On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

No reason to tick off voters

On The Beat

STAND-UP comic Harith Iskandar is the product of Malay-English parentage. He has acted in plays and movies speaking in Bahasa Malaysia and earns a living telling jokes, mostly in English with some Malay and Chinese words thrown in.

He has been telling his audiences that he plans to get married soon with a woman of Chinese-Indian parentage. “I do not know how our children will fill up those forms. I think they will have to tick every box – Malay, Chinese, Indian and lain-lain.”

The predominantly Chinese crowd in Petaling Jaya roared when he asked when Malaysians could stop having to state their racial background. Then he delivered his punch line: “But I am a Malaysian first.” His listeners were on their feet by then, which goes to show how much the issue had struck a chord with urban Malay­sia.

With certain politicians asking the Chinese community to be “grateful” for getting their citizenship and Perkasa asking the community to “repent”, it does not need a political scientist or a sociologist to explain why many Chinese voters have refused to vote for the Barisan Nasional.

Yet, the Chinese electorate has often been pro-establishment, except for 1969 and then in 2008. In 1999, when Umno suffered badly in the hands of PAS, it was the Chinese voters who came to the rescue of Umno candidates.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak retained his Pekan seat with a 241-vote majority against unknown PAS challenger Ramli Mohamed.

Ibrahim Ali, who was then a deputy minister, lost his Pasir Mas parliamentary seat and certainly his predominantly Malay voters rejected him. We don’t recall him telling off the mostly Malay voters for being ungrateful despite being benefactors of the New Econo­mic Policy.

The Chinese voters backed the Barisan so strongly that even the DAP’s Lim Kit Siang and Karpal Singh lost their parliamentary and state seats in Penang. The Chinese voters were angry at the DAP-PAS electoral pact and wanted to send a strong message of disapproval.

The irony was that then PAS Youth chief Datuk Mahfuz Omar – now a vice-president – said Umno was increasingly dependent on Chinese votes.

“This would be very dangerous to the Malay sovereignty,” he said.

Fast forward 2010, we are hearing such similar statements from the likes of Ibrahim Ali, who have forgotten or chosen to forget that the Chinese votes can help Umno.

When the MCA and Gerakan were weak, it would be the Umno votes that helped these two parties. That has been the way since the Alliance under Tunku Abdul Rahman, who was aware that the inclusion of non-Malays in the government would be crucial to its legitimacy as well as to keep intact the politics of consensus and accommodation.

The power-sharing concept has worked so well that now the Pakatan Rakyat has adopted it via a PKR, DAP and PAS coalition.

Immediately after the 1999 electoral bashing, Najib, who was an Umno vice-president, said the voting trend of Malays – who favoured the opposition – was a signal for Umno to work harder in ensuring the party and Barisan success in future.

Umno, he added, must correct its mistakes and look at itself before pointing fingers at others for the defeat. That, however, seems to be the pattern of some politicians after the Hulu Selangor by-election which the Barisan won. Imagine how these politicians would have reacted had the PKR won the seat.

But it is encouraging for Najib to ignore these hollow calls by going to the Chinese school in Rasa with a RM3mil cheque to construct a building.

Najib is obviously looking further ahead. The RM3mil is a political investment for the next general election, not just for Rasa but for every Chinese majority constituency, as his gesture went down strongly.

There is no need to tell the community to be grateful. After all, the Chinese and Indian communities helped build the nation and the bulk of income tax is said to be from the Chinese community.

A political party is just like any company. It has to sell its product by convincing its customers why it is better than its rivals. In meeting sales targets, no company picks its customers according to their race. Every customer should be treated like a king and every effort should be made to win his heart and mind. So it is incredulous that one would ask his customers to be “grateful” and to “repent” or, worse still, even ask what more the customers want.

The electorate, like the customers, expect their sales persons to be nice to them if they still want to do business. If these salesmen disappear when their services are needed or act arrogantly, then we can expect the company to be out of business.

All is not lost for the Barisan because the scenario has improved. Besides, Najib’s increasing favourable ratings and the economy – a crucial key indicator for the Chinese – has seen some positive outlook starting with a stronger ringgit.

The feel good factor seems to be coming around and while the government’s expectations for the GDP growth is between 4.5% and 5.5%, others believe that 6.6% is possible.

Local companies have reported better market confidence in the first quarter results. In fact, monthly car sales reportedly recovered from a low of 33,000 in October 2008 to an average of 42,000 per month over the last six months.

The transformation plans would certainly have an impact on the country’s economy and the political scenario.

There is no need for anyone to play the racial card and Umno should distance itself from groups or individuals fanning communal sentiments. The fact that the MCA and the MIC put the word “Malaysian” first when they were formed is sufficient proof of their allegiance to this country.

Strangely, comedians like Harith are making sense while our politicians have become comics instead, often with their foot in their mouth.