Grassroots members have mixed feelings over DAP-Umno friendship

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DAP and Umno grassroots members say they have mixed feelings about the cooperation between the two parties given as their friendship is still new.

“Strange” and “uncomfortable” were some of the words used by Umno and DAP members when asked about their feelings about working with each other but they were also looking forward to strengthening the friendship.

During the DAP national congress on Sunday (Sept 10), some delegates said they felt awkward about Barisan Nasional chairman Datuk Seri Dr Ahmad Zahid Hamidi’s presence at the party’s conference in Putrajaya, while others described it as a political milestone.

According to a 40-year-old party delegate from Perak, Ahmad Zahid’s presence was historic and “weird” at the same time.

“We were relentlessly attacking Umno and Ahmad Zahid during GE15. Surprisingly, we are now welcoming him with open arms at our national conference.

“It is weird. But perhaps politics is maturing in the country,” said the businessman.

Another 49-year-old division leader from Johor, who wanted to be known as Wong, said there was an air of awkwardness when Ahmad Zahid walked in.

“I could hear some delegates criticising the party leadership for losing their principles.

“I have no problem with the cooperation but DAP has to do more to convince its grassroots,” he said.

Meanwhile, another senior leader from DAP admitted it has been an uphill task to convince the grassroots about its collaboration with Umno.

“Initially (last year), I received a lot of scolding from grassroots leaders and supporters.

“But the scoldings have now lessened because many are looking at the bigger picture that it is better to have a moderate government compared to Perikatan Nasional,” said the senior leader.

However, the senior leader admitted that more efforts are needed to convince the DAP grassroots.

“We won handsomely in Pulai and Simpang Jeram but the work does not stop there.

“We must win the hearts and minds of as many people as we can. Preparations for the 16th General Election start now,” said the senior leader.

An Umno branch chief from an east coast state said his fellow colleagues are “somewhat suspicious” of DAP after decades of name-calling and animosity between them.

He said efforts to convince Umno members to accept DAP have been challenging, especially since they are unsure of the best narrative to use.

“I can see in the last few state elections and by-elections how hard the Pakatan and DAP machinery have been working and the efforts they made to convince us that we are not enemies.

“For decades, we have been told and taught that DAP is the enemy. How do you change decades of negative perception in a few months?

“It wasn’t long ago when DAP leaders and members demonised our president (Ahmad Zahid) and called for him to be sent to jail. It hasn’t been easy for me to convince my branch members although I can see the DAP’s sincerity,” the branch chief said.

A senior Umno leader said although suspicion still exists, the party leadership found that grassroots members are slowly adapting to the new friendship.

“Generally, our (Umno and DAP) grassroots members are adapting and I can say that Umno members can accept DAP, except for a few DAP leaders who are known to have made extreme statements in the past.

“Umno members can forgive name-calling but touching on sensitive issues such as Islam and the rights of the Malay community are difficult to forget.

“I hope both DAP – and from our side as well – will be able to manage party members or leaders who have the tendency to make insensitive remarks,” he said. – The Star