Saturday, April 20, 2013

GE13: Historical Moment In The Making?

DAP’s symbol woes rockets PAS moon’s popularity in GE13, say analysts

KUALA LUMPUR, April 20 — The DAP’s willingness to use the PAS moon symbol in Election 2013 over a legal wrinkle could make the Islamist party have a wider appeal to non-Malays who have long feared its conservatism, say analysts.

The DAP’s move is seen as audacious and historic as both broke an earlier pact more than a decade ago over strict implementation of Islamic law in Terengganu which later led to the socialist party’s worst showing in both the 1999 and 2004 elections when the Chinese community punished it for its alliance with PAS.

But in a sign of the times, the party will know by 10am today if it can use its iconic Rocket symbol or opt for allies PKR and PAS symbols in east and Peninsular Malaysia respectively when its candidates file their nomination papers for the May 5 election campaign.

While the impact of the DAP’s decision has yet to be felt on the ground, analysts say the move is pushing the three parties’ loose coalition unwittingly into getting an identifiable common symbol against the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government.

“The decision cuts both ways. On the one hand the possibility that it might scare potential voters away from the DAP.

“But on the other hand there is also the possibility that the symbol of the moon becomes an empty signifier, that it stands for more than one party,” political scientist and lecturer Dr Farish A. Noor told The Malaysian Insider.

The three parties — the DAP, PAS and PKR — formed Pakatan Rakyat (PR) after the last general election in 2008 when they agreed not to contest each other. The pact has yet to be formalised and does not have a common symbol despite their close co-operation.

The DAP is contesting in 51 federal and 103 state seats across the country while its allies take the remaining share of the 222 federal and 505 state seats up for contest from today.

The decision on symbols for the election came over 48 hours before Nomination Day today when the Registrar of Societies (RoS) wrote to the DAP, saying it won’t recognise the current leadership due to complaints of irregularities in a party election last December. Party officials then concluded it had no power to authorise candidates to use its registered symbol in Election 2013.

“If that is the case, the Pakatan Rakyat now has a symbol to stand for the whole because the symbol doesn’t just stand for PAS but also for its allies,” Farish said, referring to the PAS moon symbol being used in Peninsular Malaysia.

“The moon is now equal to the dacing (weighing scales),” he added, referring to BN’s ubiquitous symbol. The BN is made up of 13 component parties led by chairman Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s Umno party.

Monash University Malaysia’s Professor James Chin said the RoS move will led to a “massive sympathy vote for the DAP”, adding that voters will see it as harassment.

He acknowledged that there were pockets of Chinese voters who might refuse to cast their ballots for the PAS moon as it symbolised strict Islamic laws and social limits but said they have changed their mind over the past decade.

“So now the DAP can say it has landed on the moon and this is the group that will support the coalition, not symbols,” Chin said, adding the analysis that old Chinese voters will not support PAS is “no longer valid”.

He also noted that PAS was playing the Islamic state card in 1999 and 2004 that alienated a number of voters but has now gone to the stump on an Islamic welfare state model that was attractive to a wider audience.

“The real danger is in post-election if the candidate using the moon logo wins big. Then officially PAS has the larger bloc of seats compared to PKR to decide the pact’s leadership,” said Chin.

Yesterday, PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat hailed the DAP’s move to use the PAS logo as a “great blessing” for his party, saying the move would lead to the death of Islamophobia in Malaysia.

“Be confident that this historic decision will be remembered throughout the ages. This is the moment when the rocket lands on the moon,” he said, referring to the DAP’s rocket symbol and PAS’s moon.

Some DAP members have also indicated the move could help the predominantly ethnic-Chinese party pick up more votes among the majority ethnic-Malay population.

“This will be a game-changer,” the DAP’s chief election strategist Ong Kian Ming was quoted as saying in the Wall Street Journal, adding: “We expect non-Malays to see through BN’s move to deny us a right to our party symbol. Campaigning under the PAS flag could help us secure more Malay votes.”

A total of 13.3 million voters, including 5,200 registered to vote from abroad, are eligible to cast their ballots for the 13th general election that is said to be the tightest since 1969.


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