by Sheridan Mahavera
The Malaysian Insider
June 01, 2014
Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud did not win the Teluk Intan by-election last night but she still followed in the footsteps of her party’s elders while at the same time breaking from some of its traditions.
Like her boss, Lim Kit Siang, Dyana Sofya is making her first attempt at elected office in her mid-20s. Lim who is now 73, was 28 when he was first elected in 1969 for the parliamentary seat of Bandar Melaka.
Unlike Lim and many of the DAP’s leading lights such as Lim Guan Eng, Anthony Loke and Liew Chin Thong, Dyana Sofya is not from the Chinese working and middle classes that the party draws its support and members from.
The former UiTM law graduate represents a growing number of Malay-Muslim youths who are joining the DAP and who are making up an important third-line of members and leaders that are different from their elders.
But they and the DAP are not alone. Across Pakatan Rakyat (PR), a new generation of youth are forming a crucial third vanguard in PAS and PKR as their parties’ second-line move into more senior positions.
These sons and daughters of the post-Merdeka generation are already making an impact in PKR, PAS and DAP as the coalition marches to Putrajaya in the 14th general election.
But because they became politically conscious in a different era than their elders, these third-liners are taking their parties in new and unexpected directions.
While some are helping to make their party more inclusive and mainstream, others are helping steer their party to its more radical fringe.
As their voices become more influential, the third-liners in PR could work together to drive their coalition forward to become a viable alternative to Barisan Nasional (BN).
Understanding how opposition politics evolved in the past 30 years is important to understanding the unique mentality of PR’s third-liners and how they differ from their elders.
Back when there was no internet but the Internal Security Act (ISA), there was a price to pay for being in a non-BN friendly party.
According to the DAP Political Education director Liew Chin Tong (pic), older, more established people did not want a career in opposition politics because of the risks involved.
One such risk was being detained under the ISA, which happened to social justice activists, labour leaders and non-BN politicians in 1987.
This was an experience shared by DAP and PAS’s second-liners. People like Guan Eng, Mohamad Sabu, Khalid Samad and Karpal Singh forged ties while they were detained under the ISA.
By stifling the media, the ruling BN also had a strangle-hold on public opinion.
It was between the 1980s to 1999 that the belief that DAP was anti-Malay and anti-Muslim, and that PAS was anti-non-Muslim was entrenched in the public mind.
Being in the opposition under these conditions forged a deep distrust and bitterness towards the BN among the second-liners, said Selangor PAS leader Khalid Samad, who was one of those detained in 1987.
However this is not a view that is shared among his party’s third-liners, he said, who are in their 30s and 40s, and who joined up after 1999, a turning point Malaysian politics.
“Many had not experienced how Umno treated the Opposition when Umno was strong. They only got into politics after 1999 when Umno was already backed up against a wall.”
At the same time, said Liew, Dyana Sofya’s entry into the DAP is a powerful signal of how the fear of the DAP that Umno nurtured among Malays for the past three decades, has evaporated, at least among educated, urban Malays.
Products of history
Ironically, the lack of fear of Umno among PAS’s third-liners is having different results and is causing that party’s second liners to worry.
As seen in the Kelantan hudud episode, the third-liners’ lack of experience of how Umno has treated PAS makes them open to working with their party’s nemesis to enforce hudud.
This has caused a rift in the Islamist party and in ties with allies DAP and PKR.
“Reconciliation with Umno has always been Umno’s offer to PAS ever since they became weak,” said Khalid (pic).
“Some of our young members want to take shortcuts (to implement hudud with Umno support) because they think Umno is not as bad as my generation makes it out to be”.
That’s not the only difference between the two generations.
Khalid’s generation in PAS was more about positioning the party as one that stood for good governance and fighting corruption instead of being a doctrinaire Islamist movement.
But the party’s third-liners appear to be a different breed, said political analyst Dr Wong Chin Huat.
“If you look at PAS, they managed to capture better middle-aged leaders in their 50s and 60s who are now really shining,” said Dr Wong of think tank Penang Institute.
“But somehow their younger leaders are into things like banning Valentine’s Day.”
Wong believes as the third-liners in the DAP and PKR are trying to nurture a new kind of politics that focuses on jobs, education and good governance, the third-liners in PAS appear to be going back to the old identity politics of race and religion.
Again, Dyana Sofya contesting the Teluk Intan by-election reflects this DAP pivot. Instead of choosing yet another young Chinese leader to pander to their traditional support base, the DAP chose to field a Malay Muslim knowing that it was risky.
While PAS’s third-liners are helping to steer PAS back to their political fringe and to its traditional support base in the East Coast, said Wong.
“So while the DAP embracing Malays, PAS want to go back to enforcing hudud. The DAP wants to move out of its comfort zone while PAS wants to bury their heads in their own.”
As PAS’s third-liners band together with like-minded second liners and continue to push for a more conservative PAS, it is unlikely that they will work well with the third-liners in PKR and DAP, who are heading the other way.
In the coming years, the influence of these third-liners could decide whether PR parties can be a true unified, alternative to BN. – June 1, 2014.