A rude wake-up call for DAP: The Star columnist

A young boy passing by the Barisan National Party flag and Democratic Action Party posters at Kuching, Sarawak, on May 6, 2016.
A young boy passing by the Barisan National Party flag and Democratic Action Party posters at Kuching, Sarawak, on May 6, 2016. PHOTO: EPA

An over-bloated ambition and a belief that people still buy whatever they say or do resulted in a thrashing for the party at the hands of Sarawak voters.

Joceline Tan

The Star/Asia News Network

The big screens set up outside Democratic Action Party's (DAP) Kuching headquarters flickered to life shortly after the tallying of votes began.

There was an upbeat mood as supporters trickled in to watch the live updates of the vote count for the Sarawak election.

It did not take long for them to realise the evening would end on an unhappy note for DAP.

There were only about a dozen people left at about 9pm when Barisan Nasional secured a simple majority and state DAP chief Chong Chien Jen conceded defeat.

He looked deflated and exhausted.

He did not have much to say and the press conference wrapped up after 20 minutes.

The party won only seven of the 31 seats it contested.

In the 2011 election, it contested 15 seats and won 12.

It was a devastating outcome for this ultra ambitious party.

There was a clear Chinese swing back to Barisan given the way Chinese seats fell to Team Adenan.

DAP lost to Barisan even in Repok, where Chinese formed 75 per cent of the voters.

Seats that DAP managed to hold on to saw the majorities shaved by almost 50 per cent.

The party took voters for granted when it persisted in fielding candidates who had personal problems and who had not performed.

For instance, in the fiercely contested Batu Kawah seat, the feedback was that DAP incumbent Christina Chiew had not been effective but she was fielded again.

The party was confident she could beat SUPP president Datuk Dr Sim Kui Hian, who is a cardiologist.

Sadly, even sympathy over her miscarriage which her party announced at a packed finale ceramah, failed to save her.

In Meradong, there had been so much gossip about the personal life of lawyer Ting Tze Fui.

Again, the party took voters for granted, thinking that they did not care about what went on behind closed doors.

After all, she had won in 2006 and 2011, and she was fielded again.

This time, there was no political tsunami to wash away rumours about her private life and she lost.

The party's "Impian Sarawak" project to take on the rural bumiputra seats also ended in a nett loss. In some seats, the independent candidate secured more votes than DAP.

In seats where DAP and PKR took on each other, their combined votes were nowhere near those of Barisan candidates.

Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), at least, managed to hold on to the seats they won in 2011.

"It was total annihilation, we're not ready to make inroads into non-Chinese seats," said a DAP leader from the peninsula.

A private think-tank headed by a media-shy Datuk from Kuala Lumpur said it was folly for DAP to launch its hinterland ambitions at a time when Chief Minister Tan Sri Adenan Satem was so popular.

"They should have focused their manpower and resources on defending what they had," he said.

DAP is in for some serious soul-searching.

It would be all too easy to blame everything on Adenan Fever. What happened in Sarawak also had to do with DAP itself.

Their success in the last two general elections has made them over-ambitious about power and positions.

Their top leaders think they can say and do what they like and people, especially their Chinese supporters, will swallow it without chewing.

They do not realise that people are starting to see through their sloganeering and that the racist and unpatriotic remarks of their cyber troopers are a turn-off for moderate Malaysians.

The problems in Sarawak DAP are not very different from those of their peninsula counterparts. There is also some dynastic politics going on in Sarawak DAP.

DAP has also expanded into unfamiliar territory in the peninsula and in the process, its leaders have stepped on the toes of their Pakatan Harapan allies.

They have become over-confident and arrogant even towards their partners.

The public fight between DAP and PKR over seats cost them the moral high ground.

The level of distrust was heightened by the rivalry between DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and PKR deputy president Datuk Seri Azmin Ali.

There is also some disconnect on the part of DAP leaders with what Sarawakians really care about.

DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang is still a hero among the Chinese crowd but was a flop in connecting with the bumiputra voters.

He told a ceramah in Murum that if DAP succeeded in forming the state government in 2021, the first DAP chief minister of Sarawak was unlikely to be a Chinese and would most likely be a Dayak.

He could not even commit to promising that a Dayak would be the chief minister.

It was so obvious he was keeping the options open for a Chinese to fill the post.

At the nightly ceramah, party workers went around handing out posters with the words, "Mana RM2.6 billion?".

They then asked the crowd to hold the posters in the air while photographers clicked away, after which the posters were collected back to be used at the nextceramah.

The choreography was entertaining but failed to translate into votes.

A Chinese voter from Sarikei summed it up best.

He said many Chinese in Sarawak voted for the opposition in 2011 because DAP promised that Barisan would fall in the 2013 general election.

They overlooked the shortcomings of DAP candidates because they thought they could change the government.

That, he said, did not happen and they decided to vote as they saw fit this time around.

Sarawak has been a rude and loud wake-up call for DAP ahead of the next general election.