(Gift image by iprole, gift tag image by modish / sxc.hu)
CHINESE Malaysian community leaders and MCA politicians are reacting strongly to Perkasa‘s calls for the government to “punish” Hulu Selangor voters who didn’t vote for the Barisan Nasional (BN). I believe we are in store for more of such rhetoric, this blaming and defence of Chinese Malaysians. It’s bound to happen as the government tries to balance between political and economic pressures.
I am sure Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s administration is convinced of what needs to be done. The economy needs to be unshackled from uncompetitive, race-based policies. 1Malaysia needs to be actualised without racial bias. But I am not sure if the government has the will to do it. Witness how the New Economic Model (NEM)’s unveiling was delayed from the end of 2009 to recently. Even now, we only have the skeletal framework with few details.
Even as Najib tries, he’ll have a sceptical public to deal with, just as I expect his able deputy, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, to play “bad cop” with more of his ethnocentric remarks. For as long as there are players in government who will echo the views of groups like Perkasa, I expect such views to gain currency.
Why do I think that Perkasa’s views will gain traction after this? Because for too long, the BN has drummed it into voters that they need to “balas budi” and show gratitude for what is really the government’s responsibility and citizens’ rights.
What folks in Perkasa and many conservatives in government fail to realise is that gratitude is no longer a premise for the BN to win votes from Chinese Malaysians. The era of “buying” votes through development promises and election goodies is gone among Chinese Malaysians.
In the first place, such expectations of gratitude were wrong when development is the government’s responsibility. Yet, in all past 10 by-elections, we’ve heard this rhetoric about “being grateful”. The BN, known first as the Alliance, won independence for you. Through the Alliance, you non-Malays were given citizenship because the Malays made concessions for you. Then the BN built you roads, schools, houses, and created jobs. The BN gives aid to temples and churches, too, not only mosques. The BN gives money to upgrade or rebuild Chinese-vernacular schools. So be grateful. Show your gratitude by voting for BN if you want your future guaranteed.
In Hulu Selangor, former prime minister Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad, who joined the campaign, told a ceramah in Serendah: “Under BN, everyone gets something, at the very least, tarred roads.”
Wow. And I thought my tax money paid for that tarred road.
Road lined by BN and PKR flags in Hulu Selangor
In Hulu Selangor, the BN pledged funds for Chinese-medium schools in Rasa and Bukit Beruntung, but still the bulk of Chinese Malaysians voted for Parti Keadilan Rakyat. Now, political parties are cracking their heads over just what it is Chinese Malaysians want.
Clearly, they are no longer interested in being wooed by piecemeal assistance. And noting the portentous trend of this community’s votes, Umno Youth chief Khairy Jamaluddin‘s analysis of the by-election results reveals that support for PKR was higher among Chinese Malaysian youths than among Malay or Indian Malaysian youths.
If these are the youths today, will our future be even more polarised? Khairy is pressing the government not to punish any group that didn’t vote for the BN, and to continue doing the politically principled, “right” thing, which is to serve all regardless.
Of gifts and rights
Does the government have any idea where to begin with Chinese Malaysians? NEM and 1Malaysia are still broad concepts. And does the government realise how distant and irrelevant the NEM seems to the rural Chinese Malaysian shopkeeper in Hulu Selangor?
As a Chinese Malaysian voter myself, let me make some suggestions. You will find that most of them have little to do with race or affirmative action.
For the working class and rural segment, they would like the selection criteria for public scholarships to benefit the poor, and not straight-A students from rich families. They would like the Unified Examination Certificate from Chinese-medium secondary schools to be recognised for entry into public universities. They would like job opportunities in their constituencies to transform their quiet new villages. They would like a minimum wage so they don’t have to hold at least two jobs. They would like a fair chance when applying for licences, without having to spend extra money on kopi duit.
Aren’t most of these things what the other races would want, too?
Parliament has to be more than just a
rubber stamp (Pic by brokenarts / sxc) For more sophisticated voters, they want efficient and unbiased local councils so that Members of Parliament aren’t distracted from lawmaking. They want a change in the way laws are made, by empowering Parliament with select committees instead of a Parliament that rubber-stamps executive-sponsored bills. Increasingly, more also want policies based on ethics and principles, like gender equality, religious freedom, and environmental stewardship.
And everyone wants a corrupt-free civil service, a clean judiciary, honest cops, and heck, public transportation that is efficient and punctual.
Few of these things have anything to do with race, but will in fact benefit all of society. And none of them require concessions, and therefore the public’s gratitude, because frankly, these are the government’s duties.
However, I am not confident that things can change anytime soon. Too much is at stake in the patronage system that keeps the wheels of government and politics turning. And not enough of the electorate, the majority of whom is rural, is ready to distinguish between favour and responsibility.
Deborah Loh apologises for the pessimistic tone of this column. She has little faith in the government and political parties, and at this moment, even less in the majority of the public.
Read previous Sideways columns
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