Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Kit Siang, change of mindset also needed in DAP

Martin Vengadesan

COMMENT | The culture of flattery and patronage is so ingrained in Malaysia that anyone telling a few painful home truths and calling out the elephant in the room will quickly face some yesman accusing him or her of carrying out a hatchet job with vested interests.

Certainly, I had a lot of support and a handful of brickbats for two recent columns, one in which I challenged what I believe to be a false narrative over the Sheraton Move by a former prime minister’s daughter and the other in which I expressed the belief that it’s time for reformasi hero Anwar Ibrahim to step aside.

I do have a vested interest and it is for progressive policies in a multi-racial Malaysia that will enable a vibrant future and right now I believe generational change is key to that.

As I mentioned in the previous column, Anwar, Dr Mahathir Mohamad, Lim Kit Siang (above), Muhyiddin Yassin, Najib Abdul Razak, Ahmad Zahid Hamidi, Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah, Rais Yatim and Abdul Hadi Awang have been public figures and dominant politicians for 30, 40 and in some cases even 50 years.

Despite positive contributions, they are also responsible in some way for the current toxic stagnation we are experiencing.

Part of the problem is the cult-like following that they have developed in their respective organisations. Ok, maybe not Rais, but many of the others have.

When this happens, the false impression is created that the leader is indispensable, whereas no one is.

Cue howls of protest from their fans, and yes, I’m very aware of the achievements of someone like Lim who, like Anwar, has endured spells behind bars for unjust reasons due to our draconian laws.

Who am I to criticise those who have made so many sacrifices?

Nobody really – but does that mean that no one is qualified to speak up when it’s time for a change – because these leaders are likely surrounded by people who got there by telling them what they want to hear?

Should I be saying “yes sir, no sir, three bags full sir?” or comment on an emperor’s resplendent attire when I see him in his undergarments?

Mighty influence

Lim has been a brave and principled leader who has done a lot for the country and proven himself not to be compromised by position, wealth and titles.

However, I am not sure if he recognised the depth of his hold over the party when assemblypersons like Howard Lee and Chris Lee were serenading him with overly romantic songs in honour of his 80th birthday this February.

Many leaders wrote personal accounts of Lim's greatness and it seemed as if there was a cringe-inducing competition to see who could sing his praises louder. Or should that be lao da?

Anyway, when he called this week for a change of mindset I couldn’t help but wonder if he sees the great failing that DAP is on paper a multi-racial, social-democratic party but in reality has spent the better part of half a century occupying a different role.

Two days ago Zaid Ibrahim called DAP a social democratic party and I had to suppress a snort of derision. No, I tell a lie. I didn’t suppress it.

I’m fascinated with welfare state architects like England's National Health Service founder Aneurin Bevan, New Zealand’s Michael Joseph Savage and various Scandinavians like Tage Erlander and Einar Gerhardsen who helped build egalitarian societies.

Despite the name of its youth wing, international affiliations and the occasional utterance by Liew Chin Tong and Howard Lee, I can safely say I have not really seen this reflected in DAP’s reality.

Indeed, the style of abrasive individuals like Hew Kuan Yau (who fortunately is no more a party member) and Nga Kor Ming has lent weight to the idea that DAP is a brash party that places a pro-Chinese agenda over Malaysian unity.

DAP’s reality is more accurately reflected by a grassroots base that even in 2021 delivered 70-80 percent Chinese leadership at the state level. Look at the Kuala Lumpur DAP leadership and tell me this is Malaysian Malaysia!

Kapayan assemblyperson Jannie Lasimbang

Just this weekend Kapayan assemblyperson Jannie Lasimbang was removed from the state leadership for saying that in her view, the party needs to seriously consider mechanisms to ensure inclusiveness and that leaders who can effectively contribute to the party are not sidelined.

The truth is that when democracy is a free-for-all within the DAP, an overwhelmingly Chinese leadership is elected. Thus it should be no surprise that only one out of its 42 MPs is Malay – Raub MP Tengku Zulpuri Shah Raja Puji.

Now Lim has sincerely always spoken out for a Malaysia for all, but he is far too astute not to know that we are caught in a cycle of reactive identity politics and that DAP is actually part of the problem too.

Young leaders - a daring game changer

I am one of those who would love to see Fahmi Fadzil, Hannah Yeoh, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman, Kasthuri Patto, Nik Nazmi Nik Ahmad, Rafizi Ramli and many younger leaders in a new single multi-racial party active in all states. United in progressive ideology and not bound by the patronage of older figures and the baggage of the past.

That would be a daring game changer.

Only then could leaders like the modern-day social-democratic icons Jacinda Ardern and Sanna Marin have room to emerge in Malaysia.

Mind you, Ismail Sabri Yaakob, 61, is the first prime minister born after Merdeka, while Marin and Ardern were born in the 1980s.

Our young leaders are the ones equipped for the future. Because most of our leaders of the present already belong in the past. That’s one reason why this country is stuck.

To make such a move would undoubtedly be a gamble, but right now the leaders are caught in a battle of being more Chinese, more Malay, more Muslim, more Tamil, etc.

If this doesn’t change, we will forever be led by ethnic champions with a narrow view of the future. As far as nation-building is concerned, we are already paying a heavy price.

Of course, I am not suggesting it be overnight, but the sooner the better. The Pakatan Harapan coalition parties could agree on affirmative action quotas like a 30 percent minimum of female candidates.

DAP could introduce a similar policy on non-Chinese representation in its leadership.

The Harapan parties could also identify their common goals and complementary strengths and initiative a fact-finding committee for a future merger a few years down the road.

You see, that’s what leadership is. Taking risks, making really tough decisions. Identifying a goal in the future and dragging the people towards it.

Because the people themselves are trapped in this maelstrom and it requires true vision to lift us out of it.

MARTIN VENGADESAN is an associate editor at Malaysiakini.


  1. The main reason Malaysia still has a functioning Opposition , after 64 years of authoritarian Alliance /BN rule , in spite of decades of all manner of spiteful efforts to demolish any effective Opposition, is due to the Die Hard durability , robustness, resistance and sheer doggednnes of leaders such as Lim Kit Siang , Anwar Ibrahim and Lim Guan Eng.

    Many other previous stars have burnt out , withdrawn from politics or chose to become " BN-Friendly" because they lacked the solid firmness of the top leaders.

    Many are reduced to cynical sniping at DAP or PKR from their hideouts.

    The younger leaders certainly need to be groomed and given the opportunity to progress.

    But think carefully before you condemn the Good Vintage Wine that has withstood the test of time and hard knocks.

  2. now this is what I call a fair and balanced article, the writer don't take sides, defend or protect anyone like a besotted teenager, anyone who take sides is fair game

  3. Yes, change of mindset!

    First, understand what's a “枭雄” mentality - aka 曹操 political manoeuvres!

    The closest modern day identity is Putin - the Russian czar who r going to uplift the Eastern Slav domination!

    But, tough within DAP.

    Too many bleedingheartish christianized softies within its fold.

    For the want of shorten spurioys humane showcasing, thus losing the long term administrative realm of meritocracy.