Negri Sembilan Mentri Besar Tan Sri Mohamed Isa Abdul Samad claimed that the opposition had asked the Malay voters whether they preferred a kuil (Hindu temple) or
masjid (mosque) in their area.
The opposition, he alleged, had also
told the voters that the Malays should
only vote for a Malay candidate.
It will be difficult for Isa to prove
his allegations as opposition
campaigners are unlikely to use
these tactics openly.
But it is clear that the opposition had
decided to field Kassim to capitalise on the high number of Malay voters.
While the decision could well be a
clever tactical move, it has also put to
the test Keadilan's claim of being
multi-racial and non-communal.
In last year's general election, the
opposition fielded N. Gobalakrishnan on a Keadilan ticket. Although he lost,
the spirit of multi racialism was, at least, reflected.
Many issues will crop up during the
campaigning, but what is more important
here is the concept of power-sharing
among the various races in this country,
which has been taken for granted
The politics of accommodation and
consensus in Malaysia has made this
country special and unique.
None of the 192 parliamentary
constituencies is an Indian-majority area, but the belief in power
sharing has allowed the community to have a minister, a deputy and two parliamentary secretaries from its list of seven MPs and 15 state assemblymen.
This is to ensure that every minority group, no matter how small they are, are represented in Dewan Rakyat and Dewan Negara.
Malaysian society is plural, and its
politics will always be complicated. There will always be moments of
frustration, but the spirit of
consensus, if constantly upheld, will
allow problems to be amicably
The Alliance and subsequently the
Barisan Nasional may be made up of
communal-based parties, but it has been
able to bargain, compromise and accommodate in a non-communal fashion.
It has its flaws, but it has been proven
to be effective in holding this
multi-racial and multi-religious country together because of its moderation.
In past general elections, MCA
candidates had stood in Malay-majority areas and won with the support of
Malay votes because the Malays were more
comfortable with the MCA than the
Last year, the Chinese supported Umno
candidates, throwing out even Chinese
DAP candidates, for various reasons.
They had confidence in the leadership of Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the economic recovery, the cohesiveness of the MCA, the fear of an Islamic state, and the strong belief that only the Barisan can hold the country together.
The bottomline is that the majority, irrespective of their ethnicity, believed that only the Barisan could work, even when the credibility of the
coalition was at its lowest.
This pragmatic approach, including the component parties' ability to strike durable compromises, has
been the Barisan's winning formula.
Thus, right from the beginning when the
Teluk Kemang seat fell vacant, the
understanding among the component
parties was that the seat would go to
MIC. The racial composition of the
constituency was never an issue.
The concept of accommodation needs to be
re-emphasised from time to time. Even
Barisan leaders, especially the younger
ones, do not fully appreciate its
magnitude at times.
The Gerakan and MCA grassroots, for example, must appreciate that even when
Umno had more state seats than the two
parties in Penang, the chief minister's
post automatically went to a
It was a non-negotiable issue and the
Barisan leadership, including those from
Umno, did not bow to pressure,
particularly in 1995.
The same scenario has taken place in
Sabah. Dr Mahathir has correctly
insisted that the rotation of the chief
minister's post must continue although
Umno has the most number of seats.
Despite continuing pressure from the
Sabah Umno rank and file, the prime
minister has refused to budge.
That aside, younger Umno leaders must also understand the need to reward other communities in the wake of efforts by PAS to win their support.
Similarly, the other Barisan component
parties must be prepared to forego their posts in the event their parties perform badly in future elections should they demand more
The politics of compromises must be
fully appreciated by everyone. It is a win-win game but no one ethnic group is supposed to be fully satisfied.
Over the years, there has been less
emphasis on communalism, but the reality
is that it has not gone away.
In the case of the Teluk Kemang
by-election campaigning, racial
and religious slurs have come into
The voters of Teluk Kemang need to send
a reminder that racial play, in whatever
form or manifestation, is unacceptable.