NEWS

DAPs soliloquy: To ally or not?

Commentary by Susan Loone

Published
Modified 29 Jan 2008, 10:21 am

Family dynamics are such that siblings quarrel with one another to attract parental attention. Looking at the current relationship between the allies in Barisan Alternatif - PAS, DAP, Keadilan and PRM - one would be inclined to believe that the slightly more than one-year-old coalition is now a family of siblings squabbling among themselves, wondering if they should or should not stay in the opposition front.

But internal bickering, back stabbing and playing politics among different factions are as necessary as breathing. Conflict is often regarded as a positive sign that the relationship between the parties is vibrant and alive.

When conflict arises, parties are forced to sit down and discuss matters, put aside their differences and come to a common understanding, to achieve a common goal.

However, if the effort to resolve any misunderstanding fails, then the various parties will part ways knowing they have tried their best to make things work.

Allowing dissenting voices and constructive criticisms as one sees in BA indicate that the parties are mature enough to accept one another's misgivings but not before studying what went wrong as Keadilan's Chandra Muzaffar recently did in apologising on behalf of his party to DAP regarding the tussle between the two parties over the selection of candidate for the Lunas by-election.

One can't deny that that gesture of reconciliation said a lot for the goodwill, compromise and freedom of speech in BA.

Leaving BA

Political analysts argue that leaders may sometimes create a kind of artificial tension when they think that their followers are losing direction or that the links are falling apart.

Political leaders know that crises and common enemies draw people together.

The Port Dickson "showdown" on Dec 16 is where DAP members would meet to decide onthe future of the party in the opposition alliance that was formed just one year ago.

However, DAP's decision to leave or stay in BA may not necessarily disrupt the status quo enjoyed by PAS, Keadilan or PRM as these allies have proven in the recent Lunas by-election that even without DAP, life goes on.

Life goes on because Lunas was not the right place for DAP to throw its tantrums in broad daylight as having a DAP candidate to contest there would be "wrong" for many reasons.

For one, Lunas has never been a DAP stronghold. This is evident by its failure to capture the state seat in all previous general elections.

In all these years, DAP has not had a branch in Lunas whereas Keadilan's Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, who eventually won the seat over MIC's S Anthonysamy, has developed many more centres there.

While DAP may argue that its choice candidate S Neelamekan was born and bred in Lunas, observers say that Neelam, as he is popularly known, is only better known to the Indians, though he may be recognised in Prai where he had contested for the state seat in the last general election.

Neelam's sudden outburst in the media and his grumbling about having lost money for printing T-shirts, posters, pamphlets and badges when the BA had not endorsed his candidacy hardly won any sympathy.

Indeed, DAP insiders observe that Neelam had once sought membership in Keadilan.

He was unhappy with DAP's internal politics but was lured back into the party when he was offered the Prai secretary's post and given a chance to stand for the elections, the insiders say.

Had he contested the Lunas by-election, Neelam would most likely have failed. Saifuddin was popular among the local folk due to his aggressive campaign for the Padang Serai MP seat last year, which he lost to MCA's Lim Bee Kau.

Therefore, despite DAP's protest, Saifuddin's candidacy was agreed to in the BA election committee in all three meetings held on the matter.

However, on the Saturday before nomination day, DAP chairman Lim Kit Siang and publicity chief Ronnie Liu took over from secretary-general Kerk Kim Hock at the BA meeting and "shocked" the unsuspecting members who came to endorse Saifuddin's candidacy but found themselves being challenged by DAP instead.

DAP had argued that Lunas was traditionally its seat, therefore it must be the contesting party.

But if that was the case, PRM could also argue that they should have Lunas since the party's Kassim Ahmad had contested there way back in the 1970s.

The events that followed saw some DAP members becoming upset with malaysiakini for breaking the news that Saifuddin was the BA candidate, preempting DAP's announcement that was scheduled the next day which, observers say, was a sort of "big brother" (DAP) giving way to "little sister" (Keadilan) thing, a PR act that would have been beneficial to both parties.

Although sparks flew between the two, one would be a fool to miss out on the fun (as one DAP member said) in Lunas. So in the spirit of comradeship, DAP at the last minute joined its other allies and campaigned vigorously, leading the BA to victory on Nov 29.

DAP 1995 debacle

The decision to leave BA or not will definitely impact the party most. And sympathisers pray that DAP will make the right decision this time.

Supporters are afraid to see the repeat of the DAP debacle in 1995, when the party lost heavily in most constituencies in that year's general elections.

DAP pulled out from Gagasan Rakyat, a coalition of PRM, Semangat 46 and other opposition parties, first mooted in 1986 and finally realised in 1990. S46 was closely linked to PAS through a united religious movement called the Angkatan Perpaduan Ummah.

It must have been a hit with the rakyat because that year saw a glorious win for DAP. By joining forces with those allies, DAP managed to dispel doubts regarding its anti-Malay image.

Thus, DAP's rationale that it was losing its supporters because of PAS and the non-Malays, particularly the Chinese's imaginary fear of PAS and the Islamic state, does not hold water. These are some of the arguments that some factions in DAP are employing to justify the party leaving BA.

If PAS or Islam was a liability to DAP, then DAP would not have managed to garner almost one million votes in 1990 (when it joined forces with PAS in Gagasan Rakyat).

Political observers say that DAP is losing its supporters mainly because of its poor leadership, poor sense of direction, stale issues and strategies, widening gap between the young and old - all of which makes it very difficult for the party to attract new members.

Old habits die hard and DAP's tactic in throwing 'tantrums' when the going gets tough makes it look like a captain who has no control over the various factions within the party.

Over-zealousness in championing non-Malay, especially Chinese, causes - and recently the Indian cause in Lunas - does nothing to dispel suspicions that DAP is still very much communal.

Because of this anti-Malay, communal image, DAP lost many of its Indian supporters and loyal unionists who preferred to shift their support to PRM or Keadilan, the reason being both parties practise multi-racialism, never mind that they are predominantly Malay.

Those who got to know PRM by word of mouth or through friends note that the party stands by its ideology and that it does not even ask you what race you are in their application form!

Those who think that PRM is a "has-been" party are not in touch with reality and may have failed to do their homework. The party has been gaining much support lately and has seen an increase of membership, revival and opening of branches in various states.

Playing into BN's hand

The recent DAP Sarawak pull-out from the state level alternative front, comprising DAP, Keadilan and State Reform Party (Star), due to various issues ranging from the Lunas candidacy episode to fear of PAS' Islamisation of the country, is only playing into the hands of Barisan Nasional, who would gloat over an opposition break-up.

The "A vote for BA is a vote for PAS/Islamic State" propaganda may have rattled many Chinese in the past, but these days some are seeing PAS in a different light, especially after PAS' stand on various issues like standing by Suqiu on Malay special rights versus Umno.

According to PAS, rights are rights and in Islam, it is the poor who deserve those rights, regardless of race.

Recently PAS had also come in defence of the Chinese movement (Suqiu) and its [#1]17-point election appeal[/#] which called for equality among the races; the group's action was condemned by Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad in his Merdeka Day speech and likened to "communists or extremists like the Al-Ma'unah", a stand which he reiterated in Parliament last Monday.

To ally with or to depart from BA - that's the dilemma DAP is in. The issue is not whether it may or may not survive without BA. The crux of the matter is that DAP needs to weed out its dying heroes, prop up its enthusiastic members and subscribe to the notion that it is better to remain friendly and strengthen its ties and bonds with its comrades of the other three BA components.

The problems may lie mainly within DAP itself, so it's deep thoughts from within that will count; right from ol' warrior Dr Chen Man Hin down to the youthful new members coming on board the 33-year-old opposition party which aspires to be government one day.

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