Democratic Action Party

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The Democratic Action Party (DAP, Parti Tindakan Demokratik in Malay) is Malaysia's largest secular and Socialist opposition party. Its core constituency is urban non- Muslim voters and largely dominated by Malaysian Chinese, with strongholds in areas such as Penang, Perak, and Sarawak. It has gained prominence through its strong opposition of Bumiputra privileges guaranteed by Article 153 of the Constitution. As of 2006, it is the largest opposition party in the Dewan Rakyat, the lower house of Parliament.


The DAP was originally the Malaysian branch of the Singaporean People's Action Party (PAP). However, Singapore seceded from the federation in 1965, just two years after the territories had merged. Most of the Malaysian PAP members decided to remain with the original party, but those that decided to continue the party, including future President of Singapore Devan Nair, stayed in Malaysia to form the DAP in October 1965. The party formally registered itself as a democratic socialist party on March 18, 1966. In the August of that year, the official party organ, The Rocket, was first published. At the first DAP National Congress held in Setapak, Kuala Lumpur on July 29, 1967, the DAP declared itself to be "irrevocably committed to the ideal of a free, democratic and socialist Malaysia, based on the principles of racial and religious equality, social and economic justice, and founded on the institution of parliamentary democracy".

In October that year, the DAP joined 55 other socialist parties belonging to the Socialist International (SI) at the SI International Conference in Zurich, Switzerland.

Nair, who founded the DAP, later returned to Singapore. Lee Kuan Yew, then Prime Minister of Singapore under the PAP, explained in 1981 that "the Cabinet decided that Singapore-Malaysia relations would always be bedevilled if Devan Nair remained a DAP leader. I persuaded him to come back."

The DAP contested a general election for the first time in 1969. The DAP campaigned strongly against Bumiputra privileges such as those afforded to them by Article 153 of the Constitution. They also continued Lee Kuan Yew's campaign for a " Malaysian Malaysia", which was originally stated by Lee in Parliament as: "Malaysia — to whom does it belong? To Malaysians. But who are Malaysians? I hope I am, Mr Speaker, Sir. But sometimes, sitting in this chamber, I doubt whether I am allowed to be a Malaysian."

The DAP went on to win 13 Parliamentary seats and 31 State Assembly seats, with 11.9% of all valid votes that were cast in the election; the Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia (Gerakan) which campaigned on a similar platform also made major gains. The 1969 election marked the biggest gains ever made by an opposition party in Malaysia, and came close to seeing the ruling Alliance toppled from power. However, a march made by the DAP along with Gerakan as part of the opposition led to violence, and resulted in what was euphemistically termed the May 13 Incident. Parliament was suspended for two years, and the executive branch of the government assumed power.

When Parliament reconvened, it passed several pieces of legislation such as the Sedition Act that illegalised discussion of repealing certain portions of the Constitution. Most of these concerned Bumiputra privileges, such as Article 153. The DAP and the People's Progressive Party (PPP) were the only parties that voted against the Act, which passed by a vote of 125 to 17.

After the 1969 election, the DAP never came close to repeating its past successes again. Although the DAP has continued to be a major opposition party, the government has managed to cling solidly to its two-thirds Parliamentary majority. The DAP, however, continued campaigning on its platform of abolishing Bumiputra privileges and establishing a socialist state in Malaysia. In 1987, several of its leaders, including Parliamentary Opposition Leader Lim Kit Siang, were detained by the government without trial under Ops Lalang for being a threat to national security. It is widely believed they were arrested for protesting the New Economic Policy (NEP) that expanded Bumiputra privileges.

Following the ousting of Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim in September 1998, DAP co-founded the Barisan Alternatif coalition along with PAS and the newly formed Keadilan. However, the coalition did not work out very well for the DAP, with two of its top leaders, Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh losing their Parliamentary seats in the 1999 election; the DAP managed to win only 10 out of 193 seats in Parliament. PAS became the leading opposition party in Parliament. It left the coalition in 2001 due to a disagreement with PAS over the issue of an Islamic state.

In the 2004 elections, the DAP managed to capture 12 seats in Parliament, while PAS and Keadilan suffered major setbacks, with PAS losing 20 of the 27 seats it had held after the 1999 elections. The eventual outcome saw Lim Kit Siang, who had been elected in his constituency of Ipoh Timur with a majority of 10,000 votes, formally elected as the leader of the opposition in Parliament, a post he had lost to the president of PAS in 1999.

In the 2006 Sarawak State Elections, the Democratic Action Party won 6 of the 12 seats it contested and narrowly lost three other seats with narrow majorities. This is the party best showing ever in the history of Sarawak state elections since 1979. It is also the first time DAP fielded a candidate of Malay ethnicity.

Chairman and Central Executive Committee

Lim Kit Siang was the chairman of the DAP from 1999 to 2004. Until then, he had been Secretary-General of the party since 1969. In 2004, he stepped down in favour of Karpal Singh as the new Chairman. His son, Lim Guan Eng became Secretary-General. Lim decided to take an advisory role as Chairman of the DAP Policy and Strategic Planning Commission. Lim remained as Parliamentary Opposition Leader.

As of 2006, the DAP Deputy Chairman is Tan Seng Giaw, the Member of Parliament (MP) for Kepong. The four vice-chairmen are M. Kulasegaran, MP for Ipoh Barat, Zulkifli Mohammad Noor, Chow Kon Yeow and Richard Wong.

The DAP also has a Central Executive Committee (CEC). In 2004, 402 (of 591 total national delegates) delegates were present to vote for members of the CEC. The top three were Tan Kok Wai (MP for Cheras) with 337 votes, Fong Po Kuan (MP for Batu Gajah) with 334 votes and Chow Kon Yeow with 333 votes.

Prominent leaders

Members of Parliament

  • Penang
    • Chow Kon Yeow (Tanjong)
    • Lim Hock Seng (Bagan)
    • Chong Eng (Bukit Mertajam)
    • Karpal Singh (Bukit Gelugor)
  • Perak
    • Fong Po Kuan (Batu Gajah)
    • Lim Kit Siang (Ipoh Timor)
    • M Kula Segaran (Ipoh Barat)
  • Federal Territory
    • Tan Seng Giaw (Kepong)
    • Tan Kok Wai (Cheras)
    • Fong Kui Lun (Bukit Bintang)
    • Teresa Kok Suh Sim (Seputeh)
  • Sarawak
    • Chong Chieng Jen (Bandar Kuching)


Other prominent members include Secretary General Lim Guan Eng, and ex-party member Tan Sri Lee Lam Thye. Lim Guan Eng was unable to contest in the 2004 general election due to specific legal requirements not being met at nomination time.

Lee Lam Thye has since been active as a social activist, particularly in the Malaysian Crime Prevention Foundation, the Malaysian Red Crescent, the Royal Commission on Police, and the National Service Programme. He was previously an elected MP for Bukit Bintang.

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