DAP at 50: Where do we go from here?


While most of us are staying at home, our frontliners such as doctors, nurses, police, soldiers, food delivery riders and other essential personnel are doing the best to fight against the Covid-19 pandemic. Together we are united in one voice during these hard times. Four years ago, Lim Kit Siang delivered an impromptu yet thoughtful speech for the DAP leaders and members that reflects this spirit of unity among us Malaysians.

This speech, delivered at an internal retreat of DAP elected reps, national and state leaders, on 16th January 2016, is also part of Kit Siang’s sharing on his ideas of a Malaysian Dream during a motion for debate. The retreat itself is held after the formation of Pakatan Harapan in September 2015, and before the realignment with Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad and his supporters. Dr. Mahathir left UMNO on 29th February 2016.

Before the launch of Bersatu on 8th September, Dr. Mahathir met Anwar Ibrahim when the latter appeared at a court house to signal the need for reconciliation for a greater cause. It was their first meeting in 18 years since 2nd September 1998. That was the beginning of a new fight for democracy which created history and the first ever new government on 9th May 2018, but alas, the people’s mandate was stolen by betrayal, greed and dirty politics in February 2019.

His speech is a also reminder to us that, come what may, the DAP will always stand true to its principles despite having to face many obstacles, and that the party will always work together in a coalition that strives for democracy, justice and solidarity. This is the Malaysian way of life – muhibah, harmony and helping one another, in good times and in bad times.

DAP at 50: Where do we go from here?

Where do we go from here? This is one the most intense debates we have had, and it is important because I think the DAP is at the crossroads after 50 years. As Dr Abdul Aziz Bari mentioned, we don’t have to believe everything that we hear about from pollsters but we will take it seriously.

In this case, our coalition Parti Amanah Negara is three months old. We have heard about the polling position of PKR, DAP and Amanah. The position of the poll reminded us the position of the DAP during in our early months (of 1966). What would be the poll of our standing among the Chinese, Malays and Indians in the early months of the DAP?

Amanah is three months old, similar to that three months of the DAP when it was formed, what would be the poll tells us? How many percent among the votes of the Malays, how many percent of the votes among the Indians, how many percent we got among the Chinese, and others? It was very hard.

We must give serious attention to polling results. But we must not be a slave to polling results. And if the polling results are adverse, it should be an encouragement for us to prove the polling results wrong. And I think that is why we must be serious about these results.

Change our modus operandi

I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding of the motion for the debate, i.e. “DAP needs to change drastically to be a more inclusive party so that the opposition can win Putrajaya”. I was not involved in the drafting of this motion. But I think I can suggest an amendment to the motion so that there will be less misunderstanding. I think the motion is something about the need to change drastically, to be a more inclusive party so that the opposition can win Putrajaya or something like that. Maybe what we can amend it so that the DAP should change drastically in our modus operandi.

I don’t think anybody ever assert that we should sacrifice our principles for justice for democracy, for social democracy, correct? Change modus operandi, so that we can move on, and to become a more inclusive party in Malaysia, especially in Sabah and Sarawak, for all the Malays, all the Ibans and all the Kadazans so that the DAP can become a party for all Malaysians by all Malaysians.

So let’s examine where we are today. When we were formed 50 years ago, and I think I’m the only one in this hall that can talk about the DAP 50 years ago, where none of us ever thought about becoming a member of parliament or assemblyman or even forming a government. We believed in the ideals of social democracy, for justice, freedom, for good governance, and for all races to come together, and of course the process we fought in elections and we reached today 50 years at this stage. Quo vadis? Where do we go from here?

We started as the party for all Malaysians. We never thought that we are a party for Chinese only, or Indians only. At the time of course we were focused on Peninsular Malaysia but we are Malaysians and later we became the first Pan-Malaysian party operating in Sabah and in Sarawak. I think it was why, in four by-elections that we contested before the 1969 General Elections, we went into UMNO strongholds. If we were a Chinese party, we would never contested these by-elections.

The first by-election that we contested was Kampung Baru. Imagine Kampung Baru, Kuala Lumpur, we contested in that seat. And the UMNO candidate, Ahmad Razali who later became the Menteri Besar of Selangor in 1982, who 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, the UMNO candidate was Musa Hitam who went on to become the Deputy Prime Minister. So we were not afraid to contest in UMNO seats because we believe in fighting and winning the hearts and minds of all Malaysians regardless of race.

And that was the beginning of the 1969 General Elections that we 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. And that has always been our creed, our belief and our mission that we are a party for all Malaysians.

But it was not easy because we had difficulties, we were demonised, we were attacked but these were the problems that we faced. In Malaysia the dominance is in the politics of race, question of politicisation of racial lines, second is the politics of religion, and the politics of class was a poor third, and that was why Parti Rakyat Malaysia have not been able to make a serious impact, despite the fact that it was led primarily by Malay intellectuals but yet to make an impact within the last 50 years.

That was in the early 1960s and that’s why I started off by saying that if there had been a poll in the 60s, what would be the results? Let’s say among the Chinese voters, I don’t think it could be very high. Would it? Today it’s 89 percent (of Chinese support for the DAP) but I think in 1960s it would probably be around 20 percent or even 15 percent. But we believed in our mission, we soldiered on, we struggle on and we spread our message because we believe we want to be a party for and by all Malaysians.

Are we satisfied with what we are today

Today we are at a very critical juncture. Where do we go from here? 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 area, 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 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! We believe that this is a Malaysian country, we want a better Malaysia and we have our responsibility to do so for all Malaysians.

And how do we move on to the next step? I agree with some of the speakers who felt that we shouldn't go on to soldier alone. We must face reality. Like it or not, we have our own limitations on how we function, not in terms of our ideology and our belief. Our belief is for all Malaysians. But in terms of practicality we are limited in the urban areas, mostly to non-Malays. We have to reach out to the Malays, to the Kadazans, to the Dayaks, to the Orang Asli. And it's not something that we are doing right now.

The primary reason why I move to Gelang Patah (to contest in the GE13) from Ipoh Timur was because of that need. We have to move out and reach out to all Malaysians. It was a risk. I didn't know whether I was going to win. A lot of people thought it was a foolish mistake. But I think that’s why we are in the DAP and Malaysian politics. Luckily I went through and I survived. But that was not the end of that journey. That was only the beginning of a second journey of a Malaysian Dream that was where it was born: 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. Of course there were the highest hopes of people to see a change. It failed to materialise in the 2013 general elections because of the election process was not just and fair. Prime Minister Najib Razak despite having only 47% of the votes, got 60% of the parliamentary seats and he became the leader as a minority Prime Minister.

Then Pakatan Rakyat was dissolved, and here we are today. In the last picture Amanah was born, and Pakatan Harapan was born. We are able to register new hope. That is as far as the larger Pakatan Harapan is concerned. But what about 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. That 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”

In a way that may be pertinent, because I think it is very important what researcher Dr Wong Chin Huat has mentioned, we should not fall into a position or trap to allow UMNO propagandists to present the 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 it 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 of course untrue, baseless but it is a powerful political propaganda. We must somehow be able to debunk and break these lies and falsehoods. How do you do it?

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? And this is why it's 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 doesn’t arise at all. But I think we must change our modus operandi.

We have tried our Impian projects but that is not good enough. We must double up, we must intensify, we must do more that what we have done, and we must change drastically our modus operandi.

We tend to fall into the trap of those who want to pigeonhole us into this communal slots. I want to be frank and quite critical. We fell into this trap in Perak. For two general elections we cannot put any Malay candidates because some people said that this would offend our friends that time in PAS. They think that we will try to compete the position for the Menteri Besar post. So we try to accommodate them. But I think that was a mistake.

The need for a coalition

We must cooperate with Amanah, we must cooperate with PKR, we must be a success of Pakatan Harapan in coalition. It’s a political future. It must be by way of a coalition. We must be able to continue our mission we have set out to do, to be a fully Malaysian party.

We must work with the other two political parties in Pakatan Harapan. We will cooperate with PKR, we will cooperate with Amanah, but we also must become a truly Malaysian party. That is important.

Our first test is going to be in Sarawak, the elections in the next two months. Whether we can somehow avoid or somehow keep the promise that we announced to all Malaysians: the Pakatan Harapan declaration that will be a one-on-one contest, it’s not going to be easy, it’s going to be difficult; it is now anyway being handled by Sarawak DAP chief Chong Chieng Jen.

But for a larger picture, we must somehow endeavour to the people of Sarawak, the people of Malaysia, a Pakatan Harapan coalition is here for them. How it’s going to be done, can it be achieved or not, I think we have to try, and wait and see. Because otherwise, it will be a great disappointment to the people of Malaysia and I think after the shocking experience of 2013 where the people were disappointed because of the death of Pakatan Rakyat, I’m not very sure that another shock of this nature the mere end of Pakatan Harapan is going to be good for the country or good for us in particular, in terms of toppling Najib and the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional government.

I think what’s more important is how do we operate from here. Where do we go from here? How do we change drastically our modus operandi? This is something which I think all of the state leadership must discuss in great details and consider the ways and means in which we have never done before in the next two and a half years.

In a way, my tour of the country as a result of six months suspension on the “Mana RM2.6 billion?” movement, I think can be used as an opportunity to reach out into all the areas we have not reached out as yet. As I said I hope to visit more than 150 parliamentary constituencies out of the 222 parliamentary constituency by the time I return to Parliament sometime in June. And I hope all of you can help, all the states can help in terms of drawing up such programs and to come along, because that 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 aware of these attacks that are going to come, we must be very sensitive to attacks alleging that we are a “Chinese party”, that we are an “evangelical party”. There’s this talk about there was a meeting in Penang to formulate an objective of a Christian Malaysia. There are people who put up a picture of the DAP as an evangelical party. There’s a new book “Sang Nila Utama and the Lion of Judah” which is a very serious and wicked attack that there is a conspiracy in the country to evangelize Malaysia, and the DAP is somehow part of it. Lim Guan Eng is mentioned, Hannah Yeoh is also mentioned, Teresa Kok is also mentioned, which is of course untrue. But this is something which can be of a fodder for the UMNO propagandists in order to demonise the DAP, threaten the Malays to picture this as a battle of Malays versus the Chinese and the Muslims versus the evangelical Christians. It is not true 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.

Of course after that there were all these allegations, the latest was the Israeli allegation that a RM1.2 billion offer by Israel in return for a naval base in Port Dickson. Why they want a naval base in Port Dickson I also cannot understand. But such lies and falsehoods are very, very powerful. How do we debunk it? How do we break it?

There’s a new word in the world of politics, ‘disintermediation’, the dumping of the middleman. At the age of internet, the dumping of the middleman, in commerce, industry, but also in politics. Who are these middlemen? They include the party, political parties, the press, pollsters, and we reach directly to the people. Because we don’t want to depend on the media, we don’t want to depend on opinion polls, that is why we have to reach out to the 3 million UMNO members.

Reaching out is no easy task but must be done

You must try to reach out the 1 million PAS members. How do you do that? Because I believe the 3 million UMNO members don’t support what Najib is trying to do with regards to the twin mega scandals, RM2.6 billion and the 1MDB scandal. I don't believe the 1 million PAS members support their leader Hadi Awang in this so-called teaming up with Najib on the grounds of using Malay unity and Muslim unity in order to justify corruption and abuses of power. So how do we bring this process of disintermediation in Malaysia, in the age of internet? So these are the new challenges we have to face, go down to the people in peninsular rural areas to meet the Malay people, and Iban people, Kadazan people, in Sarawak and Sabah. The question is the details of this modus operandi.

Of course we can say this is all very hard work. We are what we are today, people can accept it, take it or leave it. We believe in a social democratic Malaysia, we believe in justice and democracy; it is very clear our principles have been very well proclaimed. Either the Malays, Iban or Kadazan accept it, take it or leave it. I don't think so. I don't think we can take such an attitude because, otherwise we will be running away from our responsibilities.

We must be aware that in our country today, in a plural society there are Chinese who are living completely in the Chinese world. There are Malays who live completely in the Malay world. There are Indians who live completely in an Indian world. The same thing with Kadazans and Ibans. And it is our job to reach them, for them to see a larger Malaysian picture. You must dare to do such a mission.

Assuming there is 80% - 90% Chinese support and have hope in the DAP, it does mean that 80-90% of the Chinese share the Malaysian dream. But it could also mean opportunism in those the Chinese votes. Maybe they have no larger picture of a Malaysian vision. It is our responsibility, as their political leaders, people hope and put trust to lead them from their purely Chinese world to see a Malaysian perspective. That applies to those Indians living in the Indian world, Malays living solely in the Malay world, Kadazans and Ibans. Isn’t it? Are we prepared for such a challenge, to reach out to them?

It’s not easy. It could be difficult, you 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 succeed? The rural sectors of the country, in Sabah, in Sarawak, in Peninsular Malaysia, are we going to succeed? Are we going to continue forever and ever to be able to hold the support of urban voters of today? Don’t forget, they support us because they believe we can lead them to a better Malaysia. And we cannot lead them to a better Malaysia unless we are part of a coalition to be able to rule, formulate and implement policies for the whole country.

We will continue to be opposition. There’s no guarantee that in the 15th General Election that we will be able to hold our ground. We may hold our ground in the 14th General Election but not in the 15th General Elections.

So I put to you that we are in need of change, we must dare to reach out, we must dare to transform the DAP not only in terms of vision and ideal but in terms of reality, a party with the support of all Malaysians including Malays, Ibans and Kadazans.

Nobody is suggesting that we betray or compromise or sell out our principles, ideals and objectives. So I think that is important. And if it accepted, then I think with amendments to the resolution that “change drastically” means change the modus operandi n Malaysia especially Sabah and Sarawak.

Lim Kit Siang DAP Parliamentary Leader