COMMENT There was very little prospect of winning elections, not to mention running government, when Chen Man Hin and the first generation leaders formed the DAP, with Lim Kit Siang as the party’s sole full-time staff, on March 18, 1966.
As Lim Kit Siang puts it, the DAP had “no icon, no money (resources) and no gelombang (political waves).” The then closest rival competing for the same opposition space, Gerakan (founded in March 1968), boosted household names like former MCA president Lim Chong Eu, scholars Syed Hussein Alatas and Syed Naguib Alatas, well-known opposition MP Tan Chee Khoon, unionists V David and Yeoh Teck Chye, among its ranks.
Yet, the DAP perseveres, survives and prevails. Today, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Democratic Action Party. Over those 50 years, there were plenty of memorable moments; probably more difficult moments than the easy ones.
The first outing in the general election of 1969 saw the unknown party suddenly winning 13 out of 104 parliamentary seats, toppling several Alliance bigwigs. But victory was shortlived as the May 13 incident happened three days after election, followed by the suspension of parliamentary democracy and a crackdown, which included the 17-month detention under the Internal Security Act (ISA) for Kit Siang.
When Parliament resumed in February 1971, various political freedoms were curtailed, and several DAP elected representatives were lured to cross over to the government side.
The 1970s and 1980s were not easy although electorally DAP did reasonably well in the 1978, 1986 and 1990 general elections, while it suffered severe losses in the 1974 and 1982 elections.
Leaders were often subjected to political persecutions, including the Operasi Lalang mass arrests in October 1987, which saw 16 DAP elected reps among 106 detained activists. Lim Guan Eng’s one-year jailing in August 1998 was another tough moment.
Rising from ashes
Indeed, we have much to thank the leaders and members for their contributions and sacrifices that have helped shape and sustain the party to where it is today.
The party survived three difficult elections - 1995, 1999 and 2004. Kit Siang and Karpal Singh were themselves defeated in the 1999 general election.
On many occasions there were doubts about whether DAP would survive, especially in the early 1970s, immediately after the 1982 general election, and the long wilderness years from 1995 to 2008.
The 2008 general election transformed the party from a “permanent opposition party” to one that participates in state governments and a partner in the national alternative governing coalition.
Some ‘DNAs’ kept the party going in the tough years.
First, DAP is the party of ideals and ideas. DAP leaders and members are fired by ideals and ideas; not material interests and rewards. DAP has the courage to survive the challenges by being pragmatic in approaches but always steadfast and guided by its founding idealism - freedom, justice and solidarity.
Unlike many parties that peddle fear-based race and religion politics, DAP has always been committed to offer new and inclusive policy ideas for a better Malaysia.
Second, DAP is the party for the ordinary folks. One of the hallmarks of the DAP is that DAP speaks for the small guys in the society. Many of our members are from among hawkers, small traders and labourers, as well as their children.
The ability to empathise with the ordinary folks is the DAP’s greatest strength that must be emphasised, especially in the course of broadening our appeals to all ethnic groups.
When others talk about race, we must show them that every Malaysian deserves decent jobs and decent pay, better housing, transport, healthcare, security, etc.
Third, DAP is sustained by the constant influx of the young. Kit Siang was elected as MP at the age of 28 while Fan Yew Teng was 26. Indeed, Kit Siang was elected the secretary-general at the age of 28, while he was in detention.
Over the years, the party has given opportunities for the young to shine at all levels. Unlike many other parties in which hierarchy and seniority matter more, DAP is far more receptive to new ideas and the young.
There are many more traits that sustain the DAP throughout the decades, apart from what I have just listed. As we enter into uncharted waters in Malaysian politics, we hope for more Malaysians to join hands with the DAP to create a new Malaysia for all.
Terus berjuang . The struggle continues.
Happy birthday, DAP!
LIEW CHIN TONG is Kluang MP.