DAP chairperson Karpal Singh is not one to shy from criticising his own political comrades and allies. For him, principles come first. And because of this, the fiery veteran has had no qualms about putting his colleagues in their places, often giving fodder to media speculation that the Pakatan Rakyat (PR) is on the verge of collapse.
There was the time when Karpal told Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim to quit the PR for promoting a culture of party-hopping. He’s also lambasted fellow party leaders, secretary-general Lim Guan Eng and adviser Lim Kit Siang, for not supporting his anti-hopping stand.
He has consistently resisted the idea of an Islamic state, calling on both PAS and Anwar to come clean on exactly what one would look like. And he called PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang an “embarrassment” over proposed unity talks with Umno.
Karpal, sitting between PAS spiritual leader Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat (left) and
party president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang at the PR’s first convention on 19 Dec 2009
In the second and final part of an interview with The Nut Graph conducted in Kuala Lumpur on 20 Jan 2010, Karpal talks about the DAP’s way forward with PAS and PKR.
TNG: About the DAP. In a Chinese-based party, what is your influence as a non-Chinese [Malaysian] party leader? Are you what gives the party its fighting streak?
Karpal Singh: I don’t think so. I get my strong character from the party. I joined this party after the 13 May 1969 riots. I was practising law in Alor Star at the time. I thought something had to be done about what was going on. 13 May was a terrible tragedy. What was needed was a united multiracial society, which I thought could only be brought about by a multiracial party, and not the race-based parties of the time.
No doubt the DAP gets the most support from the Chinese [Malaysians], but that doesn’t make it a Chinese party. We don’t have as many Malay [Malaysians] as we want, which is a handicap to us. Somehow or other, the Malay [Malaysian] mind has been poisoned against the DAP. But I think Malay [Malaysians] now are changing.
In any event, that is being complemented by Malay [Malaysians] in Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) and PAS. It does not matter whether they join us or PKR as long as they are in Pakatan (Rakyat). We have always admitted that it is difficult for us to make much of a headway. In 1999, we lost some seats in the general election over the Islamic state issue. (DAP parliamentary leader Lim) Kit Siang and I held very strong seats but we lost. But it is different now, with the three parties coming together.
What do you think Pakatan’s weaknesses are?
We have to be cohesive. We must be very united on major issues, and that is now true to a great extent. In 1999, our association with PAS was considered the kiss of death. It’s no more now.
We also have to be very careful with who we take in. Pakatan is popular and we don’t want opportunists to come into the party. There are a lot of people frustrated with the BN. Even if they are principled, we should wait for at least two years before entrusting them with leadership.
What are the priority areas in Pakatan‘s common policy framework that can be implemented now?
Pakatan has been consistent on most things in the framework except for local council elections, which is a thorn. In our election manifesto we said that the first thing we would do would be to restore local government elections. This is not in the common policy framework in the manner which it ought to be.
Though we did not have a unanimous agreement, there is progress on the matter, and I think we can come to an agreement before the next general election. But an agreement is one thing. Whether you can lawfully hold local government elections is another. Can we hold it in view of the legislation against it? To overcome this, we must have federal power to make the necessary amendments.
On the DAP’s “middle Malaysia” approach to voters, is this a rebranding exercise?
Fundamentally, we have always been about a Malaysian Malaysia. To woo the middle ground, you have to have that concept. “Middle Malaysia” is about identifying the silent majority and reaching out to them, especially the young, whose thinking is entirely different, even among Malay [Malaysian] youth. By identifying them, we’re zeroing in on them and giving them the message that we are with them. This group will make the difference in the end.
See also Part 1: For Karpal, the personal is political