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Monday, May 9, 2011

Climbing a tree to catch a fish

By Neil Khor | Malaysiakini

The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) has made it clear that if it did not get support from the Chinese electorate, the party will withdraw from active participation in government.

Its ministers and key allies in the mainstream media have said that this is not a threat but a statement of fact.

It cannot claim to represent the Chinese when it does not have support from the majority of Chinese voters.

The reality is that the MCA has not enjoyed support from the majority of the Chinese Malaysian electorate for a very long time. In fact, since 1969, when Gerakan edged it out of Penang, the MCA never recovered its position of parity with Umno in the Alliance government.

More crucially, throughout the 1970s, when the MCA went through an internal crisis leading to the expulsion of Lim Keng Yaik (right) and the “young turks”, the party has been bleeding Chinese support.

However, despite not enjoying majority Chinese support, the MCA continued to participate in “forming” the government. The loss of “Chinese” support is often measured in the number of seats the MCA can deliver to the BN.

Urban areas

As the Chinese were concentrated in urban areas and the latter were the hotbed for political activisim, the MCA found it very difficult to deliver those seats.

The party was put in an even more disadvantageous position when the Alliance was enlarged to form the Barisan Nasional by the co-opting political parties that were made up of people who were once in the MCA but left to form other parties.

Gerakan, for example, was led by two ex-MCA members, Dr Lim Chong Eu (right) (MCA president in 1959) and Dr Lim Keng Yaik (a young MCA minister in the 1970s.

The MCA not only has to fend-off rivals within the BN, it has had to square-off with the DAP and other Opposition parties.

As urban-based political parties, it is not surprising that the MCA and Gerakan have lost significant support from their voter base, one that is becoming more critical and multi-racial.

A casual survey of all traditional MCA seats reveal that they are mostly in highly-urbanised or semi-urban seats.

Like the SUPP in Sarawak, the MCA could very well face a grey dawn in the next general election as urban voters are more critical and highly-likely to vote for anything but the BN; hence, the “statement of fact” that if the Chinese want representation in the cabinet, they had better think twice before voting for the Opposition.

Another argument put forward by the MCA is that the Chinese voter base is shrinking owing to the smaller population of the ethnic Chinese.

That if they wanted to have some influence over government policy, they had better vote the MCA. Together with the earlier “statement of fact”, the MCA hopes to win those who are still undecided about how they would vote in the next general election.

Four reasons

There are four reasons why this reasoning is faulty and will most likely backfire on the MCA.

Firstly, the attempt to convince ethnic Malaysian Chinese to buy into the “us or them” argument is a tired cliche. On the one hand, the MCA ministers accuse the DAP of being “racists” and “Chinese chauvinists” but on the other, they are calling for the ethnic Chinese to be united under their “Chinese platform”.

The DAP is still finding it hard to recruit non-Chinese members but at least its platform is multi-ethnic.

Recent gains in Sarawak, especially in semi-rural areas where a significant number of non-Chinese voted for the DAP, may not have been enough to win power but sets the pace for the expansion of the multi-ethnic platform.

This is far more appealing to the urban Chinese voters than the MCA’s exclusivist “Chinese-only” platform.

The second argument is based on the assumption that the BN will always be in power.

The recent shake-up in Singapore and the on-going unraveling of once invincible governments in the Middle East; all globally experienced “first-hand” through the Internet and social-networking sites have convinced voters that their voices and votes count.

The MCA’s “statement of fact” is only true if one adopts a race-based perspective meaning that Chinese interests are best represented by ethnic Chinese political parties. Here the game becomes double-edged.

By pitting itself against the DAP, the MCA’s “statement of fact” is not only directed at the Chinese but also at non-Chinese voters. Vote for the Opposition if you want to compromise your “rights and privileges”.

Unfortunately, the MCA logic only works if the BN is destined to win the next general elections. Most likely they will but with a much reduced majority; which means more losses for Umno.

It is very unlikely that Umno will be able to do what Taib Mahmud did in Sarawak, which was to deliver the Malay and Melanau votes en block.

A stronger showing by the Opposition in the next general election will see larger expansion of Malay votes as the Chinese votes for the Opposition is very near its maximum swing.

The BN’s fragile hold on power will be bitterly tested and unless there is an upswing in the global economy and the trickle-down is genuinely felt in the next six months, the governing coalition may be faced with a real struggle to remain in power.

Old ways won’t work

Thirdly, the MCA would have us all believe that Chinese interests cannot be represented by non-Chinese representatives.

The reality on the ground is that with the advent of social networking and greater openness in governmental policy, the old way of securing votes by keeping the electorate dependent is well and truly over.

Moreover, Chinese voters are mostly in urban areas where Malays are now a majority.

In this case, Dr Chua’s “statement of fact” is reminiscent of Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s (left) misguided warning to voters not to spend the “next five years repenting”.

Chinese voters like all urban voters know that the government cannot afford to ignore cities because the latter are the engines of growth. By 2020, 70 percent of Malaysians, especially in Peninsular Malaysia, will be living in urban areas.

No government can afford to ignore them. As such, it does not matter who is voted in, the Chinese no longer respond to narrow ethnic arguments because this does not solve the problem of inflation, traffic congestion and poor educational facilities.

Lastly, the MCA is reminding Malaysians of its contributions to the community. At least this time round, no one suggested that the Chinese be grateful for what they have.

But this does not absolve the MCA from moderating its big brother Umno or take a stand when blatantly racist statements are made by certain mainstream newspapers associated with the latter.

A well-known academic Dr Chandra Muzaffar wrote an article recently asking “what do the Chinese want?” The answer seems to be not the MCA or Gerakan.

This does not mean that the Chinese reject the so-called “moderate” politics these two parties allegedly promote.

Instead, the Chinese community like their Malaysian brethrens wants good government, intelligent people at the helm and an end to non-productive polemics.

Brand has lost its lustre

Perhaps the MCA should seek the advice of the deputy prime minister who once said that if he were Chinese, he would not vote the MCA.

Albeit the internal party struggle may have subsided for now but bear in mind what sort of brand the MCA is at this moment.

A party represented by a president who is still being dragged down by the infamous videotape scandal; a former president edged out because he blew the lid on the PKFZ fiasco; another former president and a Tun now facing charges in court for misleading a former prime minister; and more recently, a former deputy president facing the same charges as the latter; all because the MCA has worked so hard and so well to defend the rights of the Chinese.

There is a famous Chinese saying: “Climbing a tree to catch a fish”. The MCA should heed this ancient Chinese proverb and moderate its “statement of fact”.

By letting the Chinese community and indeed all Malaysians know that it is a party that fights exclusively for the Chinese, it will be interesting to see how many fish would care to take its bait in the next general election.

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