In 1995, when DAP suffered the worst electoral defeat in its history, pundits and other soothsayers lost no time in predicting the demise of the then 30-year-old social-democratic party.
Even Lim Kit Siang could not hide the tinge of despair in his heart. “Reform or die,” he told his party.
As it turned out, the supremo’s call rang out clear and loud among the party faithful. A year later, at their national congress, delegates endorsed a thorough review of the party’s political strategies. This resulted, among other things, in the recruitment of some 800 young professionals to help carry out the political renewal.
That move has paid off, as has been evident in recent years. Only the deaf and blind would deny that new blood has helped improve DAP’s image and given it a new dynamism.
Its rivals, particularly MCA and Gerakan, must have been disappointed that last weekend’s CEC election went on so smoothly. Predictions that young Turks were plotting to overthrow veteran leaders turned out to be rumours after all.
The election result indicates how well the delegates realised that DAP needed a healthy mix of young and old leaders in order to be ready to do battle in what many believe will be the dirtiest general election in Malaysian history.
DAP, with its remarkable history of trials, tribulations and perseverance, is possibly the oldest opposition party in East Asia that has remained an opposition party.
But the tide may be changing, with more and more Malaysians showing weariness over the dominance of Barisan Nasional and eagerness to see a new regime take over.
Some pundits say the tide has in fact already turned, and it did so with the 2008 election result, when DAP, together with its Pakatan Rakyat allies, made unprecedented gains. That election result, they say, made Malaysians realise that a two-party system is possible as well as desirable.
Indeed, the only way to interpret BN’s current strident rhetoric against DAP and its Pakatan partners is that it is a manifestation of fear. And the party most fearful of DAP is MCA, which is increasingly being perceived as a liability to its political master, Umno.
One may perhaps attribute the smoothness of the weekend’s CEC election partly to the delegates’ willingness to learn from MCA’s blunders, particularly in its perpetual internal conflicts and infamous leadership crises.
The MCA now lacks leadership credibility even if we speak of the second and third echelon leaders. The party is the victim of its own killing of veteran leaders, and its current leadership has transformed it into a party of ad hoc opportunistic politics, bereft of any dynamic vision.
Ironically, this was one of the classic accusations that former MCA leaders used to direct against the DAP leadership.
Those leaders must now be looking at DAP with plenty of envy. Its persistent calls for social justice, accountability, transparency and other values of good governance is in perfect harmony with the times and the aspirations of the young generation of voters.
Furthermore, the spirit of comradeship within the Pakatan Rakyat, especially among the younger generation of leaders, is brilliantly reminiscent of the fellowship displayed by the nation’s founding fathers, the leaders of the old Alliance.
Stanley Koh is a former head of MCA’s research unit. He is now a FMT columnist.