Chin Tong to help DAP make inroads into Johor, analysts say
DAP strategist Liew Chin Tong’s re-election as Johor party chief over the weekend bodes well for the party’s 15th general election (GE15) strategy in the state, analysts said.
Liew, a senator and former Kluang MP, retained his position as state chairman following intense party polls that saw his team win 10 out of 15 committee seats.
Political commentator Phoon Wing Keong noted that before the 2008 general election, DAP’s influence in Peninsular Malaysia extended only as far south as Malacca.
It was only in 2013 that DAP, with a strategy hatched by Liew, began to expand its reach further south. Liew contested and won in the Kluang parliamentary seat in the general election that year, marking a breakthrough for the Chinese-dominated but multiracial party in a Barisan Nasional (BN) stronghold state.
“Additionally, he has a good relationship with the central party leadership, senior DAP leaders like Lim Kit Siang support him,” said Phoon, who is assistant professor of humanities and social sciences at Southern University College.
Liew has been Johor DAP chief since 2014 and although his newly elected team is criticised by opponents as being made up of only his supporters, Phoon said this is not entirely true as the state committee includes Liew’s rival, Dr Boo Cheng Hau, and four others not aligned to Liew.
Phoon said that despite there being factions, the party’s Johor members have considered the advantages of having Liew in charge with GE15 on the horizon.
For one, it is not easy for DAP to win seats in the state.
“Unless there is a division of constituencies, or Pakatan Harapan (PH) allocates more seats to the DAP, such as the Malay constituencies, it will be hard for DAP to get more seats in Johor to contest,” said Phoon.
“It already has five parliamentary and state seats.”
In the run-up to GE14 in 2018, Liew was among the first to push the idea for DAP to go on the offensive in Johor, as winning there would be the key for PH to win in other parts of the country. This was premised on the fact that Johor was an Umno stronghold and a DAP breakthrough would mean a shattering of traditional support towards the then-BN government.
DAP did achieve unprecedented results in Johor in 2018, winning five parliamentary and 14 state seats, but Liew lost the Ayer Hitam parliamentary seat by a small margin.
Phoon feels Liew can therefore help DAP and the rest of PH in strategising for a GE15 national-level campaign or a post-election coalition after the polls.
“It will test his negotiation skills, strategic thinking, and capabilities especially on the question of whether DAP and PH should work with Umno,” Phoon said.
International Islamic University of Malaysia’s assistant professor Dr Lau Zhe Wei noted how Liew has likened the DAP of old to a “grocery store” and that the party must now transition to become a “big supermarket”.
This includes DAP venturing in Malay seats, said the political science lecturer.
“Should they succeed in garnering Malay voters, this can help DAP advance to a higher level, including forming a coalition government. Malay voters can be more accepting of DAP.”
Liew’s re-election as Johor DAP chief is also important psychologically for the state chapter, as Johor is home ground for Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin, Lau added.
“Should PH, especially DAP, be able to break Johor ground and win the state government or win most of the parliamentary seats, this will pose a threat to Muhyiddin.”
Lau believes DAP should be given extra seats to contest in GE15.
And it will have to take the Ayer Hitam seat from MCA’s Wee Ka Siong.
Lau also believes the party has two other important tasks.
“First, is to demonstrate their ability to govern and participate constructively, but it will need the cooperation of the PKR and Amanah.
“Secondly, it has to deal with the impact of its hard work to reach the Malay community, whereby it often ends up being demonised.”
Lau referred to the case of Bukit Mertajam MP Steven Sim whose recent assistance to a Malay-Muslim constituency member drew accusations of a Christian agenda, a label pro-Umno critics have frequently hurled at DAP.
“DAP needs to capture the hearts of the Malay community through two channels, first at the national level, showing that DAP is not an anti-Malay or anti-Islam or anti-royalty.
“Secondly, at the grassroots level, where it has to be trusted by the Malay community,” said Lau.
THE MALAYSIAN INSIGHT