(Also published on The Malaysian Insider)
Before the DAP, I have never been a member of any other political party despite having worked for two think-tanks that were linked to the MCA and Gerakan. Why am I making the decision to join a political party now and why did I choose the DAP?
I believe that our country is at a critical juncture in its history where for the first time since achieving our independence, we have a credible and strong opposition capable of governing at the federal level. This has been most clearly demonstrated in the state governments in Penang and Selangor which have vastly outperformed their predecessors in terms of delivering transparent, accountable, responsiveness and caring governments.
At the same time, despite the various transformation initiatives which have been rolled out by our Prime Minister Najib Razak, there is still a glaring absence of fundamental structural reforms that are necessary to spark a genuine process of transformation. Not only is there the business-as-usual way of ill-conceived and murky deals being done — via the various 1MDB-linked land and asset acquisitions, just to name one — we also see a disturbing ramp-up in fear-mongering attempts by the BN-linked papers such as Utusan in order to raise feelings of ethnic insecurity.
Things seem to be getting worse for the country as a desperate regime clings to power, seemingly at all costs. As such, the time for sitting on the academic sidelines and commentating as an analyst is over. It is time, at least for me, to take the plunge and to play a more active role to bring about a necessary regime change in the country.
While some may say that I could have continued to be a critical voice in the public sphere without joining an opposition political party, especially in the area of evaluating government policy, there are some natural limitations to what one person working in a non-political context can achieve. Playing the role of a check and balance on those in power can be most effectively carried out by opposition political parties and politicians, because that is one of their primary responsibilities.
Coming up with coherent alternative government policies needs to occur within the context of opposition political parties because they are the ones who have the power to implement these policies if they come to power. The important process of discussing and debating policy platforms and political positions can only take place within the context of political parties and one needs to be a member of a party to contribute effectively. While I very much value the voice of civil society, I feel that I can play a more effective role, moving forward, as a member of a political party in providing inputs in my areas of expertise.
Why do I choose to join the DAP specifically?
Firstly, the position which the DAP has taken and continues to take, on major national issues, is consistent with my own political beliefs. The DAP’s vision of a more equitable and just Malaysia that is secular, free from corruption, governed democratically and by the rule of law is a vision which I very much share in. My many columns and comments in newspapers will reflect this, I feel, starting from the time when I was working in two BN-linked think-tanks — the Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research (INSAP) and the Socio-Economic Development and Research (SEDAR) Institute. For example, I have been writing and researching on the issues of electoral reform and of ensuring a clean electoral roll since 2001.
Secondly, I have great respect for the many sacrifices which many of the DAP leaders have made because of their political beliefs including being beaten up, humiliated and even jailed under the various repressive laws that continue to exist in this country. Leaders like Lim Kit Siang, Lim Guan Eng, Karpal Singh and Teresa Kok, just to name a few, have demonstrated their willingness to walk the walk during their many years of struggle in the political arena.
Thirdly, I have utmost confidence in the leadership of the DAP in its intention to renew its ranks and to bring in fresh perspectives and ideas. My experience in interacting and working with many of the younger DAP leaders including Tony Pua (who invited me to blog about education-related matters way back in 2006), Anthony Loke, Liew Chin Tong, Teo Nie Ching, Chong Chieng Jen, Hannah Yeoh, Wong Kah Woh and Teo Kok Seong has been very positive and has reinforced my confidence that the DAP will be in very good hands in the future. Furthermore, I am very encouraged by the DAP’s efforts in recruiting young and capable future leaders into their ranks including Zairil Khir Johari, Steven Sim and Kasturi Patto.
What kind of role do I see myself playing within the DAP?
I remain committed to the issues which I am passionate about and will continue to highlight issues pertaining to electoral reform, education policy, decentralisation and other aspects of economic policy. Thankfully, I will not be alone as I will have the opportunity to supplement and complement what other DAP leaders have said on these issues. If the opportunity arises, I will also highlight other policy-related issues which are timely and important but which I feel sufficient attention has not been given to.
I will also continue my work as an elections analyst to provide insights and analysis to the DAP.
It will be an interesting learning experience as I navigate the demands of being a member of a political party and to make whatever contributions I can to the DAP as a member. I will obviously have to give up my “hat” of a political analyst but it is a small sacrifice to play in the larger scheme of things.
I look forward to the new challenges that are coming my way and I am excited about the prospects of playing a small but hopefully meaningful role in the context of bringing about positive change to our country as part of the DAP.
(I am in the process of completing the final report on the findings of the Malaysian Electoral Analysis Project (MERAP) which will be published online. I am on sabbatical leave from UCSI University until the end of the year.)