Plenty at stake in Tanjung Piai

  • Along The Watchtower
  • Wednesday, 13 Nov 2019

Chinese voters want to show their disappointment with the Pakatan government but they also fear that a Barisan win would worsen the politics of race and religion.

THE bitter reality is the dream of Malaysia Baru (New Malaysia) has turned into a nightmare, 18 months after Pakatan Harapan’s historic victory on May 9 last year.

The elation of ousting a six-decade old regime known for corruption, abuses and repression and the hopes for a united, progressive nation have all but dissipated over this short span of time.

In contrast to the mood then, Malaysians today feel a deep sense of disappointment with the Pakatan government.

Being at the end of one’s tether seems like a fitting description for Saturday’s Tanjung Piai by-election.

Just as the parliamentary constituency marks the southernmost tip of Peninsular Malaysia and mainland Asia, the by-election is also seen as reflecting the turning point of the people’s exasperation with the Pakatan government’s performance.

If the poor turnouts at campaign gatherings are an indicator, Pakatan’s chances of retaining the parliamentary seat appear slim.

Its previous candidate, Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik, who died on Sept 21, won it by only a 524-vote majority in GE14, against Barisan Nasional’s two-term MCA MP Datuk Seri Dr Wee Jeck Seng.

This time around, it is a six-cornered fight for the constituency, which has 53,528 voters – 57% Malays, 42% Chinese and 1% Indian.

Pakatan’s candidate is Karmaine Sardini, Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s (PPBM) Tanjung Piai division chief, and his main opponent is Wee, who has returned as Barisan’s standard-bearer.

The others in the fray are Gerakan deputy secretary-general Wendy Subramaniam, Berjasa president Datuk Dr Badhrulhisham Abdul Aziz and two independents – Faridah Aryani Abdul Ghaffar and Dr Ang Chuan Lock.

Although the Barisan candidate is from MCA, the by-election provides Umno and PAS the first opportunity to flex their muscles to win the Malay-Muslim votes after the signing of the Piagam Muafakat Nasional (National Cooperation Charter) on Sept 14.

Umno and PAS expect that the combined strength of Barisan and PAS votes will be more than enough to wrest the seat. In GE14, Pakatan polled 21,255 votes (39.7%), against Barisan’s 20,731 (38%) and PAS’ 2,962 (5.5%).

Pakatan had lost three earlier by-elections – Cameron Highlands, Semenyih and Rantau – before May 11, when DAP candidate Vivian Wong won by a landslide in Sandakan.

Tanjung Piai is also being viewed as a gauge of Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s leadership of the country.

With the extent of disenchantment with Pakatan, it would be no exaggeration to say that he has turned from hero to zero in the eyes of many Malaysians.

While it is true that many of the country’s economic and financial problems could be traced to the kleptocracy of the previous administration, deep-rooted corruption and abuse of power in key institutions, the Pakatan government was expected to do much better, given the hype and promises it made before GE14.

Instead, Dr Mahathir’s 2.0 leadership has fizzled and flopped on far too many issues such as easing the high cost of living, revamping the education system, reforming key democratic institutions, managing race relations and religious matters, and repealing draconian laws such as the Sedition Act and Security Offences (Special Measures) Act 2012 (Sosma).

Sosma, which was denounced as a reprehensible law by Pakatan leaders before GE14, was used against two DAP assemblymen and 10 other alleged supporters of the defunct Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE).

In November last year, the government backtracked on its decision to ratify the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (Icerd). Fearing a backlash, it buckled under pressure from Umno and PAS.

The Opposition made irrational claims that Icerd contravened Article 153 of the Federal Constitution, which upholds the position of Islam and the special privileges of Malays.

Dr Mahathir’s refusal to deport controversial Muslim preacher Dr Zakir Naik to his home country of India to face charges of money laundering and inciting extremism, and his attendance at the Kongres Maruah Melayu (Malay Dignity Congress), where demands were made for top government posts to be reserved for Malays and for vernacular schools to be closed, are similarly seen as moves to placate the Malay-Muslim majority.

Over the past few days, the social media has been flooded with pictures of big crowds at Barisan ceramah and empty seats at Pakatan events, a stark contrast from the images seen during last year’s general election.

In some of the ceramah in Chinese majority areas, the numbers have shockingly dropped to just two digits. There is real fear that Chinese voters would swing towards Barisan or choose to abstain from voting as a sign of protest.

Among the issues that the community is fed up with is the government’s reluctance to recognise the United Examination Certificate (UEC), the removal of the RM30mil matching grant for the Tunku Abdul Rahman College and the introduction of khat calligraphy in schools.

Bearing the brunt is DAP, Pakatan’s second largest coalition partner, which has six ministers, seven deputy ministers and 42 MPs.

The current impression among the party’s largely Chinese supporters is that its leaders, who were vocal in addressing the concerns of the minorities in the past, have remained muted on many issues after becoming part of the government.

They feel that DAP has become subservient to Bersatu, which has six ministers in the Cabinet, despite winning only 13 parliamentary seats, and has been overwhelmed by Dr Mahathir’s priorities to win back the Malay vote bank.

The Chinese voters in Tanjung Piai are in an unfamiliar quandary. While they want to send a strong protest message to the Pakatan government, they also fear that a Barisan win would bolster the Umno-PAS pact and worsen the politics of race and religion.

The anxiety is fuelled by ongoing speculation a possible creation of a “backdoor” comprising Umno, Bersatu and PAS, leaving out PKR, DAP and Amanah.

Media consultant M. Veera Pandiyan likes this quote by Will Rogers: Everything is changing. People are taking their comedians seriously and the politicians as a joke. The views expressed here are entirely the columnist’s own.

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