There is a common denominator to any kind of respectable democratic system. The side with the most votes generally wins. There lies the importance of inclusive politics in a diverse society typical in Malaysia.

It is not enough to appeal to only one specific community in a competitive democracy as a whole. There is always an extra vote somewhere outside of the community that can make a difference. The communal divides have to be crossed just because those who fail will lose the democratic competition.

One of those divides in this country is language. There is no doubt that this divide exists in Kuching.

I have been in the Sarawak capital for nearly two weeks now and I have been trailing the state election campaigns of the DAP very closely. This gives me the opportunity to observe the party’s strategies and operations firsthand with respect to the election.

Kuching of the south bank — Padungan, Pending, Kota Sentosa and Batu Kawa — are Chinese-majority areas. In two of those areas, the Chinese make up no less than 90 per cent of the total voters. At the same time, it is inevitable for an impartial observer to conclude that the DAP is primarily a Chinese-based party. It is ethnically more diverse than any other political parties in Malaysia, with the exception of its Pakatan Rakyat partner PKR.

That does not negate its Chinese characteristic, however. This statement cannot be any further than the truth in Kuching, where its active membership reflects the demography of the city.

The composition of Kuching makes it only natural for Chinese to function as the primary language in the city. It is not a wonder that the DAP had used only Chinese for its political communication here in the past. There were not too many reasons for the local chapter to change.

While Kuching is so, the overall situation in Malaysia is more diverse. For a party with national aspirations, it has to widen its appeal beyond the Chinese community. It has to face the Malaysian diversity.

Continued reliance of the DAP on a single community that is also shrinking in terms of percentages will have the party boxing itself in a corner and eventually lose the democratic game at the national level. The DAP knows this and the party is addressing it. Kuching is a perfect example of the party’s try at inclusive politics.

The impression I get so far is that there is a remarkable swing against the Barisan Nasional government here in urban Kuching. Local reception to the DAP’s political rallies in the city has been impressive. In Sibu and Miri, news of more impressive turnouts was reported. Donations to the DAP meanwhile skyrocketed.

In stark contrast, the rallies of the SUPP have yet to make a mark. It is no exaggeration that the SUPP is lagging badly. The BN component party that is an MCA of Sarawak — the DAP’s foremost rival in the state — faces the possibility of becoming as irrelevant as the MIC, Gerakan and PPP.

With the big swing, Chinese votes alone could possibly guarantee the DAP seats in Kuching’s south bank. Yet, the party is not merely focusing on Chinese votes. It is trying to be inclusive.

For the first time in Kuching, the political messages of the DAP are done in languages other than Chinese. The English, Malay and Iban languages are now being used more widely in its pamphlets and posters.

Concurrently, the party is penetrating Bidayuh and Malay villages on the outskirts of Kuching for the first time ever. These areas were hostile to the DAP previously. This hostility, or perceived hostility, is absent today. Taib Mahmud and his allies are such a lightning rod that there is no anger left for anybody else.

Quite clearly, the situation is just right to grease the advance of the DAP’s inclusive initiatives.

The level of support for the DAP in Kuching has been tremendous so far. Members and volunteers of the DAP are showing exuberant confidence. It is hard not to.

In some small pockets within the DAP, however, there is a call for caution. Whether those supports will translate into actual votes will only be known after the polls close tomorrow.

After a tiring day campaigning criss-crossing Kuching from the relatively modern Batu Kawa shops and to the ill-equipped Kampung Tematu, a high-ranking DAP member sighed with face in his hands, saying: ”I hope these efforts with the Bidayuh work.”

It would be a shame for the DAP to lose. Even if it loses though, at least the act of reaching out itself is a brilliant beginning. It is not just a brilliant beginning for Kuching or Sarawak, and not just for the DAP itself. It is simply excellent for Malaysia.

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

First published in The Malaysian Insider on April 15 2011.

One Response to “[2350] DAP’s tilt at inclusiveness”

  1. […] Malaysia, I managed to observe the DAP machinery during the Sarawak election, thanks to Tony Pua. As I have written previously, despite the seats in Kuching having a heavy Chinese characteristic, the banners were written in […]

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