Race, age stand in the way of DAP’s new politics
The huge disappointment on the faces of DAP leaders Lim Guan Eng and Lim Kit Siang said it all last night. They gambled on Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud to keep the Teluk Intan federal seat, but the political unknown lost by 238 votes to Gerakan president Datuk Mah Siew Keong.
That she lost by such a razor-thin margin was not lost on the DAP leaders.
But Dyana still lost due to the racial mindset of the elderly electorate and the disinterest by young voters who did not come back for the Saturday by-election.
"Race is still relevant in elections, but we are trying to make it irrelevant," Guan Eng, the DAP secretary-general, told The Malaysian Insider in reference to the Chinese-based party's push for more Malay candidates.
Mah polled 20,157 votes to Dyana's 19,919 votes with 550 spoilt votes in the Chinese-majority federal constituency. The voter turnout was a poor 66.7% against the 80.7% in 2013.
There were reports of last-minute campaigning by men in red t-shirts who told the Chinese voters to support the Chinese candidate Mah, who ironically leads multi-racial party Gerakan.
Another advantage is that Mah is a local boy and a two-term MP for Teluk Intan before he lost in the 2008 general election. Dyana is from Perak, but only hit the headlines as Kit Siang's political secretary in 2013 and two weeks ago when she was named the party's candidate for Teluk Intan.
The 27-year-old lawyer became the darling of the cyberspace citizens but had to rely on DAP entirely to get support from the local voters rather than her personal charisma.
"We would have won if the outstation voters came back," Guan Eng added, in an oblique reference to the younger generation who work outside Teluk Intan and who are more issues-oriented rather than voting according to racial lines.
There were 2.7 million new voters among the 13.3 million registered voters in the 2013 polls, where DAP and its Pakatan Rakyat (PR) allies PKR and PAS won 51% of the popular vote, but only took 89 federal seats.
With the Teluk Intan loss, PR now has 88 federal seats to BN's 134 seats.
Guan Eng's father, Kit Siang, had campaigned for his political secretary in Teluk Intan on the basis of eschewing racial politics.
“In this new politics of the future, the old politics of race will be replaced by the politics of Malaysian nationalism based on issues of justice, freedom, accountability and good governance,” Kit Siang said last week.
He had also called for outstation voters to come back and support Dyana's first bid for Parliament.
But his words fell on deaf ears. The ageing residents opted to vote on racial lines and the young voters who lived and worked elsewhere did not return to cast their ballots yesterday.
That, together with postal votes that traditionally goes to BN, cost Dyana and DAP the Teluk Intan seat and a setback for the party's push for a multi-racial slate of candidates rather than choosing one from the dominant race in a seat.
"There are lessons to be learnt from Teluk Intan but Brand DAP still got most of the votes in despite a lower turnout," a party insider said.
Gerakan insiders admit that the 53-year-old Mah could have lost the tight race if polling day was on Sunday, giving more time for outstation voters to come home and possibly throw their support behind Dyana.
"It can go the other way if polling day was on Sunday. Luckily, it wasn't and we won," said a party strategist.
The win also doubles Gerakan's presence in the Parliament to two MPs, with Mah set to be given a Cabinet post as promised by Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak. – June 1, 2014.