MALAYSIA - A by-election in a small town in Perak has shaken up Malaysian politics as it features an attractive Malay girl who represents a Chinese-based party and espouses views deemed radical by most Malays.
The candidacy of Ms Dyana Sofya Mohd Daud, 27, for the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP) has hoisted her as an overnight political sensation. Even former premier Mahathir Mohamad has spoken about her, and she gets catcalls during her campaign rounds.
She comes from a family of Umno loyalists and graduated as a lawyer from Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) - an institution that takes in only Malay and bumiputera students.
Yet she is today the political secretary of DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang and last week grabbed headlines after being named its candidate to contest the Teluk Intan state assembly election.
Facing off against her is Datuk Mah Siew Keong, the 53-year-old president of Gerakan, one of the 13 parties grouped under the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition that governs South-east Asia's third-biggest economy. BN is led by the country's biggest political party, United Malays National Organisation (Umno).
The DAP does not release its membership figures but the vast majority of its members are Chinese, as often seen in its big conventions. Its elected 20-member central committee includes two Malays and seven Indians.
In her campaign rounds in Teluk Intan, a small town surrounded by oil palm plantations and rice fields, Ms Dyana - who usually wears baju kurung, a loose Malay two-piece outfit - is charming townspeople with promises to fight for inclusive policies.
But things have hardly been smooth for her since she joined the DAP in 2011, she told The Sunday Times in an interview last Friday.
She said she has received countless messages sent to her mobile phone, anonymously denouncing her political party choice.
"They would say, "You are Malay, you cannot join DAP. But I would think, "Why not?" Even my mother has never said that to me."
To be sure, she is not the only Malay who has joined the DAP despite coming from a family of staunch Umno members.
In the last general election, Mr Zairil Khir Johari, 31 - a son of the late Umno leader and former Education Minister Khir Johari - won a seat in Parliament for the DAP in Penang.
Another DAP MP is Datuk Ariff Sabri Abdul Aziz, who was an Umno assemblyman previously.
"It's not a bother if the candidate comes from a pro-opposition family as from small, she would have been taught to hate Umno," Tun Dr Mahathir said earlier last week.
"As parents, Umno members should tell their children about Umno, its history and what it has done (for country and people), otherwise when they grow up, they will do as they please." Along with Ms Dyana, the other Malay members are helping the DAP shed its image as a party that champions only Chinese causes while pushing aside longstanding Malay rights. In Malaysia's rigid race-based politics, this blurring of the lines has been noticed.
"This is a new generation of Malays that do not particularly warm up to the preferential policies for Malays and want to prove that they can compete with other races if given a chance," Dr Shaharuddin Badaruddin, an analyst at UiTM, told The Sunday Times. "And this is symbolised by the likes of Ms Dyana."
Former New Straits Times group editor-in-chief Abdul Kadir Jasin wrote in his popular blog: "Just days ago, a former female deputy minister from Umno noted with alarm that the DAP's internship programmes were attracting many young Malay participants, most of whom are well educated."
He added: "There must be something particularly strong by way of push and pull factors to encourage a young Malay like Dyana Sofya, who hailed from an Umno family, to join the DAP and be an active member."
Ms Dyana herself said that Umno's political culture is that "the women rarely make it to the top leadership". Her mother Yammy Samad, 59, has also jumped to her side after Dr Mahathir asked why Ms Dyana joined the DAP.
"I tried my very best to bring up Dyana to be like Mukhriz, but when she grew up, she turned out to be like Marina," Madam Yammy told The Malay Mail Online news.
Dr Mahathir's son Mukhriz is the Menteri Besar of Kedah while his daughter Marina often questions Malaysia's race-based policies.
This article was first published on May 25, 2014.
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