On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Learning to pick up Chinese votes

PAS, in particular, has been using these pictures to
portray itself as a non-extremist party. Since the 1999 general election, the
Opposition has been actively trying to win the hearts and minds of the
country's six million Chinese.

In that election, the bulk of the decisive Chinese votes went to Barisan
Nasional, rescuing many Umno candidates in the process.

Many Chinese voters, wary of PAS' objective to set up an Islamic state and
worried by Keadilan's street protests, solidly backed Barisan.

The MCA, helped by its strong record on community projects, put up its best
performance by winning 28 parliamentary and 70 state seats.

Aware that it cannot form the next federal government without Chinese support,
PAS has undauntingly shown a more moderate image.

The party has been issuing statements that appeal to the Chinese. It has
supported Suqiu, saying the requests had universal values, and has even said it
could accept a Chinese as prime minister of the country so long as he is a

Terengganu Mentri Besar Abdul Hadi Awang went a step further by lifting a ban
on pig-rearing in the state.

He has also reverted Jalan Bandar to its original name of Jalan Kampung Cina
and promised to allow the setting up of a church and Sikh temple.

The party has been organising study tours for university students and
grassroots community leaders to Kelantan. The sightseeing stops include the
town's bah kut teh shop.

The opposition efforts seems to have paid off. In the recent Lunas by-election,
the Chinese votes went to the Opposition.

The defeat was costly for Barisan. For the first time, it was denied its
two-thirds majority in the Kedah State Assembly.

Buoyed by the newfound confidence, the Opposition has gone further. Keadilan
has formed a committee to protect vernacular schools while PAS has formed teams
to give ceramahs in the Chinese language.

These actions by PAS should sound like warning sirens to Barisan, particularly
the MCA and Gerakan which are entrusted with delivering the Chinese

The task will almost certainly become more difficult in the next general
election, scheduled for 2004.

Umno, on its part, cannot just depend entirely on its Chinese partners. Umno
leaders must understand that their statements and actions, too, would have an
impact on Chinese voters.

If the Chinese voters assume, rightly or wrongly, that the statement of any
Umno leader has unfair racial tone, it would have a bearing on their political

More than ever, Barisan component parties have to rely on each other for

They cannot afford to act unilaterally, like Gerakan taking a different stand
from that of the MCA on the SRK (C) Damansara controversy after agreeing on a
Cabinet decision.

Communal-based parties such as Umno, MCA and MIC would have to constantly
remind themselves that their strength lies in being moderate in their

While protecting the interest of their respective communities has been the core
of their existence, they cannot over-emphasise their struggles, lest this is
perceived as playing the ethnic card.

That aside, Barisan needs to adopt modern election strategies to counter the
Opposition which has, undeniably, refreshing tactics.

Barisan seems slow at times to react and its methods come across as archaic and
even unconvincing.

There is a need for more openness by the Government in the building of places
of worship, including the Shah Alam church application, to demonstrate its
moderation towards a multi-religious, multi-cultural and multi-ethnic

Many Malaysians also want to see more transparency in dealings involving
privatisation of projects.

It is still a long time to go before the next general election. Four years will
give Barisan time to fight back.

Despite the seemingly rosy picture portrayed by the Opposition, there has been
plenty of holes.

Terengganu MCA chief Datuk Lau Im Pin questioned PAS' announcement in allowing
pig-rearing in the state.

“The rule actually says that pig-rearing is only allowed for personal
consumption. How many of us rear pigs for our own needs?'' he said, adding that
there have been no applications.

The 10 Chinese schools in Terengganu, according to Lau, have not received a
single sen promised by PAS.

PAS may have toned down its ambition in setting up an Islamic state but it
still maintains its uncompromising position on other religions.

In its criticism against the Taliban for the destruction of Buddha statues, PAS
is seen to be “half-hearted.''

Nik Aziz, in fact, has refused to comment on the issue, saying the world was
silent when Hindu extremists desecrated mosques in India some years ago.

The PAS leaders' refusal to submit to materialism may seem appealing to rural
supporters, but the Chinese voters still question whether the religious
teachers can run a modern state.

The practical Chinese voters are more concerned with the present world than the

But Barisan leaders had better wake up now because PAS leaders, who are
becoming more adept in using chopsticks, are fast picking up the Chinese