On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Soothing ruffled feathers

Be mindful – those are the words of caution to delegates attending the Umno general assembly this week as it is almost certain that this would be the last meeting before the next general election.  

After last year’s assembly where certain delegates went overboard in their rhetoric on Malay rights – and sentiments are still simmering among many Malaysians – the party leadership is determined this would not be repeated.  

It is understood that the party top brass has taken stock of the views of other Barisan Nasional leaders.  

Umno leaders are well aware that they cannot afford a repeat of last year with the elections in the horizon. Not that the anti-establishment sentiments in urban areas would hurt Umno. Not even a bit, as Umno is probably at its strongest, despite what has been written in the blogs.  

There is no real challenge from PAS and Parti Keadilan Nasional. If there is any anxiety over how the Umno general assembly would be conducted, it would be on the part of the MCA and Gerakan.  

The 2008 elections would nowhere be like the 1999 polls, where Umno depended heavily on Chinese and Indian votes to pull through.  

This time, the anti-establishment votes would likely only be in the predominantly Chinese constituencies in Penang, Perak and the Klang Valley.  

Over the past week, two senior Umno leaders have advised Chinese voters against voting for the opposition.  

Information Minister Datuk Seri Zainuddin Maidin said the Chinese voters would only be shooting themselves in the foot if they voted for the DAP or PKR as the community would only reduce its representation in government.  

In short, the Barisan government isn’t going to collapse and Umno is not going to lose seats in the 219-seat Dewan Rakyat.  

With only about 25 to 30 parliamentary seats with a strong Chinese electorate, the hardest hit would be the MCA and Gerakan if there is a swing to the opposition while Umno with its dependence on the rural heartland would win hands down.  

In an interview with Nanyang Siang Pau last week, Umno information chief Tan Sri Muhammad Muhammad Taib urged the Chinese to look at the big picture.  

He said they should not vote against the Barisan because they were unhappy with certain policies and wanted to “punish certain parties”.  

Muhammad said the community should not harbour the notion of teaching the Barisan a lesson.  

If the Chinese were to reject the Barisan in total because of certain policies, it would be akin to not seeing the forest for the trees, adding that it would affect their own interest in the long run.  

What Muhammad did not say bluntly was this – if you want to teach Umno a lesson, forget it, you can’t and, instead, you would just end up punishing the MCA or Gerakan.  

With the Chinese population dropping to 25% and likely to shrink further, Chinese voters are at a crossroads, as the Malay community is likely to grow up to 80% in the coming years.  

The Indian population has also continued to drop and, at present, there is not a single Indian majority parliamentary seat.  

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has given his commitment on power sharing but it cannot be denied that politics is also a numbers game.  

The MCA’s biggest challenge this election would be to convince the voters that their representation in government is crucial for the community.  

It would have to deal with the grouses of the community, many of which are not the doing of the MCA, but these issues would nevertheless have an impact on the voting trend.  

The Chinese community has always wanted the best of both worlds – the MCA to represent them in government and to handle their problems and the opposition to shout for them.  

The MCA’s method of resolving issues behind closed-doors, despite its effectiveness, does not seem sufficient.  

But at the Umno general assembly, where the largest attendance would be seen, it will be a show of unity this week.  

Ready to face the polls, the issues that would concern the delegates would be the political and economic rights of the Malays, and religion.  

The majority of the delegates are not going to be riled up over unhappy lawyers or a video clip.  

For the non-Malay voters watching from the sidelines, it would be an important lesson in “realpolitik”, a German political term which means practical considerations are more important than ideological notions.