May 23, 2014
DAP’s decision to field Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud as the candidate for the Teluk Intan by-election is not only bold, but epoch-making. More than merely a window-dressing to showcase the party’s multi-racial credentials, the move has changed the dynamics of the campaign in that the party is now directly competing against Umno, the Barisan Nasional’s lynchpin and a world-renowned racist entity, relegating the (even more) Chinese-based Gerakan to insignificance.
In many ways, DAP remains very much rooted in its Chinese constituency – just look at the rousing public speeches – albeit imbued with populism – by Hew Kuan Yew, popularly known as Superman, and the triumphal reception that greets him in Chinese-majority areas.
But the party has begun to demonstrate more and more resolve to become a broad church (I bet some ill-educated and incurious Umno members would scream at the word ‘church’ and the idiom), and now boasts an army of young blood, of whom many are also female professionals, Dyana being just the latest addition.
Moreover, DAP has always maintained the loyal support of the Indian community to a considerable extent, thanks perhaps to the late P Patto, V David and Karpal Singh who did much to prevent the party from becoming parochial and ethnicised.
Dyana is of course not the first Malay candidate on a DAP ticket, but her being a young woman usually without a tudung and, most shocking to Umno, hailing from a true-blue Umno family background, has been portrayed as an original sin by the Malay press.
All hell broke loose and we have seen a stunned Umno dispatch its ruffians to wreak havoc at DAP. Expect more to come as the by-election campaign is gearing into full force in the coming week.
(Meanwhile, the ruckus at DAP headquarters yesterday and the rampage at the Penang state assembly the day before could have received tacit support from the anti-Khairy factions within Umno Youth. Lest we forget, all those who ‘aspire’ to move up the ladders in Umno must first establish their ‘radical potentials’. Remember Khairy’s keris-wielding past?
In short, DAP has once again proven to be willing to push the envelope by giving Dyana a chance, whereas Abdul Khalid Ibrahim, the Selangor Menteri Besar, in dismissing the objection to the proposed Kidex Skyway as “extreme” has made his government look more like Umno’s. Malaysian politics is full of surprises and ironies indeed!
The excitementsand heated exchange between Umno and DAP since Dyana’s candidacy was announced have been very interesting. Still, I don’t think an analogy between her and Marina Mahathir is appropriate in this context.
For me, Dyana does not resemble Marina very much as she does not come from a privileged background as the latter. While Marina has been so pampered and protected by her all-powerful father, Dyana received humble education at UiTM and went on to work humbly as a political secretary to Lim Kit Siang.
Most important of all, Dyana’s two brothers did not become filthy rich on their father’s watch as Mirzan Mahathir, Mokhzani Mahathir and Mukhriz Mahathir did, and we do not yet know if Dyana would be conspicuous by her silence as Marina is over her siblings’ immense wealth!
Not everything in the garden is rosy
But not everything in the garden is rosy. DAP must walk carefully between seeking to expand its electoral appeal and ensuring that its traditional constituency remains intact. There are already disgruntled voices over the selection of Dyana, with some seeing her win as one less Chinese lawmaker in Parliament, a concern that DAP cannot simply brush aside.
However, to address their anxiety is not to appease an attitude as such. If Chinese Malaysians truly desire political change in this country, they first must rid themselves of the communal mindset. Having a Chinese representative does not necessary guarantee loyalty, and it is worth reminding that Hee Yit Foong had been a DAP member for more than 20 years, but it did not prevent her from crossing over to the other side of the Perak state assembly back in 2009.
What about Luyang assemblyperson Hiew King Cheu who has quit DAP and is now ready to join BN in Sabah?
Prior to GE13, fielding non-Chinese – Malays especially – by DAP was lauded as ushering in a new era because many a die-hard Rocketeer believed democratic transition was at hand, and their utter disappointment thereafter is beyond what words can say.
Still, the heavy setback must not be allowed to turn back the clock and reverse the achievements that DAP has made so far by re-embracing the discredited idea of kinship-based loyalty. Malaysians should press their politicians to talk more about the economy, public transport and security, employment, cultural innovation, rights of the sexual minorities, education and many more, rather than just race and religion.
Hence, DAP must do its utmost to make use of the opportunity to carve out a broader role and create a new discourse for the sake of its future, rather than falling back on the old rhetoric of race and communal interests in the event that Dyana fails to make it to Parliament.
If DAP remains committed to the democratic process – seriously flawed it may be – it is vitally crucial that the paradigm set by Dyana’s candidacy be carried on into the electoral contests in the years ahead.
I am not so much interested in Dyana’s victory as in the implications for DAP (and for Pakatan Rakyat as a whole) should she lose. If DAP can withstand the virulent attack by Umno this time and keep the momentum for the future, there will be more Malaysians who want to be like Dyana – or even surpass her. That would be a true blessing indeed.
JOSH HONG studied politics at London Metropolitan University and the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London. A keen watcher of domestic and international politics, he longs for a day when Malaysians will learn and master the art of self-mockery, and enjoy life to the full in spite of politicians.