PAKATAN Harapan’s bitter defeat in Tanjung Piai is a wake-up call from the people to the slumbering government, aimed at arousing its soul as well as opening the eyes of two ignorant parties through their ballots.
How can a ruling government lose more than 15,000 votes in a by-election, garnering less than 30% of support?
Pakatan lost completely in all 27 polling districts in a result that was clearly one-sided. Be they Malay or Chinese, the voters had one thing in mind – to teach the ruling government a lesson.
Despite its overwhelming resources and promises of development, construction projects, aid and gifts, Pakatan failed to shake the will of the voters in Tanjung Piai.
They had already made up their minds following Pakatan’s 18 months of performance (or rather, lack of). It either couldn’t see it or refused to accept it. It remained indifferent to the people’s complaints about the economic downturn.
It also responded with arrogance to the people’s dissatisfaction over the repression of Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TAR UC), and naively asked the people to give it more time to govern.
The people had given them the opportunity; it was Pakatan that failed to seize it.
Any discerning mind could have foreseen Pakatan’s fall on the eve of the polls, with a final mega ceramah set as the climax of its campaign.
Pakatan’s ceramah in Pontian gathered top leaders of Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia and DAP leaders such as Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, Lim Kit Siang, Syed Saddiq Syed Abdul Rahman and Liew Chin Tong as well as Parti Amanah Negara’s Datuk Seri Salahuddin Ayub.
However, the scene that evening looked rather dismal.
Originally scheduled at 7pm but by 8pm, the ceramah was still unable to start as there were only some party workers and journalists with very few members of the public in sight. Anxious party workers went around the area to cajole people to join in, and by 9pm, they only managed to draw about 200 to 300 people.
The ceramah went on and the speakers took the stage one by one. Kit Siang was shouting himself hoarse but the audience barely clapped or cheered.
In less than an hour, the mega ceramah was over.
This was possibly the most deserted pre-election night for DAP, which used to enjoy great turnouts involving thousands if not tens of thousands of people in the past general elections or by-elections.
DAP may ask where did the crowd and applause go? Where did the votes and support go?
If DAP can go quiet after becoming the government, the people, too, can respond with their silence. The Chinese community realised that they could say no to the “rocket”.
DAP, with the Lim father-and-son team at the helm, now faces a tough challenge. Will it accept the Chinese community’s sentiment or remain adamant until the next general election?
Over in Pekan Nanas, at a compound near the wet market, half an hour’s drive away, the scene featuring Barisan Nasional, especially MCA, was an absolute contrast with some 2,000 people in attendance. Speeches by Umno secretary-general Tan Sri Annuar Musa and former defence minister Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein were met with cheers from the crowd.
When it was MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong’s turn to speak, his eloquence and impassioned speech brought the night to a crescendo, something MCA had not experienced in a long time, and new vigour was felt.
Dr Wee said MCA wanted not only to win the by-election but also the support from the Chinese.
For MCA, the victory is especially meaningful as it did not rely on Umno to win or just winning the Malay ticket. It won in all Chinese-majority areas.
With such an achievement, MCA can proudly tell Umno it has the support of the Chinese and the bargaining power in negotiations. It can also send a message to DAP that it is not a Chinese political party that survives on Malay votes.
For this, MCA must thank DAP secretary-general and Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.
His statements of “RM1mil allocation” and “RM30mil in grants for TAR UC once MCA cuts ties with the institution” did not just injure MCA but hurt the Chinese.
At MCA’s ceramah, the party managed to raise thousands of ringgit for TAR UC. A charity sales event even collected more than RM50,000 with a young entrepreneur donating RM20,000 anonymously.
This should remind DAP of its past fundraising days using the Milo tins.
To win Chinese votes, one must first win their hearts.
The Chinese community’s passion for education transcends their dependence on political parties. From the teaching of Jawi calligraphy to the TAR UC issue, the Chinese community has felt deeply hurt and had no way to protest.
A by-election gives them the perfect avenue.
Meanwhile, at a Muafakat Nasional ceramah in Kampung Sawah, there were no chairs nor free food but more than 10,000 people were sitting on the ground.
Despite the number, they were well organised. The speakers spoke about politics and by-elections but without malice. There were humorous jibes unique to Malay society that tickled the audience in a convivial atmosphere.
The candidate was Datuk Seri Dr Wee Jeck Seng, a Chinese and he was not the object of ridicule. The people’s dissatisfaction with the government deeply crossed racial and religious lines.
In contrast, several days ago, when Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad attended a ceramah in Kukup and targeted the Malay Muslims, it only attracted one-tenth of the crowd.
The leaflets on the chairs that said “Purchase Muslim products, vote only Muslim candidates” seemed to have little effect and failed to resonate with the Muslims.
What the Malays need most is for the economic situation to improve. However, Dr Mahathir labelled them as lazy; Pakatan’s candidate Karmaine Sardini said fishermen should be able to live on an income of RM1,000 per month; and Primary Industries Minister Teresa Kok said the price of oil palm had risen to RM435 per tonne.
Also, there were the campaign promises. Never think that village folk are forgetful. They remember well.
After Tanjung Piai, one will fall between the two giants.
A resourceful Bersatu is lost to Umno’s guerilla warfare. Moving on, whether it is a by-election or a general election, the results have sent out a clear message.
It has alarmed Bersatu. But it still has more than three years and we shall see if it will keep a low profile or make a mess.
Dr Mahathir’s status and reputation have been greatly affected, and the people’s sentiments are no longer with him. Umno detractors who are seeking opportunities to jump ship are also considering retreat. The premier’s wish to serve as prime minister until he completes his missions is now facing both internal and external threats, making the move even more difficult.
Following this setback, there will be greater pressure from Pakatan for him to relinquish power. However, knowing the old horse, is he willing to pass the baton? Can Bersatu survive without Dr Mahathir?
The Tanjung Piai by-election has opened up a whole new scenario. However, can it wake up the slumbering Pakatan, and open the eyes of Bersatu and DAP?
The answer is up to them.
The writer is the deputy editor-in-chief of Sin Chew Daily.