay as the national language, the Malay Rulers, and those of the Malays and Bumiputera.
While this existential question will likely be on delegates’ minds today after national organising secretary Steven Sim gave green light for the event to be an appropriate forum for the debate, several political analysts have told Malay Mail that amending DAP's party constitution to court Malay voters may convince allies that it is intent on cooperating with Umno but will just alienate its original supporter base.
Several analysts said DAP’s success may also hamper it as it is now being seen as stronger than Umno or even its own PH allies, and therefore should suppress its voice for fear of being seen as a threat and alienating the Malay voters.
However, Universiti Sains Malaysia’s political science professor Ahmad Fauzi Abdul Hamid downplayed the matter by pointing out that such negotiations are just part and parcel of being in a coalition.
“You have to give and take among members of the government. It just so happens that DAP seems to be the one compromising a bit more than the other coalition partners, considering the fact that it has the most parliamentary seats among the unity government component parties,” Ahmad Fauzi told Malay Mail.
“I think Anthony Loke understands the delicate situation that he’s in, and that he will have to balance the idealistic demands from the DAP rank and file with the political reality that DAP finds itself in,” he said.
DAP can be confident in its strength
Several other analysts have also suggested that the call was more about Umno rather than DAP, with Nusantara Academy for Strategic Research senior fellow Azmi Hassan saying some Umno leaders were just flexing their muscles at a time when their own authority is waning.
“Nur Jazlan is trying to portray that Umno can face up to DAP which it considers as too dominant at the federal level. This perception is also what made Umno lose plenty of Malay support,” said Azmi.
“His proposal gives the perception that apart from the president of Umno, I too can face DAP. So I guess it is a strategy that can gain not only Malay support but gain the Malays’ trust in Umno.”
Additionally, Singapore Institute of International Affairs senior fellow Oh Ei Sun on the other hand felt such matters should be discussed amicably and behind closed doors and not in the public as it can be counter-productive.
“Friendly advice should be given internally especially when your friends are in a coalition. All these matters shouldn’t be thrashed out in public but through internal channels in the unity government,” he said.
The analysts told Malay Mail that regardless, DAP’s political leverage cannot be underestimated.
“Despite being unhappy to work with Umno, DAP is the one in control because apart from the high number of seats it won both at GE15 and the state elections, DAP has a measure of its control of voters compared to Umno,” said Azmi.
Azmi was alluding to the sway of voters during the past elections, which saw Malay voters who formerly backed Barisan Nasional (BN) and Umno now turning to Perikatan Nasional (PN).
Universiti Sains Malaysia’s Azmil Tayeb said he predicted that DAP's delegates would go into the congress feeling very confident in the party’s role in the unity government.
“They learned from the first time around in 2018. I’m sure many DAP leaders and members are not happy with the arrangement but it’s a trade-off to be part of the ruling coalition,” he added.
Wanita DAP chief Teo Nie Ching (front, centre) and DAP sec-gen Anthony Loke (back, centre) pose for a commemorative photo with Wanita Umno and Wanita PKR at the DAP 2023 National Women’s Congress at Cenro Mall Klang September 9, 2023. — Bernama pic
Olive branch needed for naysayers and dissenters
Think tank Ilham Centre’s chief researcher Yusri Ibrahim admitted that the DAP grassroots would be questioning why the party was awarded fewer ministerial positions, and lesser representation of minorities.
However, the professor said DAP would be cognisant of the current political realities and the fact that it needs Umno's cooperation to gain backing from Malay voters. This should be a sore point that needs to be addressed today, he suggested.
“At the moment both parties need to find the best ‘golden mean’ or middle ground and this will involve some adjustments from both sides including DAP. They would likely have to amend or sacrifice some of their policies and the way they approach certain situations or issues,” he said.
“If both parties can find an amicable and peaceful resolution this will be the ultimate sacrifice for the country. DAP should use this congress to discuss and come out with a new outcome for this model of cooperation and let it be more in line with the realities of the political climate compared to sticking with existing models and ideals.”
Amid simmering discontent within the party after the divisive Penang state election nomination, Azmil also predicted that the matter would unlikely be raised and cause division among the delegates.
“I think it’ll be a contentious issue. The move to put in place the ‘Emperor’ team in the state election was heavy-handed. A lot of unhappy members.
“But DAP is run like a tight ship. The party is very good at keeping members to toe the line. However, unhappy members can still air their grievances during party congress and be heard by party leaders,” he said.
DAP's National Conference will run at the Putrajaya Marriott Hotel today.
This will be DAP’s first party conference since it joined the federal coalition dubbed “unity government” with BN, Gabungan Parti Sarawak and Gabungan Rakyat Sabah. All components of the federal coalition have been invited, including allies PKR and Parti Amanah Negara and BN’s Umno and MCA.