If there are solid unwavering rocks above ever-changing Malaysian waters, the centrality of race and religion to local politics has to be one of them. Most of Malaysian political parties are positioned to capitalize this reality though there are those whom wish to break away from the past. While movement away from communal politics requires great effort, I am convinced that the first party to be able to cut through the racial political barrier will dominate Malaysian politics until another true multiracial entity is formed. It is for this reason that I strongly feel DAP needs PKR to survive in the long run.

PKR is the only real multiracial political party with national presence on paper and on the ground in this country. If current circumstances continue to stay true into the future, PKR will be the only party with true potential to seriously challenge the incumbent BN.

Parties that place themselves inside suffocating communal boxes are trapped in a quagmire. This is especially so for those which identify themselves with non-Malay or non-Muslim communities. From the context of communal politics, only a Malay or a Muslim-based party has a real chance to gain majority power in the Parliament. This is based on the fact that Malay as well as Muslim groups form the majority in Malaysia and is further compounded by the fact that non-Malay votes have been shrinking for the past decades.[1][2] Parties blind to skin color and religious beliefs are the only players that will climb over the communal barriers.

Communities are not monolithic but communal politics falsely assumes those communities are so. In this aspect, communal-blind position is superior to that race and religion-based stance. Yet, the latter dominates the local political scene and this illustrates a status quo bias on a grand scale.

While that is so, BN has one foot in the door and even that is enough to outmaneuver its rivals which are communal-centric like DAP, PAS and previously PBS in Sabah. I concede that there are various factors at play but the fact that DAP appeals largely to the Chinese, PAS to the Muslims and PBS to the Kadazan-Dusun contribute to these parties ineffectiveness in challenging BN at the federal level.

DAP of course recognizes itself as a multiracial party. The concept of Malaysian Malaysia still echo years after it first gained popularity during Malaysian Solidarity Convention in the 1960s. I dare say the idea has played a large role in the evolution of “Bangsa Malaysia” or at the very least, the idea of a rights egalitarian Malaysia.

Slogan however is quite different from action. DAP is heavily dependent on Chinese voters and that fact is undeniable especially given the context of DAP-PKR general election negotiations. A true multiracial party will contest in any constituency regardless of the population composition of the area and yet, DAP are mostly interested to contest in Chinese-majority constituencies. And no, token candidates do not count.

Unlike DAP, PKR is jockeying to contest in a number of areas with diverse backgrounds, including Chinese-dominated areas. Reports suggest that negotiation between the two parties is hard because of PKR’s insistence in contesting in what DAP normally considers as its turf.[3] If seen through the lens of communal politics, PKR is theoretically capable of contesting in all areas that DAP plans to contest in but the reverse is untrue. A friend deep in PKR once told me that there are more Chinese in the party than there in DAP despite the fact that DAP is seen as Chinese while PKR to some extent as Malay. If that is true, it only gives PKR more cards to play. Regardless of that, there is no doubt there is a sizable number of Chinese in PKR and that is part of the reason why PKR wants a chance to contest in Chinese-dominated areas. A successful negotiation with DAP will go a long way to break the perception that PKR is a Malay party.

The audacity of PKR in taking a tough stance against DAP may sound shocking if the whole election negotiation is seen through the result of 2004 general election. In that election, PKR was almost wiped out of existence only four years after a relatively wildly successful debut in 1999 for a new party. But in conducting valuation of a company, it is future performance that matters, not past performance, regardless what many chartists, the practitioners of pseudoscience, say. That same is true with any political party.

But of course, before PKR could realize its potential, it has to do well in the expected upcoming election. While Malaysian demographics brought disadvantages to DAP, it is a key to PKR’s future. PKR sorely needs organizational efficiency and it could access and learn the skills through DAP or PAS. If it chooses PAS, PKR will only fall into the traps of communal politics. If it chooses DAP, it stands a chance to break free from the limitations of communal politics. This is the immediate question PKR needs to answer.

For DAP, it is whether they cooperate with or reject PKR. DAP may reject PKR and prolong its relevance until demographics makes its irrelevant or it may help in creating a more credible and move inclusive alternative to BN.

A creation of a credible alternative to BN requires for DAP and PKR to embrace each other. A failure to do so will cause PKR to gravitate toward PAS and DAP to become irrelevant and that is a step back from journey toward more inclusive politics. In response to my criticism that PKR is too populist in its stature with no clear direction ahead, Nik Nazmi emphasizes on the need to adopt big tent politics.[4] While I am unconvinced how that answers my criticism, as far as communal politics is concerned, he is right but a big tent politics only works if DAP walks together with PKR hand in hand.

Truly, to break free from communal politics, future merging of DAP and PKR is the only answer, if all trains stay on its tracks. DAP and PKR do not have forever to contemplate on the merger though. Both has to do so before BN turns to the dream of Onn Jaafar which UMNO rejected long ago.

Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved Mohd Hafiz Noor Shams. Some rights reserved

[1] — Ethnic groups: Malay 50.4%, Chinese 23.7%, indigenous 11%, Indian 7.1%, others 7.8% (2004 est.)

Religions: Muslim 60.4%, Buddhist 19.2%, Christian 9.1%, Hindu 6.3%, Confucianism, Taoism, other traditional Chinese religions 2.6%, other or unknown 1.5%, none 0.8% (2000 census) [The World Factbook: Malaysia. CIA. Accessed February 3 2008][↩]

[2] — IN his preamble, The Star’s acting group chief editor Datuk Wong Chun Wai pointed out that power sharing in this country has been a numbers game. The Chinese now comprise only 25% of the total population compared to some 35% a decade ago. Only about 30 of the 219 parliamentary seats are still predominantly Chinese. [Shrinking Chinese votes. The Star. November 25 2007][↩]

[3] — A showdown between DAP and PKR is on the cards in some constituencies as the two opposition parties could not reach a consensus on their seats allocation for the coming general election as a ‘deadline’ expires today.


The Chinese-majority seats have became a battlefield as opinion polls predicted there will be a swing of Chinese support from the ruling Barisan Nasional to the opposition due to economic and crime factors. [DAP-PKR seat talks on brink of collapse. Beh Lih Yi. Malaysiakini. January 31 2008][↩]

[4] — This might seem broad, but Keadilan is after all built as a big tent on the radical centre. From a purist’s perspective, this might seem less than ideal (pun intended); but in practice, many successful and ground breaking political movements were built on broad coalitions focused on immediate issues and core principles without being bound in ideological straightjackets. In the long run, a nationally successful political party has to represent the spectrum of the society they represent. [Keadilan and Big Tent Politics. Nik Nazmi.com. March 27 2007][↩]

5 Responses to “[1536] Of DAP and PKR need each other”

  1. on 04 Feb 2008 at 07:34 Nik Nazmi

    Excellent observation!

  2. on 04 Feb 2008 at 13:13 sigma

    Great write up. But I’ve already touched on PKR huge potential as the harbinger of political change years ago :)

    DAP is dying, slowly. It is inevitable. Sure, it has good support among some hardcore urban Chinese constituency, but they are dwindling. Even Lim Guan Eng acknowledges this, and I hope that he will take the necessary actions to broaden his party’s support base.

    What I found interesting is that your PKR source told you that the party has more Chinese members than DAP. Interesting. That makes it easier for me to understand PKR’s insistence on bickering with DAP for some Chinese spots. I must admit that prior to this, I thought that PKR should just give DAP those Chinese seats and concentrate on winning the UMNO-held Malay majority seats, seats which I think are the key to power.

    But then again, when I think about it more, was I really wrong? PKR right now is positioning itself as the de-facto leader of the Opposition, but without possessing the currency to do so in terms of seats. I’ve said before that in order to bargain more effectively with DAP, PKR should first show its allies that it is indeed capable of winning some of UMNO’s seats. I think once that happens, DAP will fall in line. It’s just a matter of PKR needing to first prove its mettle before going to the negotiating table with DAP.

  3. […] by Hafiz Noor Shams […]

  4. […] are now the opposition leader in the Parliament! I take this as an vindication of a theory that only PKR has the ability to seriously challenge BN on its own among the big three opposition […]

  5. […] to the election, I heard of complaints from PKR members of how arrogant PAS were in treating PKR. DAP also gave PKR the same treatment but the post-election scenario has realigned power in a way that PAS find themselves at the bottom […]

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply