More young Malays are thinking for themselves and not afraid to defy convention in their political choices. It takes courage to go against the grain and those who stand out from the crowd are often vilified for daring to be different. Several young Malay DAP members tell us why DAP best represents their aspirations.
I’m no less Malay
“This party isn’t about favouring one race. Where does it say that DAP is only for non-Malays? This is a fallacy, a deceit, something that irresponsible people say.”
Many accusations were hurled at Syerleena on social media after she join DAP in 2013. Some asked how religious she was, others questioned whether she was really a Malay.
The DAPSY Bukit Bendera Branch Secretary acknowledges that choosing DAP is not an easy path for a Malay, from the name-calling and comments she received, to reports that Malays in the party are murtad (apostates) or disloyal to the country.
“Every once in awhile you come across these absurdities, you just have to shake it off and say, it’s not real.”
“You can be Malay and not support UMNO”
We’ve seen a lot of Malays being targeted for their political beliefs, like Zairil Khir Johari and Dyana Sofya who deal with threats on a daily basis.
As Syerleena puts it, things are getting to the point where you have to show people that it’s okay to believe in something.
“A person can be a Muslim and a Malay, and support a different party that’s not UMNO,” she stresses.
The fear of societal perceptions is a barrier that keeps some Malays away from DAP, however Syerleena says they should not be deterred by this.
“When you’re Malay, it’s almost as though you’re expected to join a certain party. For people who live in a certain area, within the community there’s an expectation (for them to join that party).
“Those who control the media (use it to) spread misinformation. They’re the ones who say, if you pledge allegiance to a different belief system, that makes you less of Malay or Muslim. We should try to get rid of this fear.”
Never one to let fear rule her, Syerleena is an active member of Aliran and often contributes articles to various publications, writing freely about her thoughts on the nation and the political struggles we face.
I asked her why she chose to sign up as a member instead of just supporting the party silently, or through her vote.
“When I do something, I want to give my 101%. I don’t want to do something halfway, to be content with just supporting the party… Let’s take it to a proactive level, let’s be part of the movement for change. That’s how I see (political) participation.”
Moving into maturity
Syerleena believes that Malaysians are more than ready to embrace a new era and a new sense of political maturity is inevitable. The events leading up from the reformasi era to Bersih rallies and the 12th, 13th general elections portray the readiness of the people, she says.
On the other hand, she admits that DAP faces a lot of resistance from some segments of society. For example, when those like (Subang Jaya Assemblyperson) Hannah Yeoh openly engages the Malay community and visits mosques, they receive a lot of backlash.
“In a sense whatever that DAP does to bridge the gap and connect with certain communities… it’s the backlash that people remember. It’s not productive.
“It’s easy to say that the party is just focusing on (portraying a certain) image by organising events like buka puasa (breaking of fast), but things like that shouldn’t be overshadowing the important issues that we are addressing.”
Malaysians may come from different backgrounds but at the end of the day, we just want what’s best for our future generations. That’s the one thing that unites all Malaysians, she says.
“Special treatment” for Malays in DAP?
Malays do not receive ‘preferential treatment’ in DAP, Syerleena says. “I don’t feel I’ve received any kind of special treatment just because of who I am.
“The party stresses on merit. Which is a good thing. It’s very positive, and that engages a lot of other people to come in. It opens up a new direction where this party will be heading towards.”
The best thing about being involved in DAP is the level of enthusiasm displayed by everyone of all ages, she says. With her background in the tourism industry, Syerleena enjoys meeting people and finds the neverending exchange of ideas fun.
“Even the aunties (are very gung ho) – they come from a different era where Malaysians could mingle freely without having to worry about what society thinks.
“That’s the unique bond that we need to remind ourselves of. This is what we should be doing as Malaysians.”
In her experience, party members have been very supportive and there’s a sense of kinship within the movement. We may come from different backgrounds, but the struggle is still the same, she says.
She also has her family’s blessings as they understand her desire to join DAP to improve the situation for all Malaysians.
How can DAP change the cultural barriers which are so difficult to budge? The best approach is by taking one step at a time, she believes.
“Steps are being taken. When you look at what we have achieved in the past two general elections… we’re talking about six years of change that we’re able to see.
“For example, let’s focus on education. When we talk about education, this is something that transcends all barriers. To me it’s a very important issue. It’s the one thing that can guarantee the development of Malaysia.
“We should focus on things like this instead of silly things… let’s not divert from what is important.” -The Rocket
(* To read the full version of this article and other stories, buy the September issue of The Rocket)