The Segamat Utara Parliamentary by-election: A Review and Appraisal

Talk by DAP Organising Secretary, Mr. Lim Kit Siang, to the Klang DAP Branch on Saturday, October 26, 1968 at 8 p.m.

The Democratic Action Party did creditably well in the Segamat Utara Parliamentary by-election. Although we did not win, we have given the Alliance a shock in their Segamat stronghold, and laid a strong basis for victory in the next general elections.

Before the Nomination Day, we had no local organisation in Segamat, as our branch had not been officially set up, and we had only a few members in Segamat.

But in less than a month, despite the absence of a local organisation, shortage of workers, our limited financial resources, and the Alliance’s underhand by-election tactics, we were able to secure 5,731 votes, more than that polled by any opposition party before.

Although the DAP lost, it was an honourable defeat, which will be the stepping stone to future success.

It is difficult, with less than one month’s work, to over-throw the Alliance, which had entrenched itself in Segamat for over 15 years, and in the case of the UMNO in Segamat, over 20 years.

But on the basis of the results of less than one month’s work, we can look forward to the next general elections with hope and confidence. The future of the DAP in Segamat is particularly bright as people of Segamat, of all walks of life, are responding after the by-election in large numbers to the DAP banner to fight democratically and constitutionally for the abolition of corruption, racialism and incompetence as practiced by the Alliance.

Alliance victory a ‘fragile’ one

The Alliance victory is a fragile one. It is the success of a man whose days are already numbered.

The Alliance knew this. This was why they had poured men, material and money into the by-election.

But despite their prodigious expenditure of men, material and money, they could not even equal the 1964 vote, and had their majority slashed from 4,975 to 3,754.

Cabinet Ministers, like Inche Khir Johari, Tan Sri Sardon bin Haji Jubir, Senator Ghaffar Baba, Inche Manikavasagam, followed one another down to Segamat. There were no MCA Ministers, partly because some, like Mr. Khaw Khai Boh, were abroad enjoying Olympic fun and games, while others who were in the country, like Tun Tan Siew Sin, were begged to stay away for fear of losing more votes.

The Alliance spent a fortune in the by-election campaign. On poling day itself, they employed more than 2,000 election workers, and had over 200 cars. A conservative estimate will put the Alliance by-election expenditure over $100,000. All that the DAP spent was less than $5,000.

But despite all these Alliance men, material and money, Inche Musa Hitam, the Alliance candidate, would have done even worse, and might even have lost, if they had not resorted to underhand and dirty tactics.

Some of the major underhand and dirty tactics used by the Alliance in the by-election were:

1) Unholy alliance with the Labour Party to defeat the DAP;
2) Arbitrary disenfranchisement of anti-Alliance voters in towns and new villages;
3) Misuse of public resources and facilities for the Alliance by-election campaign;
4) Campaign of smear, lies and hatred by the Alliance against DAP;
5) Making political issue out of the Sabah affair; and
6) Vote-buying.

(1)Unholy alliance with the Labour Party to defeat the DAP

Although the Segamat Utara Parliamentary by-election was contested by two political parties, the DAP and the Alliance, it was in fact a three-cornered fight, or a two-against-one fight.

There was a third party in the by-election, which held rallies and conducted house-to-house campaigns. This was the Labour Party, which campaigned for a boycott of the by-election.

The Alliance and the Labour Party entered into an unholy alliance to oppose the DAP. The MCA Youth Director of Publicity, Mr. Liew Yuen Thong, made an unashamed attempt to publicly woo the support of the Labour Party at an election rally at the Segamat town padang when he said the Labour Party had more in common with the Alliance, and that they should both unite to defeat the DAP.

The Alliance knew that voters who voted against the Labour Party in the 1964 general elections would not support the Alliance, because they are disillusioned with the incompetence, mismanagement, inefficiency, corruption and racialism of the ruling party.

These anti-Alliance voters will remain remain opposed to the Alliance, and will definitely vote for the DAP if they go to the polls.

If the Labour Party succeeds in its campaign to persuade the voters to boycott the by-election, only the Alliance will benefit, as the DAP will suffer a loss of votes.

It is for this reason that the Alliance government gave every encouragement to the Labour Party in its boycott campaign, giving it permits for rallies throughout the constituency although it was not contesting the by-election.

The Labour Party was made use of by the Alliance in the Segamat Utara Parliamentary by-election. We must therefore see the by-election in its right perspective: as a tacit Alliance-Labour Party united front against the DAP, for fear that the DAP will emerge as the only serious alternative to the Alliance.

(2) Arbitrary disenfranchisement of anti-Alliance voters in towns and new villages

On polling day, at one polling centre in Kampung Abdullah, a new village, there were several hundred voters who found that they had been disenfranchised and stripped of the right to vote. They had voted in previous elections, and had not moved to new addresses, but their names have disappeared from the electoral registers.

These complaints were duplicated in most polling centres in towns and new villages. We estimate that there must be at least 1,000 voters who had been disenfranchised arbitrarily by the government.

The overwhelming majority of these disenfranchised voters would have voted for the DAP, if they had not lost their votes. They had all voted against the Alliance in the past.

The arbitrary disenfranchisement of anti-Alliance voters in towns and new villages is not a new complaint. It had happened in previous elections in most constituencies. But it had not happened in so wide and extensive a scale as in the Segamat Utara by-election.

There is enough ground to suspect that it is the government policy to delete and disenfranchise batches of voters from anti-Alliance areas during the annual revision of electoral registers. Accompanied by the annual increases in the number of rural voters, the Alliance hoped that this will ensure their continued electoral success.

The impartiality and independence of the Election Commission must be in serious doubt unless an inquiry is immediately held into this undemocratic practice of arbitrary disenfranchisement of voters.

The DAP Secretary-General, Mr. Goh Hock Guan, has written to the Elections Commission calling for an inquiry into this matter in Segamat Utara.

(3) Misuse of public resources and facilities for the Alliance campaign

Ministry of Information vans and personnel used to publicise and spread Alliance party propaganda.

Information Ministry officials sent invitations to parents through school children inviting them to attend meetings in schools, on the ground that the Mentri Besar of Johore and other important government officials wanted to discuss important matters with them.

But when the parents turned up, they invariably found the Alliance State Executive Councillor, Mr. Tan Peng Khoon, who was not interested in anything, but asking them to vote for the Alliance on polling day.

Through its control of local councils, the Alliance also denied permission to the DAP to hold public rallies on the eve of polling day. All our applications to have rallies at the Segamat town padang, Kampong Abdullah, Jementah, Pekan Jabi and Gemas Bahru were rejected.

The Alliance used penghulus, paid out of public funds, to be their kampong election canvassers. It is the penghulus who were responsible for getting near 100% voting turn-out in kampongs on polling day. In the by-election, the rural voting percentage exceeded 90% while the polling percentage in towns is below 70%.

(4) Campaign of smear, lies and hatred against the DAP

The Alliance, fearing defeat, launched a campaign of smear, lies and hatred against the DAP. Kampong people were told that if the DAP wins, the Malays would be wiped out and eliminated; that the DAP was opposed to Malay special rights, the monarchy, and having Malay as the National Language.

The Alliance kept driving home the point that the Malays could only survive if they support the UMNO. Of cause, in multi-racial crowds, Alliance leaders spoke the language of tolerance, understanding and multi-racialism.

The Alliance also stooped to character-assassination. I was for instance described as a great chauvinist in the DAP who was responsible for kicking out Mr. Devan Nair from the party leadership because he is an Indian. But when Mr. Devan Nair appeared on the election rally of the DAP, there was silence from the Alliance.

The Alliance also stole blank Rocket poster forms and scribbled extreme slogans. The posters were posted on showcases and in the constituency, to provoke the anger of shop-keepers and the people against the vandalism of the DAP, and to frighten the people by trying to project the DAP as an irresponsible and extremist party.

We have lodged a report with the police.

(5) Turning Sabah issue into a election question

Alliance speakers told voters, particularly in the kampongs, that if they did not vote for the Alliance, they are disloyal and are in conspiracy with President Marcos.

(6) Vote-buying

The Alliance resorted to their traditional technique of buying votes, at $3 to $5 per vote cast for the Alliance.

Election irregularities

On polling day, there were a number of election irregularities. DAP polling agents were not allowed to accompany ballot boxes from the polling booths to the counting centre, while Alliance agents were permitted. There is the case where the DAP agent was refused permission to put the DAP seal on the ballot box after the closing of voting. During the counting of votes, the counting centre was twice plunged into darkness with the cut-off of electricity supply.


In the short span of less than a month, starting from scratch, and in the face of the unfair and undemocratic practices of the Alliance, the DAP has done well in securing 5,731 votes.

We take encouragement from our result in Segamat Utara, which we have always regarded as a difficult seat, as an indication of the growing national disgust with the racialist and corrupt policies of the Alliance.

The Segamat UTARA by-election has also been an excellent trial run for the DAP in the next general elections. The Party Central Executive Committee will be meeting soon, to learn from the lessons of the by-election, and to anticipate Alliance foul play in the next general elections.

Plans are now underway to open up various branches in Segamat, to firmly root the DAP among the people of the constituency.

Audited on 2021-03-05