Share This

Friday, 22 April 2011

Malaysia just cannot have it both ways


The Chinese demand equality and meritocracy and, for these reasons, are willing to back the DAP despite its alliance with the Islamic PAS and the scandal-ridden PKR. 

THE recent Sarawak election, which saw urban Chinese voters supporting the DAP and voters in the rural heartland – mostly Malays, Melanaus and Dayaks – backing the Barisan Nasional, has sparked renewed debate over how race, ethnicity and, perhaps, religion are colouring the political divide.

Having a two-party system is a healthy trend in an emerging democracy like ours, but it would be unhealthy – and even dangerous – if the political divide is widening on account of race and religion. The mostly Chinese DAP representatives will be occupying the Opposition bench in the Sarawak Legislative Assembly while on the government side, the one that controls the state purse, is overwhelmingly Malay/Melanau and Dayak.

The DAP, by dominating the Opposition bench, can raise a ruckus, but cannot deliver the goods.
Meanwhile, the SUPP, the party that took the biggest hit, is divided over the issue of representation without popular support.

Writing is on the wall: The results may give the Chinese community something to shout about but not necessarily in the long run.
The SUPP instructed Miri strongman Datuk Wong Soon Koh, who retained his Bawang Assan seat, to decline being in the Cabinet but he accepted, sparking internal turmoil and raising the possibility of a breakaway faction.

Most SUPP leaders want the party to stay out of the Government but a minority said, if unrepresented, the Chinese community that is heavily reliant on business and dependent on friendly government decision and patronage, would lose out.

The MCA, too, has asked the SUPP not to accept any government posts. The Sarawak political development poses a serious paradox for the larger and economically-vibrant Chinese community in the country.

While the Malays, Chinese and Indians – in different capacities and numbers – voted for the Pakatan Rakyat in the 2008 political tsunami and gave the Barisan Nasional its biggest setback since the 1969 disturbances, three years on, the political mood is decidedly changing.

The political reality today is that while the Malays are with Umno and the Indian voters are gradually returning to the Barisan fold, the Chinese voters, who form about 25% of the electorate of about 14 million, are holding out and throwing their weight behind the Opposition DAP.

Their vote is really for a fair and just governance and for equal treatment of all citizens. They have long searched for and demanded equality and meritocracy. These ideals continuously move the Chinese community and are reasons why they back the DAP despite its alliance with the Islamic PAS or the scandal-ridden PKR.

Post 2008, the DAP emerged as the winner among the three Pakatan allies but the question remains; how much can it deliver on its own and outside of DAP-run Penang?

Arguably, the DAP has run the state well but the same cannot be said of Selangor, where the PKR-led government is at best rickety in comparison with Penang. The PAS-run state governments – Kelantan and Kedah – are in a world of their own.

For a new generation of trend-setting and upwardly mobile Chinese enjoying a world view dominated by meritocracy and business survival, the Barisan coalition is not transforming well enough or fast enough.

This perception is deep colouring their political choices and since the DAP has a showcase in Penang and makes the right noises, the party continues to get their support.

The fact remains, however, the DAP is king in a small pond. In the national sea, it is a backwater entity despite the sound and fury it generates.

Unless PAS and PKR also deliver (which did not clearly show in Sarawak), the voter support for the DAP alone will not get the Pakatan alliance into Putrajaya.

Instead, the support would fill the Opposition ranks everywhere with Chinese DAP representatives and, over the long haul, seriously mute the community’s voice in the government and limit their capacity to influence policies friendly to their business and economic needs.

With bumiputra birth rates far higher than others and with rural-urban migration ongoing, political power is gravitating to the rural elite.

Rural constituencies, where the Chinese population is thin, decide who ultimately wields political power, as the Sarawak vote shows.

Reversely the rural-urban migration is also diluting Chinese political power in the urban centres by eventually reducing the number of Chinese-majority constituencies in the country to a handful.

The process is irreversible, experts say, giving Penang as an example. The DAP-ruled Penang actually has a Malay-majority of about 170,000 as at July 2010.

Like in Sarawak, the Chinese community here might buy themselves a right to raise a ruckus by going the DAP way, but end up losing their share of government power and the right to determine how the national purse is deployed.

The fact is, the Chinese community cannot have it both ways.