On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Time to win over people again

These disenchanted voters have not caused serious damage to the point of costing Barisan seats but the discontent is evident. 

Win, but…: Barisan candidate K. Parthiban triumphed in Ijok, but the votes going to the opposition have raised concerns for the coalition.

With a general election speculated to be held early next year, Barisan leaders will need to address and resolve these grievances, or at least, ease the discontent. If they cannot, they will surely need to cushion this unhappiness, at least. 

The results of these two by-elections showed that the majority of Chinese voters still place their fate in Barisan hands, but the loss of a couple of hundred votes here and there is still a matter of concern. 

MCA and Gerakan leaders, who spent nine days in Ijok, were warmly welcomed by most of the Chinese voters. The camaraderie was clear at coffee shops and restaurants where Chinese new villagers came to greet their leaders. 

MCA chiefs explained to the voters how the Barisan worked – on a consensus basis in meetings behind closed doors. 

But if the Chinese voters of the semi-rural constituency warmed up to the MCA and Gerakan leaders, the campaigners also realised that there were up to 200 Ijok voters who worked and stayed in Kuala Lumpur. 

The preliminary finding of the by-election results was that these Ijok voters, who are said to reside in Cheras, Kepong and Bukit Bintang, had returned to vote for Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR). 

It was not because they loved PKR, as their sentiments would probably be with the DAP, but it was because they wanted to vote against the Barisan. To put it bluntly, they wanted to teach the Barisan a lesson. 

MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting gave an honest assessment of the Chinese voting trends and the reasons behind them. 

At the local level, many Chinese voters were unhappy with the poor constituency service by the late Datuk K. Sivalingam. In the 2004 general election, his majority had already been reduced to 1,649 votes from 3,166 in 1999. 

But, as Ong said, there were also rumblings on several national issues, including statements made by some politicians. These Chinese voters said they were hurt by the remarks and the actions of these leaders. 

He said there was no doubt that “to a certain extent the Chinese voters in the area had swung to the opposition.” 

Ong said that in predominantly Chinese Ijok town, for example, the Barisan won by a majority of only 21 votes and in nearby mainly Malay Kampung Ijok, the Barisan lost by 116 votes. 

It is clear that national issues had some impact on the political sentiments of some Chinese voters. 

Although Barisan leaders said they wanted to find out why these voters backed the opposition, at least publicly, they must know by now why the votes went the other way. 

Racist remarks and keris waving at last year’s Umno general assembly made an impact on the minds of Chinese voters. These incidents have yet to be forgotten. 

For some Chinese voters, the rhetoric about the grip they had on the economy was difficult to swallow when the majority of Chinese voters are wage earners, professionals and traders, like many of their Malaysian brethren.  

Much more than that, the Barisan has to deal with the perception, real or otherwise, that certain policies had worked against them. 

The principles of these policies may be fine but at the implementation level, the bureaucrats' different interpretations have often worked to the disadvantage of the community. 

The euphoria of the Ijok by-election victory for the Barisan is now over.  

There will be another round of the Ijok fight some months from now. There will be bigger fights in other states, where a couple of hundred votes could be crucial in determining the victors. 

An honest post-mortem is important and we believe Barisan leaders will make a proper analysis.  

Voters, regardless of their race, want to be heard and realise they can make a difference, at least through their ballots. 

Politicians should listen to the people’s voice, loud or otherwise, because it can make a difference.