Malaysia's DAP debates whether to 'dilute its Chineseness' to be acceptable to Malay voters

KUALA LUMPUR – Malaysia’s most stable political party is in a flux.

Several leaders of the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) have joined the chorus condemning influential party leader Ronnie Liu for saying it should not “dilute its Chineseness” to gain Malay voter support, local media reported.

The DAP’s organising secretary, Mr Anthony Loke, said on Tuesday (April 13) that there is an effort to oust leaders who embrace the idea of a multiracial DAP in the June party election, when secretary-general Lim Guan Eng will step down, Malaysiakini news site reported.

The DAP has 42 MPs, making it the biggest party in the federal Parliament, with none of them switching loyalties in the last two years compared with most other parties.

Umno today has 38 MPs and opposition Parti Keadilan Rakyat has 35.

On Monday, DAP’s Kuala Lumpur MP for Segambut ward, Ms Hannah Yeoh, took a swipe at Mr Liu by questioning his “narrow-minded and toxic” views.

“Ronnie Liu does not represent me. The DAP that Ronnie wants is not the DAP that I joined.

“I joined DAP because this party defends the rights of all Malaysians. I don’t agree with his speech,” Ms Yeoh said in a Facebook post.

Her retort followed comments by Mr Liu, a member of the DAP’s central committee, that the Chinese-dominated DAP should not “dilute its Chineseness” in response to criticism from political rivals.

He said on Sunday that the federal opposition party should instead “safeguard the culture” of the party amid party discussions on working with Malay nationalist party Umno after the next general election.

He was quoted by local media as saying in a speech: “DAP is a multi-racial party. The party need not dilute its Chineseness just because of the criticism from our political enemies.

“We have to safeguard the culture of the party, as well as the party’s constitutional spirit, pluralistic and democratic political struggle.”

Though its membership is open to all races, and the DAP has Malay and Indian federal and state lawmakers, the party is projected by its political foes as a chauvinistic Chinese party.

But reflecting the chaos in Malaysian politics since the 2018 general election, DAP leaders have said in recent months that they are willing to contemplate working with Umno under the banner of the opposition Pakatan Harapan alliance.

Still, DAP leaders have also said that they would not work with Umno leaders who are tainted with corruption charges.

In a groundbreaking event in Malaysian politics last December, the DAP and Umno worked together to vote out the Perak menteri besar from Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia, and replaced him with a leader from Umno.

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Mr Liu on Tuesday responded to Ms Yeoh’s criticism by calling her “immature”, saying she should have approached him first to clarify matters before rebuking him, The Star daily reported.

He said that his recent remarks were in Mandarin that were subsequently mistranslated to English and Malay.

Another DAP lawmaker, Mr Tony Pua, said the party has made great strides in projecting itself as an inclusive party, describing Mr Liu as being short-sighted and chauvinistic with regard to his recent views.

“And yet, Liu wants the party to reverse the progress we have made over more than a decade to protect our ‘Chineseness’.

“That is as chauvinistic as one can get and the DAP can certainly do without such chauvinists in the party, ” Mr Pua said in a statement on Tuesday.

Mr Pua, the DAP’s national publicity secretary, said Mr Liu’s views represented a minority in the party and such a strategy would be detrimental to DAP.

The DAP’s June internal election will see Mr Lim Guan Eng stepping down as secretary-geneneral, as the party’s Constitution allowed the post to be held for only three terms.

The DAP’s June internal election will see Mr Lim Guan Eng stepping down as secretary-general. PHOTO: THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK

Mr Loke is widely seen as Mr Lim’s successor.

Said Mr Loke, as quoted by Malaysiakini: “Liu does not represent the entire DAP in terms of policies and approaches taken by the party leadership. That’s why he was criticised.

“There has been an effort from DAP to make us more inclusive and more open so that the party is more accepted by the Malaysian community as a whole.” He was speaking in a live-stream interview in a session organised by the National Professors Council.

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