Dyana Sofya’s candidacy in the Teluk Intan by-election is signficant in more ways than one.
Her candidacy could potentially herald a breakthrough for New Politics and signal a further shift away from the Old Politics that emphasises issues of race and religion.
This New Politics – issue-based politics that cuts through identity barriers – has been embraced by an increasing number of younger Malaysians as evident in their participation in various public interest campaigns such as Bersih and protests (e.g. against Lynas, Barang Naik, GST and TPPA).
Coming in the wake of the hudud controversy and cynical attempts to use race and religion to divert attention away from public interest concerns, Dyana has entered the fray and in the process broken the mould of the right-wing pressure groups. These groups would prefer us to think that Muslims are homogenous and uniform in their acceptance of a conservative narrow agenda – an agenda that is integral to the Old Politics in Malaysia.
Dyana shows us that the Malay-Muslim community cannot be stereotyped so easily and that there is a diversity of views within the community about what being Malaysian, what being Muslim, is all about. Through her candidacy, she is presenting herself as an alternative role model to younger Malaysian – showing them how youthful energy and idealism can be positively channelled into politics, specifically the New Politics of articulating public interest concerns that cut across barriers of ethnicity and religion. “I had seen how racial politics was nothing but a scam,” she said.
How far the New Politics advances need not depend on the outcome of the Teluk Intan by-election. Already the die has been cast, not just for the DAP but for Malaysian politics in general. And not a moment too soon, given the depressing political landscape where shrill right-wing voices type take delight in imposing their narrow views on the rest of us.
Dyana’s entry serves as a timely reminder that we must move away from the Old Politics. It is this possibility of a sea-change in politics – a shift to New Politics – that has given the BN and Mahathir in particular an almighty fright as they face the prospect of being increasingly abandoned by a younger generation of voters, who regard the Old Politics has long past its sell-by date. Gerakan’s Mah is just a victim of this phenomenon.
The by-election shows us that politics need not be all about race and religion but should transcend that to focus on the common good – issues that matter to the people. Teluk Intan gives us hope that the time for New Politics has come.
Will political parties in future look less at the ethnic composition of voters in constituencies when choosing their candidates and more at who is best capable of representing the interests of ALL the people? That is a key challenge in the move towards New Politics.