WHEN MCA’s Datuk Seri Dr Wee Jeck Seng goes around thanking those who helped him to win the Tanjung Piai by-election, he should not leave out the powerful Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng.
Lim is the chief architect behind the massive discontent among the Chinese, who accounted for 41.74% of the 52,986 voters in this mixed constituency.
According to most Chinese media, Lim’s removal of the government’s matching grant of RM30mil for Tunku Abdul Rahman University College (TAR UC) and a 82% cut in the development fund for this education institution to RM1mil was a key issue that upset the community.
As a result, about 40%-50% of local Chinese turned against the candidate from Pakatan Harapan, in which Lim’s party DAP is a senior coalition partner.
Without a doubt, the TAR UC controversy could not be ignored.
On Saturday night after the by-election results were out, a friend from Johor sent me a WhatsApp message in Chinese: “This is the price to pay for beating TAR oppressively and supporting Dr M’s racist policies.”
Wee, who was twice the MP for Tanjung Piai but lost in the 2018 general election, returned to Parliament with a stunning majority of over 15,086 votes.
Pakatan’s candidate from Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s party Bersatu, Karmaine Sardini, obtained 10,380 votes.
A significant portion of the votes won by Wee is believed to be ballots making a stand against the political victimisation of TAR UC by Lim since he became Finance Minister.
Hence, it was no surprise that China Press, in its Monday front page, carried the headline that the TAR UC issue had “angered and turned off half the Chinese votes”.
The support for Pakatan saw a plunge in Chinese votes to 36% from 72% in GE14, according to most estimates.
To be sure, the Chinese in the country generally view TAR UC as a common asset of the community due to historical reasons.
When MCA was in government and started TAR in 1969 (before it was upgraded to university college), there was tremendous support from the community in the form of land and cash donations.
Hence, it can be argued that TAR UC, now with 28,000 students nationwide, is a school “jointly owned” by MCA and the Chinese community, supported by the government.
Indeed, this institution was a “political compromise” born out of historical need for the Chinese community, as it was set up at a time when Umno wanted to provide more higher education opportunities to Malays via racial quota.
When Lim slashed government funds for TAR UC and demanded that MCA cede control of this 50-year-old college, most Chinese viewed this as a political revenge taken against MCA by DAP, which would hurt the college.
The removal of grants for TAR UC will hurt the community, particularly those in the lower-income category, as there is a possibility that this well-run college may have to raise tuition fees.
The lofty principle that “politics should be separated from education” put forth by Lim has fallen on deaf ears as this is applicable only in an ideal and perfect society. And in Malaysia, no one dares say there is racial fairness.
This political reality has forced the Chinese in Malaysia to defend whatever rights they have.
Hence, Lim is seen as committing a grave injustice to the Chinese community by removing government grants for TAR UC. Comments about him have largely turned negative since then.
Indeed, the impact of this issue was seen in the run-up to the Tanjung Piai by-election. Chinese voters, besides boycotting Pakatan ceramah, had directed their anger at DAP leaders.
During a coffee shop ceramah in Pekan Nanas, Chong Eng, an MP and Wanita DAP chief, was constantly interrupted by questions about TAR UC.
There were voters who started fund raising campaigns for TAR UC.
MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong had cleverly exploited the issue by regularly announcing these donations from various groups.
While the TAR UC matter had a major impact on the by-election, it must be noted that other issues and bad government policies also contributed to bringing about Pakatan’s bruising defeat.
But if TAR UC continues to suffer political victimisation, DAP can expect to lose more Chinese-dominant seats in the next general election.