(Ipoh, 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. Although a New DAP is aborning, this process would take years just as it has taken over a decade for the reinvention of New Labour before it won the last British general elections with a historic landslide victory, ending not only 18 years of Conservative rule, but achieving a 179-seat majority in the House of Commons, the largest any party had achieved in an election since 1935.
Labour’s reinvention was started not by its current leader and British Prime Minister Tony Blair but over a decade ago by his predecessor Neil Kinnock and continued by John Smith.
For over a decade, scores of Labour MPs, trade unionists, party employees and individual members, who were intensely proud of Labour’s historic achievements, worked ceaselessly to create New Labour because they were disturbed by the extent to which Labour was trapped by its past and a prisoner of an outdated ideology which had not been satisfactorily modernised by the Labour leadership.
This is how one New Labour ideologue had explained the reinvention of the British Labour Party:
For Labour, modernisation is about far more than red roses, seductive sound-bites and fancy packaging, however important these may be in the modern media age. It is about a fundamental reinvention of what Labour offers to the British people.
However, the business of reinvention does not involve the abandonment of Labour’s basic principles and convictions. It means a sharper definition of those core aims and values, and their thorough reapplication to the circumstances of the modern world.
Every political party has periodically to renew itself, to enable it to bring new life and policies to the country as new times offer new challenges.
There are many, however, who are 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.
There continues to be a lot of misunderstanding, both inside and outside the party, about the meaning of a New DAP, preferring to regard it as an exercise to get rid of all the "old-guards" and replace them with young blood.
The Perak and Federal Territory state conventions had been seen as battlegrounds for such a war between the "old-guards" and 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.
The Federal Territory state convention was also seen in such simplistic terms of another New DAP objective to replace "old-guards" with new blood, with the New DAP suffering a setback as a result of the so-called victory of the old-guards over the young blood. Dr. Tan Seng Giaw, the new chairman of the Federal Territory DAP State Committee, is painted by some media as leading the counter-offensive of old-guards to resist the rise of young blood.
This is again another travesty of the truth. In actual fact, a week before the Federal Territory State Convention, I had a discussion with Sdr. Liew Ah Kim and he agreed that the time had come for him not to seek re-election as Federal Territory State Committee Chairman.
It was also the consensus of Federal Territory DAP leaders, including Sdr. Tan Kok Wai, that Dr. Tan Seng Giaw was the most appropriate person to take over as Federal Territory DAP State Chairman - especially as he had been one of the national leaders who had been actively involved in the various political initiatives carried out under the Party Reform programme, whether on information technology, the Anti-Corruption Round-Tables or the anti-haze mass signature campaign.
In the process to create a New DAP, we need the whole-hearted commitment of all party leaders, whether party veteran, ‘medium’ or "young-blood" - in another words, the unity of the "old, medium and young"!
The ability to contribute to the party reform and renewal process to create a New DAP is not dependent on the question of age. 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 performance. In politics, the physically young can also be politically old while the physically old can be politically young.
Let me state clearly that when the party thinks that I cannot perform anymore as Secretary-General, then I have outlived my usefulness and it is time for me to step down - even without anyone asking me to do so. In any event, I have already given myself five years as the maximum period to continue as DAP Secretary-General and I am prepared to relinquish this post even earlier if this is the consensus in the party.
In the creation of New DAP, merit must continue to be given the highest premium, especially with the advent of the Information Revolution where knowledge, and not natural resources or physical infrastructure, which is the key resource critical for a country’s competitiveness and success.
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. Today and tomorrow, for instance, former ISA detainees are marking the 10th annivesary of Operation Lalang, where top DAP leaders and Members of Parliament were among those detained under the infamous Internal Security Act.
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.
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.
Whether we can accomplish our mission to create a New DAP would depend to a large extent as to whether we can create a New Perak DAP. I invite all Perak DAP leaders, branches and members to close ranks and come forward to actively take part in this second "Long March" of the party.
There are those who think that even if the DAP does nothing now, we stand to benefit in the next general elections because the party had lost too badly in 1995 and also because of the people’s disappointments with the Barisan Nasional government. I do not want the DAP to win votes or seats on these terms.
In the next general elections, we want the people to vote for the DAP not because of sympathy or in appreciation of our past achievements but because we understand and represent their hopes and aspirations for the uncertain future in the new millennium.