After being in opposition politics for 22 months, the MCA president unexpectedly returned to the government to be the Transport Minister early last week.
His deputy in MCA Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon was appointed Deputy Education Minister I, while vice-president Datuk Lim Ban Hong was named Deputy International Trade and Industry Minister.
Tanjung Piai MP Datuk Seri Dr Wee Jeck Seng has become Deputy Primary Industries and Commodities Minister.
If this is a bundle of good news for MCA, the first person this Chinese political party should thank is none other than 94-year-old Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad.
The political chaos caused by the resignation of Dr Mahathir as prime minister on Feb 24 provided an opportunity for a change in political dynamics and realignment of forces.
The week of Feb 24 saw fast and shocking political developments resulting from the scramble for support among political leaders to form new alliances after the government of Dr Mahathir collapsed the same day he quit.
However, MCA’s “premature” return to the government after a short stint in opposition is no honeymoon for its ministers.
The party was voted out of power in the May 2018 general election, along with its allies in Barisan Nasional, then headed by Umno’s Datuk Seri Najib Razak.
As the only Chinese party in the current government, MCA will inherit all the unresolved problems linked to the Chinese community, which will inevitably look to MCA for political solutions.
These problems include the old thorny Chinese education matters, comprising long-standing issues such as shortage of teachers and the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) recognition; and new ones that include the introduction of Jawi into Chinese schools by the last regime.
In fact, the first media question posed to Dr Mah after he was appointed deputy education minister was linked to Chinese education.
In addition, the 71-year-old MCA will also have to face pressure from the Chinese community to speak up against possible racism as within the Cabinet are politicians who have a history of uttering remarks with racial undertones.
Although these are no longer new issues, they can still cause tension in the country if they hit news headlines.
As PAS is also inside the new ruling coalition led by Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, there is fear that the Hudud Bill, which the Islamic party failed to get passed in the past, might be re-tabled in Parliament.
There is concern that with only one Chinese full minister in the 32-member Cabinet, Dr Wee’s lone voice may be drowned, although Chinese account for 23% of the 32 million multi-racial population led by Malays (60%), with Indians accounting for 6-7%.
Sensing the heavy task ahead, MCA secretary-general Datuk Chong Sin Woon said in a statement: “We recognise that the path ahead is not an easy one. Nevertheless, we will make every effort to inject more values of inclusivity, diversity, and moderation in the Cabinet to ensure that the new government serves our nation.”
The expectations on MCA and the new government can be felt from a statement by the Federation of Chinese Associations Malaysia (Huazong), soon after the Cabinet was sworn in last Tuesday.
“Huazong hopes the new Perikatan National government will be more open in dealing with Chinese education. This includes allocating annual grants to Chinese independent secondary schools and to recognise the UEC,” said the statement.
Its president Tan Sri Goh Tian Chuan urged the new government to allocate annual grants to colleges set up by the Chinese community.
Hoping for “a fair treatment to the Chinese”, he added: “Even though presently there are only five Chinese full and deputy ministers (four from MCA and one from East Malaysia), the Chinese are still the nation’s second-largest ethnic group.”
He hopes that the government could act fast to save the economy, combat the Covid-19 outbreak and return peace to the country.
Chinese media have also aired the concerns and expectations of the Chinese community.
In its editorial last Wednesday, Nanyang Siang Pau said: “Now that the Cabinet comprises over 75% Malays, non-Malays are worried whether the new government will look after their interest ... The most urgent task of the new government is to bring racial harmony back.”
It noted that all races had been living in harmony until politicians with personal agenda fanned up racial and religious sentiments.
During the second half of the reign of the Pakatan government, voted in by the May 2018 general election, the country was subjected to a lot of stress and tension caused by constant inter-party and intra-party political bickering, divisive religious and racist rhetoric.
Nanyang advised politicians in government to focus more on the bread and butter issues affecting the welfare of the people.
In fact, before the new Cabinet was announced on March 9, Sin Chew Daily’s editorial on March 3 highlighted its concerns in the overwhelmingly Malay-majority government.
As the majority of MPs supporting the alliance of Muhyiddin have come from Umno, Bersatu and PAS, the political reality is that Chinese will have to contend with only very few positions in the Cabinet.
MCA could only contribute two MPs to help Muhyiddin’s alliance achieve the simple majority in the 222-member Parliament to form a new coalition government.
But still, Sin Chew Daily raised this question: “Tan Sri Muhyiddin has said he wants to be the prime minister for all the people. But with the involvement of PAS in his government, will this lead to more Islamisation of the country? Can the few non-Malay ministers from MCA and MIC play an effective role to provide checks?”
It added the Chinese community hopes to see a government adopting moderation and inclusive policies in managing the country.
To the great relief of non-Malays, the prime minister has shown he understands the fears and concerns of the Chinese and Indians.
In his just-minted Cabinet, he did not give PAS the role to take charge of Islamic affairs in the country.
This move has provided some measure of reassurance.
Muhyiddin’s Cabinet sees PAS rejoining the federal leadership after the latter’s 43 years in the opposition.
The three portfolios given to PAS leaders are Environment, Parliament and Law as well as Plantation Industries and Commodities.
As the new coalition government was born out of political upheaval and there is still talk of it facing a no-confidence vote when Parliament resumes in May, Malaysia has come under the close scrutiny of the investing community.
Interestingly, the main concerns of the non-Malays have also been featured in the media statement by Fitch Solutions from the West.
In its report, this credit risk and macro intelligence solutions provider has warned that dissatisfaction and protests could arise among minority ethnic groups if the new Malay-majority Cabinet adopts non-inclusive policies.
Fitch Solutions’ report notes that only 8.6% of portfolios from the Cabinet were given to those from minority groups, with only two full ministers: MCA’s Dr Wee and MIC’s Datuk Seri M. Saravanan as Human Resources Minister.
“One of the key features of the Cabinet is the minimal level of minority representation. This is made starker by the increased size of the cabinet,” read the report.
Other challenges predicted by Fitch Solutions are that Muhyiddin could face issues of inter- and intra-party politicking, especially given the fact that his party Bersatu has only 30 MPs compared to Umno’s 39 MPs.
Against all these odds, the road ahead will not be a smooth and rosy journey for MCA.
How MCA could help the new government to win over Chinese confidence amid an economic slowdown and Covid-19 epidemic will count on the wisdom of Dr Wee and the political will of Muhyiddin.
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