Wooing voters through “middle path” approach
The DAP 15th national conference last weekend has provided some indications that the party and its partners in the opposition pact are adapting themselves to the latest political trend in the country.
Political analysts believe that the “middle path” approach as announced by DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, who is also Penang chief minister, shows that the opposition pact comprising DAP, PAS and Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) is out to attract the growing number of “fence sitters”.
“They are trying to adjust to the new political environment by adopting the middle path to attract the fence sitters who are not members of any political party, but are very much influenced by issues” said political analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian.
By taking the “middle path”, he said, the party wanted to show that the opposition was providing an alternative and fighting “for fair and equality for all Malaysians”, while some political parties were taking a hardline or conservative stand on certain issues.
In the past, DAP had also found itself to be the target of those who branded the party as “a Chinese chauvinist establishment out to erode the special privileges of the Malays and undermine Islam, the national religion”.
“This new trend (middle path) is suitable for the current political scenario from their point of understanding. Urban voters choose to be among this group and it was the urban voters who changed their destiny,” Sivamurugan said.
“By conservative calculation, the proportion of support in any constituency is always 35 per cent for (BN) and 35 per cent for the opposition, while another 30 per cent are the fence sitters.
“However, the number of fence sitters is increasing, partly due to the fact that voters now are more issue-oriented and wanting less to be tied to any political party.
“In the last general election, as many as about 70 per cent of fence sitters were believed to have swung their votes in favour of the opposition and became the crucial deciders which caused many BN seats to fall,” he said.
DAP strategist and member of parliament for Bukit Bendera Liew Chin Tong explained that the decision by the party leadership to take the “middle path”, which had been branded as “Middle Malaysia”, was largely due to strategic positioning of the party.
“There is no shift in terms of ideals or ideas. What happens is that we want to project a collective image of Pakatan Rakyat (PR) and broaden our common ground. The thinking now is that a government must appeal to all communities. Slogans are not enough to draw support from people,” he said.
Previously, the party advocated its “Malaysian Malaysia” concept which stressed on equality for all and which dominated the party ideology since its inception in the late 1960s, but was received with suspicion and opposition by the other communities.
Liew said the strategic positioning was done in the national context – where the party wanted to be seen as inclusive to all the races and by doing so, it hoped to be the platform for the current political trend.
“We want to fill the vacuum. That is our message. It is not just about DAP but the whole PR,” he said.
However, Sivamurugan contended that there was still a lot of work to be done by the party, especially in convincing its own members that it needed the other components in the opposition pact if it wanted to stay in power.
“They must also convince the other PR components that DAP is not a threat. Besides that, it will be difficult for them (opposition) to be seen as practising the principle of “agree to disagree” if they fail to solve any issue,” he said.
Currently, the party is half-way through its term as part of the coalition government in Penang and Selangor, and the party’s new approach has been viewed as its new direction as it gears up for the polls.
Sivamurugan also noted that the current party enchelon had to face the reality of having to work together without their key leaders such as DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang, PKR de facto leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Abdul Aziz Nik Mat.
“They need to address the post-Kit Siang, post-Anwar and post-Nik Aziz scenario if they want to push this middle path approach and convince the people that they are the viable option,” he said.
While the opposition parties seem to be trying to adjust to the changing political trend, Sivamurugan wonders if the Barisan Nasional (BN) component parties will be doing the same.
“The opposition seems to be more liberal. What is BN’s preparation in facing this change? Are they going to be more conservative or playing to the tune of the opposition by taking the middle path too?” he said.
“Whatever approach BN takes, it cannot be on an ad hoc basis but they need to find long-term solutions.
“They need to find a better way of wooing the fence sitters and of serving the interest of young voters and the middle-class group as the majority of them do not belong to any political party,” he added.