DAP has long struggled to find a foothold in the Malay community where it is often branded as a “chauvinist” party associated with pro-Chinese leanings, especially in issues like language and education.
Although it has worked before with Malay parties like PAS, Semangat 46 and Bersatu, the only time it succeeded in forming the federal government was in 2018, as part of the Pakatan Harapan (PH) coalition led by Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
It was the presence of Mahathir and Bersatu, his party at the time, that was credited with drawing the Malay vote to PH despite the community’s distrust of DAP.
On Sunday, the party elected a new secretary-general – Seremban MP Anthony Loke Siew Fook – to replace Lim Guan Eng who had held the post for the maximum of three terms.
While Lim was appointed as chairman, in DAP, it is the post of secretary-general that is considered the most influential.
Lim, the finance minister under PH, is known for his outspoken manner while Loke, who held the portfolio of transport minister, is seen as more relaxed.
Loke’s command of Malay is also better than that of many others in the party leadership, which could give him an edge in bridging the gap with the Malay community.
But it remains to be seen whether personality will be enough to win them over.
For Seremban Umno Youth chief Zool Amali Hussin, personality is not the issue.
“DAP is DAP,” he said to MalaysiaNow, adding that the party’s ideology would not change with its leadership.
“Even its stint in Putrajaya was not enough to change the Malay perception of DAP.”
Veteran journalist G Manimaran however said that Loke’s “softer” personality could widen acceptance of the party among all races.
Adding that Loke was a third generation leader, he said he was also a new face.
“Among the Malays, Loke will be seen as a more people-friendly leader than those who came before,” he told MalaysiaNow.
Political observer Wong Chin Huat agreed, saying DAP’s negative image among the Malays would fade with Loke as its top leader.
At 44, Wong said, Loke was about a generation behind the leaders of other parties such as Anwar Ibrahim, Mohamad Sabu, Muhyiddin Yassin and Ahmad Zahid Hamidi.
“The big age difference will also attract the attention of voters who want someone from the next generation, including the Malays,” he told MalaysiaNow.
Wong said Lim entered Parliament in 1986, at a time of tense interracial ties. Loke, on the other hand, entered Parliament in 2008 when more Malays had accepted DAP as part of the opposition, he said.
“Loke is known for his attentive and subtle political style,” he said.
Manimaran however said that ties with Malay parties like PAS and Bersatu would not depend wholly on Loke’s personality.
“This issue must be looked at collectively within PH, especially in terms of facing the 15th general election,” he said.
Wong meanwhile said that even though Loke had good ties with some leaders in Bersatu and PAS, this did not mean that DAP would support a “big tent” approach which included PH and Perikatan Nasional.
“DAP supporters will not suddenly embrace Bersatu and PAS again on their leader’s orders after being enemies for so long,” he said.
Zool meanwhile sees no prospects for DAP and Umno.
“Umno will still do its best to take the Seremban seat from Loke,” he said.
“We have our strategies.”