DAP at 50: Where do we go from here?


This is an excerpt of a speech by DAP Parliamentary Leader, Lim Kit Siang, at the DAP National Retreat’s party transformational debate at the Dorsett Grand Subang Hotel, Subang Jaya, Selangor on 16 January 2016. Kit, as he is affectionately called, is celebrating his 75th birthday on 20th February 2016.

His 70th birthday five years ago was a celebration of his past contribution to Malaysian politics. This occasion is interestingly, all about the future as Malaysia enters into uncharted waters of great risks yet great potentials to reshape the nation for the better. As always, Kit is at the forefront providing leadership, ideas and actions.

Liew Chin Tong, DAP National Political Education Director.

DAP at 50: Where do we go from here?

By Lim Kit Siang

Where do we go from here?

I don’t think anybody ever asserted that the DAP should sacrifice its principles for justice, freedom and democracy. What we need to change is our modus operandi to enable us move on to become a more inclusive party in Malaysia, especially in Sabah and Sarawak, for all Malays, Ibans and Kadazans – in keeping with our founding vision to be a Malaysian party for all Malaysians by all Malaysians.

Let’s examine where we are today. When we were formed 50 years ago -and I’m one of the few who can talk about the DAP 50 years ago- none of us ever thought about becoming a Member of Parliament or a State Assemblyperson or even forming a government. We believed in the ideals of social democracy, justice, freedom, good governance, and we were for all races to come together.

All these 50 years ago. Now the question is: Quo vadis, DAP? Where do we go from here?

We started as the party for all Malaysians. We never thought that we were a party for Chinese or Indians only. Of course when we started we were focused only in Peninsular Malaysia, but later we became the first Pan-Malaysian party in the country when we began operating in Sabah and in Sarawak.

As a truly Malaysian party, in the first three by-elections that we contested before the 1969 General Elections, we went into UMNO strongholds. If we were a Chinese party, we would never have contested these by-elections.

The first by-election that we contested was Kampung Baru. Imagine a Malay majority Kampung Baru seat in Kuala Lumpur, where the UMNO candidate was Ahmad Razali who later became the Menteri Besar of Selangor in 1982, and he was the brother-in-law of Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

The second by-election we contested was Tampoi, Johor where Daeng Ibrahim was our candidate. And the third by-election was Segamat Utara, also in Johor, where the UMNO candidate was Musa Hitam who went on to become the Deputy Prime Minister.

We were not afraid to contest in UMNO seats because we believed in fighting and winning the hearts and minds of all Malaysians regardless of race.

The 1969 General Elections were the first general elections DAP contested, and we had Malay candidates in Parliamentary and State Assembly seats, and we won one in Perak by Ibrahim Singgeh and another one in Negeri Sembilan in Si Rusa seat.

That has always been our creed, our belief and our mission - that we are a party for all Malaysians.

It was not easy because we were demonised, we were attacked but these were the problems that we had to face. In Malaysia the dominance is in the politics of race, followed by politics of religion, and the politics of class is a poor third, and that was why Parti Rakyat Malaysia had not been able to make a serious impact in politics in Malaysia, despite the fact that it was led primarily by Malay intellectuals.

Are we satisfied with what we are today?

Today we are at a very critical juncture. Are we satisfied with what we are today? Undoubtedly in some areas, we are an established party because we are the country’s second largest party in terms of the number of seats. We are the party of choice in the urban areas, whether in Peninsular, in Sabah and Sarawak. But is that all that we want? Are we content with that? Is that our main mission? Is that what the DAP stands for?

We are for Malaysia, for all Malaysians. That’s why we must be able to reach out, to reel in the support of not only from the Chinese and the Indians but also the Malays, Ibans and Kadazans; that is our responsibility, that is our job. Otherwise what are we in DAP for? To be champions of the Chinese only? Or Indians? No!

And how do we move on to the next step? We must face reality. Like it or not, we have our own limitations on how we function, on how we operate. But certainly not in terms of our ideology and our belief. Our belief in social democracy is for all Malaysians. We have the right ideology. But in terms of practicality we are limited in the urban areas, mostly to non-Malays. We have to reach out to the Malays, Kadazans, Dayaks, Orang Asli.

The primary reason I moved to Gelang Patah, Johor in the 13th General Elections from my constituency Ipoh Timur was because of such a need. We have to move out and reach out to all Malaysians.

It was a risk. I did not know whether I was going to win, and a lot of people thought it was a foolish mistake. But that is why we are in the DAP and Malaysian politics; to take risks. Luckily I survived, but that was not the end of the journey, that was only the beginning of a second journey of the Malaysian Dream: Impian Malaysia, Impian Sabah, Impian Sarawak, Impian Kelantan, Impian Kedah, Impian Perak and Impian Johor. That is our second stage.

This Impian process is a post-2013 effort. There were high hopes of the people to see change in the 13th General Elections but it failed to materialise because the election process was not just and fair. Najib Razak’s Barisan Nasional despite having only 47% of the votes, received 60% of the parliamentary seats, and he became the country’s first minority Prime Minister.

Later, Pakatan Rakyat was dissolved, and here we are today. On the ruins of Pakatan Rakyat, Parti Amanah Negara (Amanah) was born, and then a new coalition, Pakatan Harapan was also born. We are able to register new hope, and that is as far as the larger Pakatan Harapan is concerned.

But what about the DAP? Considering that our mission has always been a party for all Malaysians, we want to be a party that all Malaysians regardless of race, religion and region can look forward to. This continues to be our dream and our objective.

But the reality at present, at least for the foreseeable future, shows that the DAP will not be able on its own to form the Federal Government, not even a state government. It will have to be a coalition of the present opposition versus the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional coalition.

It’s not “Malays versus Chinese”

We should not fall into a position or trap to allow UMNO propagandists to present our battle as “UMNO versus DAP” because it is so easy for them to say therefore it is a battle between the Malays and the Chinese. It is not a battle between the Malays and the Chinese despite all the talk about if UMNO loses the next election, Najib loses his position, then the Malays will lose political power. Therefore the DAP and the Chinese will grab political power. This is untrue and baseless of course, but it is a powerful political propaganda. We must somehow be able to debunk and break these lies and falsehoods.

How do we prevent Najib from deflecting all these attacks on him for corruption and abuse of power, nation building policy failings by turning the whole issue into a communal and religious warfare between the Muslims versus the non-Muslims, the Malays versus the Chinese? This is why it is important that the DAP must continue our mission to transform ourselves into a Malaysian party accepted by all racial groups in the country. The question of compromising or selling out our beliefs and ideals does not arise at all. But I think we must change our modus operandi.

We tend to fall into the trap of those who want to pigeonhole us into communal slots. I want to be frank and quite critical. We fell into this trap in Perak in the last general elections. For two general elections we did not put any Malay candidates because some people said that this would offend our friends in PAS at that time. They were worried that we would compete for the position of Menteri Besar. Since the Menteri Besar post was never our aim, we did accommodate them, but I think that was a mistake because voters saw that we had no Malay candidates at all in Perak. We should have fielded Malay candidates in Perak while making clear that it was not our intention to go after the Mentri Besar’s post.

I had expressed my strong views to our Perak state leadership, and I do not think we should make the same mistakes again. Now we hear the same thing from our coalition partner Amanah in Johor. They think the DAP should not field any Malay candidates in the state assembly seats in particular in Johor because of the attack on DAP as a Chinese party. This is the communal trap of politics. We must address this seriously.

The need for a coalition

We must co-operate with Amanah and PKR. We must make a success of Pakatan Harapan in Malaysian politics. Our first test is going to be in Sarawak, with the state elections to be held in the next two months as to whether we can keep the promise we had announced to all Malaysians: the Pakatan Harapan declaration that there will be a one-on-one contest. It is not going to be easy, it is going to be difficult – a task being handled by Sarawak DAP chief, Chong Chieng Jen.

I think what is more important is: how do we operate from here, and how do we change drastically our modus operandi? This is something which all of the DAP state leaderships must discuss in great detail and consider the ways and means including innovative ways of political reaching out which we have never done before in the next two and a half years.

My tour of the country as a result of my six-month suspension from Parliament for the “Mana RM2.6 billion?” movement should be used as an opportunity to reach out into the new territories for the DAP. As I said, I hope to visit some 150 parliamentary constituencies out of the 222 parliamentary constituency by the time I return to Parliament sometime in May. I hope all the states can help in drawing up such programs and for leaders to come along because this would be a useful way to reach out to areas that we have not been able to do so in the past.

Battling lies and dirty propaganda

We must be very sensitive to malicious attacks alleging that we are a “Chinese party” or an “evangelical Christian party”. There are allegations that a meeting was held in Penang to formulate the objective of a Christian Malaysia, there are people who put up a picture of the DAP as an evangelical party, there is a new book entitled “Sang Nila Utama and the Lion of Judah” which is very serious and wicked attack that there is a conspiracy in the country to evangelize Malaysia, and the DAP is somehow part of it. These are all lies. These are all untrue. But these are fodder for the UMNO propagandists, to demonise the DAP and mislead the Malays with the false picture that this as a battle of Malays versus Chinese, and Muslims versus Christians. These are not true at all but how do we debunk these lies?

I have been a victim of many of these lies in the last 50 years. Starting with May 13 riots where I was accused of being responsible for the May 13 riots, leading the street demonstrations in Kuala Lumpur, making anti-Malay and anti-Islam epithets although I was never even in Kuala Lumpur on that day because I was in Sabah.

The latest lie on the DAP was the allegation about the RM1.2 billion offer by Israel in return for a naval base in Port Dickson. Why they want a naval base in Port Dickson, a resort area, I also cannot understand. But such lies and falsehoods are very powerful. How do we debunk it? How do we break it?

There is a new word in the world of politics, ‘disintermediation’, the dumping of the middleman. In the internet age, the dumping of the middleman does not only occur in commercial and industrial sectors but also in politics. Who are these middlemen? They include the political parties, the press, and the pollsters. What we need to do? We have to reach out directly to the people because we do not want to depend on the media alone, because we do not want to depend on opinion polls alone.

Reaching out

How do we bring about this process of disintermediation in Malaysia? These are the new challenges we have to face, to go down to the people in the Peninsular rural areas and to the people of Sarawak and Sabah. The question is the modus operandi.

Of course we can say this is all very hard work. Some of us may say that because we are what we are today, people can either accept us or reject us. Some may say that because we believe in a social democratic Malaysia, we believe in justice and democracy, and all our principles are clear and very well proclaimed, we leave it to the people to decide whether accept us or reject us. That whether you are a Malay, Iban, Kadazan, Indian, Chinese, when it come to the DAP, you either take it or leave it. I don’t think this is the right attitude.

I don't think we can take such an attitude because we will be running away from our responsibilities. We must be aware that in our plural society today, there are still Chinese who are living completely in the Chinese world, Malays who are living in a completely Malay world, Indians who are living in a completely Indian world, and the same goes with the Ibans and the Kadazans. It is our duty to reach them, to share with them a larger Malaysian picture. We want them to share our ideals that this beloved Malaysian nation belongs to all of us, that this is our shared destiny.

It is our responsibility as their political leaders to lead the Chinese who live in their purely Chinese world to see a Malaysian perspective, and this applies to Indians living in the Indian world too, as well as Malays living solely in the Malay world, and the Kadazans and Ibans too. Are we prepared for such a challenge to reach out to them?

It is not easy, it is going to be difficult, and we may even fail. But if we do nothing, are we going to succeed? If we are content with what we are today, are we going to achieve any real success? Will we be successful in our efforts to reach out to those in the rural sectors of the country, in Sabah, in Sarawak, in Peninsular Malaysia? Or are we going to continue forever and ever to be able to hold the support of urban voters of today?

We must not forget that people support us because they believe we can lead them to a better Malaysia. However, we cannot lead them to a better Malaysia unless we are a part of a coalition to be able to govern, formulate and implement policies for the whole country.

Let me reiterate that we are in need of change and we must dare to reach out, and to do that, we must dare to transform the DAP into a truly Malaysian party, with the support of all Malaysians including Malays, Ibans and Kadazans as well as Chinese and Indians.

Nobody is suggesting that we betray or compromise or sell out our principles, ideals and objectives. What we need to change drastically is our modus operandi, and not our ideals and principles, to be more inclusive to appeal to all Malaysians.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader & MP for Gelang Patah