On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Acid test of multi-racial politics

For many Malays, Keadilan was a  vehicle for them to pursue their  challenge against the Barisan Nasional,
particularly Umno.

To the Chinese and Indians, it  was an
additional choice, if they  had no
allegiance to the DAP.

Combining its strength with PAS,  PRM and
DAP, Keadilan seemed to  be an attractive
party of the future.

To the middle class non-Malays,  Keadilan
deputy president Dr  Chandra Muzaffar was
a respectable figure who had been consistent on politics of
multi-racialism.

But the statement by Keadilan  Youth
vice-chairman Mustapha  Kamil Ayub last
week must be disturbing to many.

At a ceramah in Johor, Mustapha 
announced that the opposition front 
would field only Malay candidates 
in the 155 Malay-majority parliamentary seats.

It is uncertain whether Mustapha  was
playing to the gallery of mainly Malays, or whether it was merely his personal
view.

The impression given so far has  been
that PAS will contest in Malay-majority areas and Keadilan in  the racially-mixed areas.

The DAP will contest in about 25  Chinese
majority areas. Certainly,  the DAP does
not have that many  Malay
candidates.

The announcement is disturbing  because
Mustapha seems to have  ignored the
concept of power sharing among the various races.

Although the Barisan Nasional is  made up
of 14 component parties,  including
communal-based parties  such as Umno, MCA
and MIC, the  coalition has been imbued
with an  overall sense of responsibility
towards Malaysians of all races.

Umno, for example, has proven  itself to
be moderate by allowing  non-Malays to
contest in Malay majority parliamentary constituencies.

In Kelantan, the Barisan allowed  MCA
candidate Leong Sue Siang to  contest in
Kota Lama, a state constituency with more than 58% Malay voters.

In Perlis, MCA's Loh Yoon Foo  contested
and won the Titi Tinggi  state seat with
a 72.7% Malay electorate.

Another MCA candidate, Wong  Foon Meng,
won the Bandar state  seat in Terengganu
which had a  60.5% Malay
electorate.

There are many such cases involving parliamentary seats as well  where non-Malay candidates are  fielded, where Umno could have  won easily.

The Umno leadership has refused to give in to pressures from  ambitious grassroots leaders in  many cases.

Mustapha's communal appeal  should be
rejected by all moderate  Malays because
if Malays rise to  such extremism, the
participation  of non-Malays in
government could  be wiped out.

The Indians, for example, would  have no
place to contest because  there are no
Indian-majority parliamentary constituencies.

If race is a criterion, then Indians should get 20 of the 192 parliamentary
seats.

The reality is that there is not a 
single Indian-majority constituency, but the MIC was allocated seven
seats in Malay-majority areas  through
the generosity of Umno.

If Keadilan wants to be a viable 
alternative to the Barisan, it must 
be prepared to field non-Malays in 
Malay-majority areas, held by the 
MCA, MIC or Gerakan.

Being accommodating and moderate is part of multi-racial politics.

Racial populist support is not  good governance
and is certainly  not a component of a
plural society.

The communal stance taken by  some
Keadilan and PAS leaders, of  late,
appears to be a result of these  parties
giving up their hope of winning mass non-Malay suppprt.

Thus, there was a statement by a  PAS
leader recently that Malays  must reject
Barisan because the  Barisan has only one
Malay party  against 13 non-Malay
components.

Keadilan has good potential. It  must not
ignore long-term political  struggles for
narrow political wins  as this will
tarnish its image.

Its line-up of non-Malay leaders  should
not be mere tokenism as  some of them,
particularly those  involved in
non-governmental organisations, have had a good record  of being non-communal.

Keadilan's present lack of direction is a result of a mixed bag of  leaders with different dreams and  different goals.

The only thing they have in common is their hatred of Datuk Seri  Dr Mahathir Mohamad.

It is thus prepared to work with  the
orthodox PAS which is, at least,  clear
with what it has to offer to 
Malaysians  it wants to set up
an  Islamic state and take over the  prime ministership as well.

The DAP is caught in a tight spot.  It
has to work with other opposition 
parties but is quite uncertain of the 
mood of the Chinese, its core support.

It has thus taken a gamble.

The Chinese community remains  highly
suspicious of PAS. Kelantan  Mentri Besar
Datuk Abdul Nik Aziz  Nik Mat's recent
emphasis that ulamas are the best people to run Malaysia isn't going to help
win votes.

Multi-racial politics has always  been
complicated. A multi-racial  party is not
guaranteed that it will  have
multi-racial appeal.

There are parties that allow all  ethnic
groups to be members but  because they
are dominated by one  racial group, they
tend to champion  only the interest of
the dominant  race in the party.

The Barisan, while represented  by some
communalparties, has  been able to stay
above racial  grounds.

It is, perhaps, easier and politically correct for MCA leaders, for  example, to talk about Chinese  schools and culture.

Similarly it would be more pleasant for Umno to take the lead in a  discussion on loafing Malay youths.

Conventional wisdom, which  takes into
account political, cultural and social sensitivities, has enabled the Barisan
component parties to function effectively.

Leaders should realise that an effective government, whether at  state or federal level, should have  elected representatives from all  races.

It would be disastrous for any  ethnic
group to be left out of government.

Politicians must never forget  that it is
easy to be leader of a particular race but difficult to be leader of all
Malaysians.

The test in the coming elections  will be
whether Keadilan or PAS is  prepared to
field non-Malays in  Malay-majority areas
in Kelantan,  Terengganu and
Perlis.