On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

The alarm clock is still ringing

Barisan leaders can be expected to offer numerous excuses
and to shift the blame for the defeat to others except themselves.

Excuses put forward include the use of religious and racial issues and rough campaigning
tactics. The Opposition has also been accused of distorting the Vision School

Under the Vision School concept, Malay, Chinese and Tamil schools share a
common premise and facilities but Chinese educationists have questioned the
implementation, saying the identity and character of Chinese schools would be

It is thus refreshing to hear Umno vice-president Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad
Taib calling on Barisan to take heed of its own weakness in failing to win the
hearts of the people.

The wake-up call for Barisan had come during the general election. For a while,
the coalition awoke from its slumber to fight and win in the Sanggang

That didn't last long. Now, it is clear that Barisan has not been able to
effectively tackle the real grievances on the ground.

A year after the general election, nothing much has changed. The alarm clock is
ringing and Barisan leaders, particularly those in Umno, are still

Barisan leaders must surely realise that they need to work doubly hard for
votes. The question is what they are doing about it.

The carrot-and-stick tactic of promising development programmes is no longer
likely to work.

Voters pay taxes to the government to run the country and they expect basic
amenities in return as a duty from those in power. Our politicians shouldn't
expect gratitude for that.

There will be plenty of finger-pointing and analysis over the Lunas polls but
one thing is definite – the majority of old and new Malay voters picked the

The pattern hasn't changed since the last general election. The fact remains
that support for Umno from Malays has continued to slide. In 1999, Umno lost 22
parliamentary seats.

But what is worrisome to Barisan is the swing in Chinese voters to the
Opposition, at least in Lunas.

The Chinese had backed Barisan in the general election, saving many Umno
politicians in the process.

Said MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik: “Just one year ago the
Chinese had come out strongly for Barisan. What has changed since then?''

This time, MCA and Gerakan leaders found the going tough in Lunas. There was
some optimism at first, when the DAP bickered with Keadilan over the choice of

But the strong words used against Suqiu, the Chinese pressure group, and the
Chinese educationists movement, hurt the feelings of the Chinese

Many Chinese voters were also incensed with the rowdy behaviour of some Umno
Youth leaders outside the Selangor Assembly Hall in August. There was the
feeling, rightly or wrongly, that some Umno leaders had taken for granted the
solid support of the Chinese during the general election.

Bahasa Malaysia newspapers must understand they are now being read by not only
Malays but other races who may be offended by their choice of words in

Such resentment over certain issues, if not properly explained, would be
translated into action through the ballot box.

The basic rule of winning an election is to win the hearts and minds of voters.
To anger traditional supporters will only alienate them.

Keadilan and PAS, understanding the crucial stand of the Chinese voters, have
worked doubly hard since the last elections.

Confident of their strong Malay base, both parties met the Chinese
educationists before the by-election and came out to support the movement
against the Vision School implementation.

But there is still time and hope. Losing Lunas does not mean Barisan will lose
in the next general election, which need not be held until November 2004.

Still, there has to be some serious soul-searching in Barisan. Its leaders must
be honest and open with their analysis if they want to save the day and the

There is no point for Barisan leaders to listen to views which they only want
to hear.

The trend of choosing a candidate based on the racial make-up of constituency –
which the Opposition did – is cause for concern.

If that is going to be political culture, the Indians will find themselves
relegated to becoming mere senators soon, like the orang asli and the Thais,
because there is no Indian-majority area.

It's the same with the Chinese community as its size continues to

It is thus important for Malaysians to appreciate that Barisan stood firm on
its principle of placing an MIC candidate in Lunas despite the use of racial
and religious issues.

The fear is that Umno, pressured by its members and foes, may find it necessary
to place more Malay candidates at the expense of other races in future

The aggressive campaigning by some opposition supporters should also be a
matter of concern. Smashing bus window panes and stopping election workers from
entering an area is sheer thuggery.

Moderate Malaysians must understand the consequences of their political action
while our leaders must feel the pulse of the people on the ground.

To lose touch with the sentiments of the people is politically costly. Umno
leaders must shake off the sleepiness before it's too late.