PETALING JAYA: A political analyst has given warning that the DAP’s failure to overcome the khat issue could result in a low voter turnout among the Chinese community at the next general election.
Wong Chin Huat of the Jeffrey Cheah Institute on Southeast Asia, said the DAP’s credentials among the Chinese community has been “significantly weakened”, with many people comparing it to the MCA.
He said many DAP constituencies were likely to become more ethnically mixed after the expansion of the electorate from the voting age being lowered to 18 and with automatic voter registration.
“As the new voters’ voting pattern is unknown, low Chinese turnout may result in many DAP stronghold constituencies becoming marginal seats,” he said. However, such a result would not automatically turn around the now dormant Gerakan party, nor the MCA which would be unable to object to khat because of Umno and PAS’ cooperation.
The government’s move to proceed with the introduction of khat in the Year 4 Bahasa Melayu syllabus for vernacular schools has not gone down well with Chinese and Tamil education groups, and those who support vernacular education.
Some DAP leaders have previously also spoken to FMT about the backlash that they have faced, and DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang was recently jeered in his own constituency.
Wong said the discontent over khat, if unresolved, could make it harder for DAP to mobilise its base, weakening its influence in Pakatan Harapan, leading to a vicious cycle that it must avoid.
Universiti Malaysia Sabah analyst Lee Kuok Tiung said he believes the khat issue would temporarily dent DAP’s support among Chinese voters, and that voters are likely to forget the issue by the time the next elections are held.
“The party always portrays itself as being able to do better than MCA, but it turns out they are not much better,” Lee told FMT.
He believes the DAP had also missed the opportunity to win support among Malay voters, especially because DAP leaders issue statements in Mandarin about the khat issue – this could lead to the perception that the DAP says one thing to one community, and another to the other communities.
“Regardless of how hard they try, DAP will always be seen as a Chinese dominated political party.”
However, Azmi Hassan of Universiti Teknologi Malaysia disagrees with the notion that the DAP’s credentials have been wounded.
“DAP leaders have done their best to protect the interests of the Chinese but their hands are tied as Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has decided on the matter. The important thing is that DAP has demonstrated that they have the tenacity to protect their supporters’ interests in this khat controversy.”
Azmi said it was likely that Mahathir’s support of khat lessons arose from Pakatan Harapan’s dwindling influence among Malay voters, especially since Umno and PAS began political cooperation.
“So with DAP retreating, so to speak, on the khat issue, the perception is that PH is protecting the interests of the Malays. This will be a positive factor for PH among Malay voters.”