Wednesday, May 4, 2011

No Difference With or Without

By Kee Thuan Chye

PRIME Minister Najib Razak has changed his tack in relating to the Chinese electorate. He seems to have discarded his role of the charmer who spun 1Malaysia hogwash to win Chinese hearts and minds. He is now threatening them instead.

He’s telling them that if they don’t support Barisan Nasional (BN) at the next general election, they will not have representation in the Government. This is because Chua Soi Lek, the MCA president, has declared that his party will not accept government positions if they don’t get Chinese support.

Najib’s switch to a threatening mode shows that he’s desperate. He clearly must be after what has happened in the recent Sarawak state elections, when the Chinese dumped the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP) in favour of the Opposition. Despite Najib’s 10-day campaign in the state, the Chinese there did not show him any face. They are simply fed-up with the corrupt BN Government and they want reform. But for BN, the loss of Chinese support, especially in Sarawak, with the possible spread to Sabah, could be crucial at the next general election.

Chua has since come forward to say that Najib was not issuing a threat but only making a “statement of fact” in response to the MCA’s proposed stand. But knowing the kind of pakat-pakat (conniving) politics practiced by BN, one is more likely to believe that Najib and Chua had both cooked up this ploy together right from the start – to supposedly strike fear in the hearts of the Chinese.

But should the Chinese be cowed? Should they worry if they had no representation in government – to be specific, the BN Government? Why should they? What has MCA (and Gerakan) representation in the Government done for them? Hasn’t Chua woken up to the fact that it is because the Chinese feel the MCA has been useless in BN that they dumped the party in 2008?

And as if to reaffirm the hopeless situation that both the MCA and Gerakan are in, the same day Najib issued his threat, Perkasa president Ibrahim Ali issued his own – warning the two parties to stop bringing up sensitive issues or risk having their candidates undermined at the next general election. By this, Ibrahim meant Perkasa would urge Malays not to vote for the MCA and Gerakan. He even insisted that both parties must defend the Malays and Islam before they should get Malay votes.

Of course, we can dismiss Perkasa as a minnow that appears bigger than it really is because its president has a loud mouth and exaggerates his own importance. But it is no less humiliating for the MCA and Gerakan to be publicly chided in this fashion. What’s more, big brother Umno has made no move to chide Perkasa back, which merely underscores the weakness of the lesser parties.

Should the Chinese support such weak parties? If the MCA and Gerakan were to remain in the BN Government after the next general election – and that’s assuming BN wins – they would merely be playing the same old second fiddle. Supporting them would probably just give them a chance to continue to get a share of the loot, like the MCA did in the PKFZ scandal. Why elect them for that purpose?

In any case, if the MCA wants to turn down government positions, that’s its own business. It has no right to put the onus on the Chinese or attempt to blackmail them.

Threats won’t work. Chua should know that. So should Najib. Former prime minister Abdullah Badawi issued the same threat on the eve of the 2008 general election; it was on the front page of mainstream newspapers. The Chinese didn’t give a damn; in fact, they were even more pissed off. Taib Mahmud did the same in the run-up to the Sarawak state elections. The Chinese told his coalition to go fly a kite.

If Najib wants to win back the Chinese, he has to take positive, radical measures. He has to assure them that the Government would be squeaky clean, that there would be no more rent-seeking, that the country’s institutions will be respected, that the Government will strictly follow the rule of law, that the Chinese would have a place under the Malaysian sun as is guaranteed by the Federal Constitution.

It will not be enough for him to merely say that he will attend to these things; he has to be seen to be doing it. Because talk is cheap. The reason the Chinese don’t buy his 1Malaysia drivel is that it’s precisely nothing but drivel. In reality, nothing has been done to make things better for them. And meanwhile, the corruption and the rent-seeking continue. The Chinese realise more and more that the taxes they pay are going to the wrong causes. But what are they getting in return? Has there even been an improvement in the quality of Malaysian life?

The MCA and Gerakan have failed them. They are as culpable in the corruption that has set this country back. Their leaders get shouted down each time they make a squeak about any issue that displeases Umno. They get insulted by Umno seniors like Nazri Aziz and Hishammuddin Hussein.

Why should the Chinese want any party to represent them that has no cojones?

In fact, the MCA is a reminder to them of what a disgrace it is to Chinese dignity. As for Gerakan, whenever a politically aware Chinese person says something about its president, Koh Tsu Koon, they would accompany it with spittle. And they don’t even have to be from Penang.

The greatest irony about Najib’s threat is that for one who espouses 1Malaysia, he should even have entertained the thought. A truly 1Malaysia government would not look at race in its appointment of ministers. It would serve all races, whether or not there are Chinese representatives among its Cabinet. And if indeed the MCA did pull out of government positions and Najib still craved to see Chinese faces at Cabinet meetings, he could still do what he has done before – appoint non-politicians, like he did Idris Jala. Or appoint Chinese from other BN parties. If they haven’t been duly elected, he could simply make them senators first. He’s not new at that game either.

So, whatever it is, the Chinese have nothing to worry about. With or without representation in government, there is no difference – they will still be as they are. Chua and his MCA can do what they like; it won’t matter anyhow. The Chinese will vote according to their conscience. After all, they have a saying: “It is better to die a hero than to survive in disgrace.” Perhaps the MCA should take note of that before the next general election.

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