PUTRAJAYA, Sept 11 — DAP leaders and members convened at this year’s annual congress held at the administrative capital yesterday as a ruling party after years of political and social tumult.
Today, it is part of the unity government but placed in the awkward position of having to work with a sworn foe — Umno.
This rather unexpected alliance has sparked great interest in the party’s 2023 convention held at the administrative capital, be it from sceptics with little faith that the allegiance will last or optimists who see it as a new period for genuine bipartisan collaboration.
Here are the three things we learned from the DAP’s 2023 congress:
(From left) DAP veteran Lim Kiat Siang, DAP Advisor Tan Kok Wai and DAP chairman Lim Guan Eng are seen at party’s national congress at Marriot Hotel in Putrajaya September 10, 2023. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
At the height of its power
Emboldened by the party’s recent election victories in both the 15th general election and the six state by-elections, the party is currently capitalising on its continued electoral successes even if it meant less influence for the single largest party in the federal administration.
In GE15, DAP’s federal seats tally of 40 out of 42 contested is a testament to the support of its voter base. Instead, DAP emerged with four ministers as compared to its other coalition partners.
In the six state elections, DAP also won 98 per cent (46 out of 47 contested) 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.
Apart from 40 Members of Parliament, DAP also boasts 90 state assemblymen and four Dewan Negara senators.
DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke delivers a speech during the DAP national congress at Marriot Hotel in Putrajaya September 10, 2023. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
It appears committed to work with Umno
Anthony Loke, the party’s secretary-general, drove home messages in his policy speech that were clearly aimed at assuring Umno, whose top leaders were present at the congress. Among them was Umno president himself, Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
While Loke may have asserted the DAP’s unwillingness to back down on its push for multiculturalism, the tone was softened when it comes to Bumiputera rights. This marked a significant departure from past speeches whereby party leaders were unrelenting about racial equality, even if it was mostly vague (intentional or not) about the contentious issues around special Bumiputera privileges.
At this year’s congress, the party passed nine resolutions that included recognition of the community’s “special rights”. Yet it also said it remains committed to protecting the rights and interests of other races and communities as enshrined in Article 153 of the Federal Constitution.
Whether or not this entails adjusting — or even foregoing — the party’s “Malaysia for Malaysians” goal is unclear. But what is definitely clear is the party is willing to make compromises, and likely for the sake of keeping the unity government’s political agreement intact and stable for at least until the next term.
Umno president Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi and DAP secretary-general Anthony Loke (centre) and other party leaders at the DAP national congress at Marriot Hotel in Putrajaya September 10, 2023. — Picture by Yusof Mat Isa
Reception of Umno is warm... for now
It remains to be seen if the party — which has been continuously painted negatively by Islamist PAS and Malay nationalist Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia as a bogeyman bent on usurping Islam and Malay political power — will continue to maintain its power base in the long run now that it is allied with former enemy-turned-partner Umno.
But at the surface, all seems well, for now at least. Zahid, who attended the congress flanked by some of the DAP’s once harshest critics from Umno, including its secretary-general Datuk Asyraf Wajdi Dusuki, was greeted by the party members with zeal. Even Zahid himself looked surprised by the boisterous welcome.
Still, whether or not the warm reception reflected what genuine thoughts the grassroots outside the convention had about Zahid is unclear. This year’s assembly concluded with little debate, even then whatever discussion that took place was held behind closed doors, safe from the critical eyes of the media.
And with Zahid’s corruption fiasco again placing the unity government under intense public scrutiny, after the prosecution agreed to discharge him from all 47 corruption, money laundering and criminal breach of trust charges, all that mood for love might just change.