(Kuala Lumpur, Sunday): The DAP Party Reform movement launched after the 1995 general elections is to create a New DAP in the same way that the British Labour Party had successfully created a New Labour to win the last British general elections with historic landslide victory.
I am not saying that a New DAP can win power in Malaysia, but it can certainly take the DAP to greater heights than it had ever scaled so far.
There were many who were rather skeptical that the DAP Party Reform process could make any headway to bring about a party renewal, both in terms of a reappraisal of party policies and strategies, as well in enlistment of new blood into the party.
A lot of misunderstanding, both inside and outside the party, had arisen about the meaning of a New DAP.
I have been accused, for instance, of wanting to get rid of all the "old- guards" and replace them with young blood. What happened at the Perak State Convention on Sept. 28 was used as an example of my intention to get rid of party veterans in favour of young blood.
Nothing could be further from the truth. In the Perak State Convention, I asked the long-warring veteran leaders to take a step back to create space for young leaders to assume primary leadership positions to provide a new state leadership devoid of factionalism to create a new Perak DAP to lead the people of Perak into the next millennium.
I never said that veteran party leaders in Perak, whose past contributions had been acknowledged publicly and ungrudgingly, had no more role to play in the DAP. They are still welcome to contribute to the process of party reform and renewal in Perak DAP but they must be prepared to contribute to the building of a New DAP to help the party face the challenges of the new millennium, rather than fighting old battles whether inside or outside the Party.
In any event, the ability to contribute to the party reform and renewal process is not dependent on the question of age. I would have become politically senile if I should take the position that there is no more room for the highest political leadership positions for veteran party stalwarts like Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, for instance, and that these positions could only be filled by the young.
Whether a leader, veteran or young blood, can contribute to the party reform and renewal process is not dependent on his physical age but his political age and maturity. In politics, the physically young can also be politically old while the physically old can be politically young.
The call for a New DAP is not a rejection or repudiation of the DAP’s founding principles, struggle or history of the past 31 years. DAP remains inextricably wedded to the principles of social democracy to build a free, fair and just order - not only in Malaysia where all Malaysians could develop their potential to the fullest but also for an international civil society.
DAP leaders and members are rightly proud that in the darkest hours of Malaysian nationhood, the DAP had almost single-handedly kept alive the vision that for a multi-racial, multi-lingual, multi-cultural and multi-religious Malaysia, the nation-building policy should be one of integration rather than assimilation.
The country dissipated enormous amounts of national time, energies and attention in the sixties, seventies and eighties because of misguided nation-building policies aimed at assimilation rather than integration – such as the "One-Language One Culture" policy enunciated in the early eighties.
Many DAP leaders had to pay a heavy price in terms of loss of personal freedoms or being persecuted in the courts for courageously defending and upholding the rights of all races, languages, cultures and religions in a plural Malaysia.
As a result of the vision, commitment, foresight and sacrifices of DAP leaders, some light can now be seen at the end of the tunnel, when before there was absolute darkness. It is precisely because of the DAP’s political vision and tenacity that Malaysia’s multi-cultural, multi-lingual and multi-religious characteristics are the country’s greatest strengths that the country is a bit more prepared to face the challenges of globalisation and Information Technology. This is why we see the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad going round the world to sell the Multimedia Super Corridor by leveraging our unique position as the confluence of diverse civilisations, cultures and languages.
The battle is not over however, as the "minor liberalisation" in language, education and culture is not adequate – for what Malaysia needs is a "Full Liberalisation" of nation-building policies to fully harness the diversity of the country to position Malaysia as one of the top-class nations in the world in the new millennium.
We must recognise however that 1997 is a very different world from 1966 when the party was first formed and that the aspirations of the young generation of Malaysians in the sixties are very different from the aspirations of the present young generation.
Malaysia as a nation in 1997 is also faced with a completely different order of challenges from those of the sixties – and not just the twin currency and stock market crisis which the 1998 Budget introduced last Friday is trying to address.
In the past two years, the DAP leadership had worked hard in policy reappraisal and strategic consideration of our political role in Malaysia, and we had struck out on new grounds so that we can continue our mission as the beacon of light and hope for the young generation of Malaysians as to the type of Malaysian society we want to establish.
The new political initiatives the DAP has embarked on in the past two years include the areas of information technology, which is critical in determining the future success not only of individuals, groups, communities but also nations; the battle for democratisation in Malaysia and ASEAN – which explains our opposition to Myanmar’s entry into ASEAN; our campaign to create a new political culture with zero tolerance for corruption; the "Clean Air For Our Children – Let 1997 Haze by the last worst haze" mass signature campaign aimed at changing the face of Malaysian politics where clean air, clean water and quality environment are moved from the periphery of public consciousness to become the national mainstream concern of all political parties, whether ruling or opposition.
The New DAP will also play a greater role in the international arena, for apart from domestic factors, globalisation is undoubtedly one of the causes of the twin currency and stock market crisis faced by Malaysia and other South-East Asian economies.
This was why the DAP attended the 20TH Congress of the Socialist International held at the United Nations Headquarters in New York from 9 to 11 September 1996 whose main theme was "The World Economy: A Common Responsibility" with discussions focussing on "Markets Serving People, Not People Serving Markets".
This Congress of the Socialist International last year called for the co-ordination of national policies as the globalisation of the world economy has strongly reduced the effectiveness of national economic policies. One field is a framework to stabilise and control international financial flows, render the functioning of international markets more transparent, and avoid the destabilisation of economic policies of national governments.
The Congress urged serious consideration to be given to the proposal by Nobel prize winner James Tobin for a turnover tax on purely speculative foreign exchange transactions and suggested that it should include all major financial markets.
The greatest challenge of the DAP is to create a New DAP, which can keep faith with the DAP heartland in the country in the past three decades and reach out to win the hearts and minds of new generations of Malaysians in the 21st century.
We are only at the beginning of our challenging task to create a New DAP for a lot of ideological and political work needs to be done.
The party had survived the birth pains in the creation of a New Perak DAP and I look forward to the Federal Territory DAP giving another impetus to the DAP party reform and renewal process.
The Federal Territory should be the political heartland and not the political backwaters of the DAP. In the 1995 general elections debacle, four of the nine seats secured by the DAP were in the Federal Territory (altough Bukit Bintang was subsequently snatched away from the DAP through the most unfair and undemocratic of means) and the votes polled by the DAP in the four FT constituencies almost equal the votes polled by the DAP in the other five constituencies, namely Tanjong, Jelutong, Bagan, Kota Melaka and Bintulu.
The Federal Territory DAP should be fully conscious of its role and responsibility to be in the vanguard of the movement for social democracy in Malaysia in the new millennium, and I hope that in the next two years, the Federal Territory DAP will be able to fly high the flag of New DAP.