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Sunday May 8, 2011

Chinese voters must decide

The question is whether the Chinese community wishes to be in the government or the opposition in the next general election.

IT’S a month now since the Sarawak state polls and Tan Sri Taib Mahmud, who was the target of the emotional election campaign, remains the Chief Minister.

He delivered 35 out of the 35 seats contested by Parti Pesaka Bumiputra Bersatu and convincingly won in his Asajaya stronghold, with his opponents losing their deposits.

The calls for Taib, the longest serving Chief Minister, to step down have since stopped.

Despite the cry for change, nothing has changed. Taib is still the man in charge and he still holds the key to the state’s 29 Barisan Nasional MPs in the safe deposit box.

Painful as it may sound, the reality is that the only change that has occurred is the Chinese voters have committed their representation to the opposition.

The fact is that Taib delivered in the state’s fiercest election, where over 200 candidates contested in 71 seats, and he made sure Barisan won with the two-thirds majority intact by winning 55 seats.

PKR, which contested the largest number of seats for Pakatan Rakyat, was a wash-out, managing to win only three of the 49 seats it went for.

PAS failed so badly, with some of its candidates losing their deposits.

The point is that the bulk of the Malay, Melanau and Dayak seats remained with the Barisan.

PKR generated much hype about capturing the state, with Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim even declaring at mid-point of the campaign that Pakatan was looking beyond denying the Barisan the two-thirds majority.

It was a foregone conclusion even before the nominations that the urban Chinese voters would go to the DAP. And, as predicted, the DAP won 12 seats, almost wiping out SUPP.

It would not be wrong to deduce that Taib had gone to the polls knowing that the Chinese voters had abandoned him and SUPP could not deliver but the bumiputra votes would be solid.

Even in the suburbs of Kuching, where bumiputra voters are fully exposed to issues, they strongly backed the Barisan.

For all their euphoria, PKR and PAS could not deliver the bumiputra seats, and that meant capturing the state was impossible.

Essentially, the Chinese is now in the opposition.

The bottom line is that voting was along racial lines, much as some might wish to gloss over it. Even Sarawak PKR chief Baru Bian – who was picked to be the new CM should Pakatan win but ended up as not even the state opposition chief – argued on the ethnic factor, snubbing the Pakatan Shadow Cabinet because he felt it did not have enough bumiputra representation.

Similarly, PAS has always consistently said its role is to push for an Islamic representation. It has always been honest about its goal and agenda.

Racial representation certainly does matter in any government, whether Barisan or Pakatan, as Baru Bian himself has acknowledged. And no matter how we argue, the DAP won in the Chinese areas.

The DAP has said that it makes no difference whether SUPP is in the state government or not. But that remains to be seen and evalua­ted in the next five years.

Now comes the question of the Chinese representation at federal level. Anti-establishment sentiments among the Chinese remain strong with their grouses pertaining to economic opportunities, places in public universities, career opportunities in public services, abuse of the affirmative actions and religious concerns.

The Chinese community has always placed strong emphasis on continued progression. Their migratory patterns to seek better lives have long been recorded. Even in countries that are predominantly Chinese – China, Taiwan and Singapore – the community always wants more.

Any politician who asks Chinese voters to be grateful would only commit political suicide, given the fact that the community makes up one of the largest group of personal income tax contributors in Malaysia.

Development is after all the duty of the government. That’s what politicians are supposed to do.

But it has also been frustrating for the MCA, the largest Chinese partner in the Barisan. It has a record in education which no Chinese-based party in Malaysia can match. Hundreds of thousands have graduated from Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman and now Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman.

It cannot be denied that even critics of the MCA have benefited in some ways from the party. As an example, many are sending their children to KTAR or Utar, which are heavily subsidised by the party and its supporters. It would be more acceptable to suggest that the MCA need to do more.

At the MCA headquarters, every day there is such a long queue of people seeking help from the party’s officials. It resembles a busy hospital scene.

Certainly, it has been dampening and even heart-wrenching for the party to be asked what it has done for the Chinese. It has now come to a head-on: Should the Chinese vote opposition but turn to the MCA for help?

It is clear that MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek is not accepting such an arrangement. The party has decided that should it fare worse than in the 2008 polls, the MCA would not accept any government position – not even municipal council, district committee or hospital advisory board posts.

The decision should be regarded not as a threat but as a matter of choice. The wishes of the community must be respected as massive defeats for the MCA in the next polls can only be seen as the wish of the voters to reject Chinese representation in government.

No dignified Chinese leader – whether MCA, Gerakan or SUPP – should accept a senator’s post after publicly pledging he would not accept any government post this time. It would be simply demeaning.

The MCA has readily admitted that it would have little legitimacy to be in government if it is rejected by the community. For sure, it would have little bargaining power if it is regarded as non-representative of the Chinese community.

If it does not perform well, then the MCA should pack up, accept the rejection, stay on the sidelines for the next five years and let its political opponent take up the interests of the Chinese community.

In the next general election, the likelihood is that the DAP has a good chance of retaining Penang. But there can never be a Penang factor elsewhere.

In Kedah, PAS is facing a strong challenge while in Perak, the political scenario has changed drastically with the Barisan regaining much ground.

Of the 222 parliamentary seats, only 40-odd seats are Chinese majority with over 65% Chinese votes. There are about 30-odd racially mixed seats. That means the Chinese political clout is restricted, and it has not helped with the population continuing to decline sharply.

In Selangor, the official statistic is that it is only 29% of the five million population, and in Penang with its more than one million population, the Chinese are reportedly no longer the majority.

In 1957, the Chinese made up 45% of the country’s population. But the projection is that by 2035, it will drop to 18.6% if the decline continues.

With the indication now that Malay and Indian votes have returned to the Barisan, the scenario is moving towards an unhealthy situation where Malays are in government and the Chinese are on the opposition.

PKR and PAS are fully aware of the Malay shift, with PKR re-emphasising its commitment to protecting Malay special rights while the Islamist party is expected to do the same at its general meeting next month in a move to regain the Malay votes.

The question is whether the Chinese community wishes to be the king-maker, to be in the government or the opposition, in the next general election.

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