Democratic Action Party

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"While other parties talk about democracy, justice, and equality... DAP not only espouses these values but try much harder than the rest."  —  Tunku Abdul Aziz (24 August 2008) [1]
Logo of the Democratic Action Party

The Democratic Action Party (DAP) (Malay: Parti Tindakan Demokratik) is a secular, multi-racial, social democratic Malaysian political party that was officially registered on 18 March 1966. Though its core constituency consists of Chinese Malaysians, it also receives support from the Indian Malaysians and Malays. The party's strongholds are in the states of Penang, Perak and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur. Gaining prominence for its advocacy of the "Malaysian Malaysia" concept, it is one of the three component parties of the opposition Pakatan Rakyat, along with the PKR and Parti Islam Se-Malaysia (PAS), that are seen as electable alternatives to the Barisan Nasional coalition of parties.

"For us in the DAP, we see our tasks as fundamentally three-fold:

  1. To strive for a genuine multiracial Malaysia, where every Malaysians feels, thinks, and acts as a Malaysian, and not as a Chinese, Malay, or Indian; and where every Malaysian, regardless of his race, language, and religion, has a place under the Malaysian sun;
  2. To strive for a socialist Malaysia and abolish the glaring inequalities between the ostentatious affluence of the haves and the extreme affluence of the haves and the extreme deprivation of the have-nots;
  3. To uphold the cause of parliamentary democracy in Malaysia, for without a democratic system, a multiracial, multiculture, multilingual, and multireligious nation cannot survive."
Lim Kit Siang, 27 April 1972 [2]

2.  Brief history: The DAP was originally the Malaysian branch of the Singapore People's Action Party (PAP). However, Singapore seceded from the federation in 1965, just two years after the territories merged. Most of the Malaysian PAP members decided to remain with the original party, but those that decided to continue the party, including future President of Singapore Devan Nair, stayed in Malaysia to form the DAP in October 1965.[3] The party formally registered itself as a democratic socialist party on 18 March 1966.[4] In the August of that year, the official party organ, The Rocket, was first published. At the first DAP National Congress held in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur on July 29, 1967, the DAP declared itself to be "irrevocably committed to the ideal of a free, democratic and socialist Malaysia, based on the principles of racial and religious equality, social and economic justice, and founded on the institution of parliamentary democracy".[5] }} In October that year, the DAP joined 55 other socialist parties belonging to the Socialist International (SI) at the SI International Conference in Zurich, Switzerland.[5] Devan Nair, who founded the DAP, later returned to Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew, then Prime Minister of Singapore under the PAP, explained in 1981 that "the Cabinet decided that Singapore-Malaysia relations would always be bedevilled if Devan Nair remained a DAP leader. I persuaded him to come back."[3]

DAP (Democratic Action Party) Anthem
(Uploaded by daptanjong on 1 February 2010)

The DAP contested a general election for the first time in 1969. In line with their commitment to equality, the DAP originally campaigned against Bumiputera privileges, such as those afforded to them by Article 153 of the Constitution. They also continued Lee Kuan Yew's campaign for a Malaysian Malaysia, the idea of which was originally conveyed by Lee in Parliament: "Malaysia — to whom does it belong? To Malaysians. But who are Malaysians? I hope I am, Mr Speaker, Sir. But sometimes, sitting in this chamber, I doubt whether I am allowed to be a Malaysian."[6]

The DAP went on to win 13 Parliamentary seats and 31 State Assembly seats, with 11.9% of all valid votes that were cast in the election; the Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (Gerakan) which campaigned on a similar platform also made major gains. The 1969 election marked the biggest gains ever made by an opposition party in Malaysia (before 2008), and came close to seeing the ruling Alliance toppled from power. However, a march made by the DAP along with Gerakan as part of the opposition team led to violence, and resulted in what was euphemistically termed the May 13 Incident. Parliament was suspended for two years, and the executive branch of the government assumed power.[7]

When Parliament reconvened, it passed pieces of legislation such as the Sedition Act that illegalised discussion of repealing certain portions of the Constitution. Most of these concerned Bumiputera privileges, such as Article 153. The DAP and the People's Progressive Party (PPP) were the only parties that voted against the Act, which passed by a vote of 125 to 17.[8]

After the 1969 election, the DAP would never come close to repeating its past successes for the next 38 years. Although the DAP remained a major opposition party, the ruling coalition had clung solidly to its two-thirds parliamentary majority. The DAP, however, continued campaigning on its platform of abolishing the Bumiputra privileges, giving equal rights for all Malaysians regardless of race and establishing a democratic socialist state in Malaysia.

During the Mahathir administration in 1987, several DAP leaders, including Parliamentary Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang, were detained by the government without trial during Operation Lalang, under the accusation of being a national security threat. It is widely believed they were arrested for protesting the expansion of the New Economic Policy (NEP).[9]

Following the ousting of Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in September 1998, DAP co-founded the Barisan Alternatif coalition along with PAS and the newly formed Keadilan. However, the coalition did not work out very well for the DAP, with two of its top leaders, Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh losing their Parliamentary seats in the 1999 election; the DAP managed to win only 5% (10 out of 193) of the seats in Parliament. PAS became the leading opposition party in Parliament. It left the coalition in 2001 due to a disagreement with PAS over the issue of an Islamic state.[10][11]

In the 2004 elections, the DAP managed to capture 12 seats in Parliament, while PAS and Keadilan suffered major setbacks, with PAS losing 20 of the 27 seats it had held after the 1999 elections. The eventual outcome saw Lim Kit Siang, who had been elected in his constituency of Ipoh Timur with a majority of 10,000 votes, formally elected as the leader of the opposition in Parliament, a post he had lost to the president of PAS in 1999.[12]

In the 2006 Sarawak State Elections, the Democratic Action Party won 6 of the 12 seats it contested and narrowly lost three other seats with narrow majorities. This is the party best showing ever in the history of Sarawak state elections since 1979.

In the 2008 elections, the DAP won 13% (28 out of 222) of the seats in Parliament, with PAS and Keadilan making substantial gains as well with 23 seats and 31 seats respectively. In total, the taking of 82 seats (37%) by the opposition to Barisan Nasional's 140 seats (63%), makes it the best performance in Malaysian history by the opposition, and denies Barisan Nasional the two-thirds majority required to make constitutional changes in the House.[13] DAP advisor Lim Kit Siang expressed surprise at the election results but declares it to be the true power of the voice of the Malaysian people for the leaders of the country to hear them.[14] In addition, DAP, having secured all its contested seats in the state of Penang, formed the Penang state government with its alliance partners Keadilan and PAS, the Chief Minister being DAP's Lim Guan Eng.[15]

As the new Penang Chief Minister, Lim Guan Eng announced to waive all summonses issued by the Penang Municipal Council and Seberang Perai Municipal Council involving hawker licences and parking offences issued before March 2008 and pledged to review the NEP without disregarding Malay rights. This review proposal has been supported by PKR leader Anwar Ibrahim as many Malaysians believe the NEP policy has been made flawed by UMNO and their supporters. Lim also held press conferences and answered online questions regarding his proposal to review the NEP to Penangites and most of all Malaysians in the light of scathing attacks by UMNO extremist saying DAP-Keadilan-PAS will deny Malay rights in the Penang state.

3.  Pakatan Rakyat: The leaders of PKR, DAP and PAS have proposed to consolidate their cooperation by forming Pakatan Rakyat. Pakatan Rakyat is to be led collectively by the three parties, would uphold the rights and interests of all Malaysians. The state governments of Kelantan, Kedah, Penang, Perak, and Selangor will also be known as Pakatan Rakyat state governments. Together the three parties also won 82 of the 222 parliamentary seats at stake during the recent general elections.

In the 2013 general elections, the DAP was the biggest winner in the Pakatan Rakyat coalition, gaining 10 seats overall, while both PKR and PAS lost one and 2 seats respectively, compared to the 2008 general elections. The loose coalition also lost control of the state of Perak.

4.  Growing pains in DAP: The DAP's electoral successes in the 2008 and 2013 general elections had brought in a wave of younger professionals who are now driving the party, much to the chagrin of older members who are just about to taste the fruits of their long struggle for success. The appointment of Bukit Bendera MP Zairil Khir Johari as interim Kedah state chairman had led to party veteran and Johor DAP chief Dr. Boo Cheng Hau raising a storm.[16]

Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng said the spate of issues showed the DAP was in a quandary – how to deal with the gap between the expectations of the grassroots and the effect of the young professionals on the party's leadership? He said that the DAP had become more urban, elite and appeared to be moving away from its working class base. "When I say elite, I mean more educated and professional. If DAP wants to defend its urban turf made up of the middle class, they will continue to field professionals, those with good qualifications," he explained, adding this was where the conflict arose.[16]

Khoo said that in the 1960s, DAP was a party of the grassroots, where it championed the rights of hawkers, blue-collar workers and trade unions. Over the last 2 general elections, however, this has changed and DAP, which at one time used to contest up to 80 parliamentary seats, only contested in 51 seats, readily giving up the rural and semi-rural seats to be contested by their partners in Pakatan Rakyat. Khoo also put this down to the Lim Guan Eng factor, who preferred to field young professionals, but who are not necessarily from the grassroots. As such, senior members who held up the party in the past were feeling sidelined and were coming out to express their unhappiness. "They are concerned the party is not focusing, not prioritizing and not recognizing them, and instead those without experience and who have not been long in the party were given seats to contest in the recent polls," he added. According to Khoo, the resentment among certain seniors was that the likes of Dr. Ong Kian Ming, MP for Serdang, and Yeo Bee Yin, state assemblyperson for Damansara Utama, were chosen as candidates for the 2013 general elections, although they had not been long in the party.

Khoo said that the complaints by party seniors and leaders coming out of the woodwork was a sign that DAP was poised for an identity change. "If the old and new cannot find middle ground and unite, DAP will turn into a party for the elite. And the direction of the party will be determined by the wisdom of the party leadership", he said.

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