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A game of numbers for DAP's Malay candidates gamble

DAP is taking a chance in several hot seats this general election, in what analysts say could be an attempt to change its image as a Chinese-majority party.

Teoh Yee Shen
3 minute read
Fatin Zulaikha Zaidi, DAP's candidate in Mersing, raises her arms alongside other party candidates for the state of Johor in the 15th general election at an event in Skudai on Oct 30. Photo: Bernama
Fatin Zulaikha Zaidi, DAP's candidate in Mersing, raises her arms alongside other party candidates for the state of Johor in the 15th general election at an event in Skudai on Oct 30. Photo: Bernama

Analysts say DAP's chances of winning in seats where it has fielded Malay candidates for the 15th general election (GE15) will boil down to the ratio composition of voters in that particular constituency. 

DAP's strategy, which came amid surveys claiming a drop in Malay support for its umbrella coalition Pakatan Harapan (PH), has seen it field nine candidates for parliamentary seats and four at the state level.

In Johor, it is fielding Sheikh Umar Bagharib Ali (Ayer Hitam), Fatin Zulaikha Zaidi (Mersing), and Shazwan Zdainal Abidin (Pontian). 

In Kedah, it is fielding Zulhazmi Shariff (Jerai), and in Pahang, Tengku Zulpuri Shah Raja Puji (Lipis) and Young Syefura Othman (Bentong). 

The remaining candidates for parliamentary seats are Ahmad Tarmizi Mohd Jam (Gerik) in Perak, Syahredzan Johan (Bangi) in Selangor and Syerleena Abdul Rashid (Bukit Bendera) in Penang.

At the state level, meanwhile, DAP is fielding Zulpuri and Muhammad Khairil Khalid in Pahang, and Abdul Aziz Bari and Badrul Hisham Badarudin in Perak. 

The gamble is seen as particularly big in seats such as Bentong and Ayer Hitam – in Ayer Hitam, for example, Sheikh Umar is up against MCA's number one man, party president Wee Ka Siong. 

DAP came close to unseating Wee at the 2018 general election, when it fielded Liew Chin Tong who lost by a margin of just 303 votes. 

Political analyst Ahmad Atory Hussain said Malay DAP candidates stood a chance of winning in seats where the ratio of Chinese voters is higher than 65%. 

Atory, of Universiti Sains Malaysia, however cautioned that this would depend on the candidates fielded by other parties. 

"If the Chinese vote is split by Chinese candidates, DAP's Malay candidates might lose," he said. 

In Ayer Hitam, more than 50% of the voters are Malay. In Lipis, meanwhile, a new seat for DAP and seen as a Barisan Nasional (BN) stronghold, Malays make up 78% of the electorate followed by the Chinese (16%), Indians (5%) and others (1%). 

DAP, a party most often associated with the Chinese, had tried before to field Malay candidates in what was perceived as an attempt to gain more non-Chinese support. 

In the Teluk Intan by-election in 2014, for example, it fielded Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud against then Gerakan president Mah Siew Keong. Mah won what turned out to be a tight race, with 50.30% of the votes against Dyana's 49.70%. 


Political analyst Tang Ah Chai said there were likely two objectives for DAP in naming Malay candidates for seats. 

"First, to slowly change its Chinese-majority impression to that of a multiracial party, and second, to make naming Malay candidates a norm for future elections," he said. 

He said this would contribute to its efforts to deepen its multiracial impression among the public. 

But whatever the fate of DAP's Malay candidates at the upcoming election, both Tang and Atory agreed that MCA's comeback since the 2018 polls did not guarantee the same wave of success for the BN component this time around. 

MCA suffered nationwide losses at the 14th general election, leaving Wee the only MP from the party.

The following year, the party gained another MP in the Tanjung Piai by-election which saw Wee Jeck Seng winning with a majority of over 15,000 votes.

BN also scored a victory in the Johor election in March, which saw MCA winning several state seats held by DAP such as Yong Peng, Paloh and Pekan Nanas. 

Tang said MCA might have a slightly better chance this weekend in seats like Labis, Ayer Hitam and Tanjung Piai.

"But what happened in the previous elections won't necessarily happen again," he added. 

"In other constituencies such as those in the Kuala Lumpur and Selangor area, MCA will have zero chance – in Penang, too." 

Atory meanwhile said MCA would find it difficult to regain support amid DAP's success in rallying the Chinese vote. 

"A voter turnout of less than 65% made MCA win a few seats in the Johor election," he said. 

"But if it's a voter turnout of more than 75%, BN might lose. So BN's victory in Johor is not a yardstick for the Nov 19 polls."