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The BN’s culture of “balas budi”


(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.

Confusing gratitude

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.

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23 Responses to “The BN’s culture of “balas budi””

  1. Ellese A says:

    If the concept of ‘balas budi’ is intrinsically wrong and dated why in the world [would] PR [also] use this concept in HS? Why is PR buying votes through granting land titles when it’s also the state’s responsibility of doing so? What about the promise of better roads and attending to the needs of HS people including the promise to Felda settlers to solve the development woes?

    You know what, I dare bet with you in the next PRU that the state of Penang and Selangor will use ‘balas budi’ to show how great they have been on the economy and the well-being of these states if they are elected. [They will] blindly disregard the fact that it’s their duty to do so. DAP and PR will sell like mad their ‘responsibilities’.

    So my dear writer, why can’t you not be partisan and bias? Be objective. PR has used this in HS and you don’t even have an iota of criticism of this so call ‘ worrying trend’ by them?

    In fact, in my view, the concept of balas budi, gratitute and berjasa are good values benefiting people. You should call parties to compete on this. For me I want each party to promise at least 8% growth of our nation annually. I want definitely better public transportation. I want an efficient, fair and [clean] judiciary. I want efficient and transparent government processes. I want better roads to my house instead of potholes. And much more.

    I live in Selangor and want PR and BN to compete on this premise. Whoever does these ‘governmental duties’ I will definitely ‘berbalas budi’ and vote for them. Whoever delivers deserves my vote. ‘Berbalas budi’ is a good and principled virtue which my kids should have and practice it with their friends. I want them to disregard partisan views which reject ‘berbalas budi’ or practice it selectively among favoured friends like the writer above.

  2. Neptunian says:

    When the govt (BN) can tell the difference between taxpayers’ money and their own money, then we will have real change. I am betting for hell to freeze over first though – any takers? Good odds, giving 1 to 10.

  3. Batang Berjuntai says:

    Support me and I’ll Reward You

    “Support me means you sokong parti,
    So, you’ll not walk alone;
    Support him means you tak kenang budi,
    So, forgetlah whatever loan.”

    Akhirnya dilabuh juga tirai,
    lautan manusia menghilang diri.
    Hiruk-pikuk lesap mengundang sunyi.
    Anak sungai mengalir sepi;
    Empangan megah menadah pelangi.
    Hulu Selangor kembali menyendiri.

    Kalau diingat kembali,
    kisah yang lalu cuma beberapa hari.
    Pengunjung datang berlori-lori,
    berkumpulnya mereka di Batang Kali,
    dengan pelbagai tujuan dan misi.
    Baik mempertahankan diri atau merampas kembali,
    kubu yang telah silih berganti.

    Kemenangan sudah mereka perolehi,
    “Yum Seng!” disambut semua kroni.
    Yang diminum Johnny, Brandy;
    barli atau pun sekadar kopi.
    Tiada orang yang mengambil tahu dan peduli.
    Kerana isu minum telah menjadi history.

    Ada yang ingin menjadi Hang Tuah masa kini,
    mempertahan bangsa, agama serta Orang Asli.
    Maka dicadangnya pada parti,
    supaya dihukum mereka yang tidak kenang budi.
    Kononnya tidak setia pada parti,
    harus disekat sebarang yang telah dijanji.

    Kesian apek Cina terkapai-kapai,
    serba salah dan tidak mengerti.
    Diluah, ditelan sama saja mati,
    harus dipertimbang parti atau harga diri?
    hanya mereka yang mengerti.
    Sudah lama mereka mengabdi.

    Jelas apek ada dignity,
    tegas pada prinsip dan harga diri.
    Ingat, mereka bukannya gadis sunti atau isteri;
    yang boleh dinodai dan ditiduri.
    Sudah lama rakyat memerhati,
    segala baik buruk laku jelas dalam jari.

    Tidakkah anda semua mengerti,
    buangan undi suatu proses demokrasi?
    Tidak kisah siapa yang diundi, itu pilihan peribadi.
    Bagaimana dengan mereka yang lompat parti?
    Bukankah mereka sama tidak kenang budi,
    atau busuk hati?

    Begitulah by-election sudah selesai,
    biarpun poket kosong dan habis wang langsai;
    masa untuk Yang Bertugas menunaikan janji.
    Biar Melayu, Cina, India mahu pun Orang Asli;
    semua mereka rakyat negara ini.
    Sememangnya mereka layak menikmati.

    Inilah pilihanraya yang heboh sekali;
    keheningan Hulu telah dinodai.
    Akan ku sediakan Tongkat Ali,
    untuk menguatkan minda diri,
    menantikan By-Election yang satu lagi.
    Yang ditaburi wang ringgit berguni-guni.

  4. jblau says:

    There is nothing to “balas budi” BN. The ministers are paid to carry out the task. The civil servants are paid. All are paid by rakyat. How do the rakyat pay? It is through income tax, road tax, cukai pintu, cukai tanah, sales tax, services tax and many more taxes. Why should I be grateful to somebody whom I had paid but did not deliver?

  5. Lucisferre says:

    For someone who writes “1Malaysia needs to be actualised without racial bias,” but still describes herself as “Chinese Malaysian,” I can tell that we (still) have an extremely long way to go.

    It isn’t the likes of our kind that needs convincing. It’s the rural folk that needs this info. [...]

    I’ll up Neptunian’s odds to 1 to 100. Till then, I shall not let the next general election interrupt my afternoon beers. Cheers!

  6. Hang Jebat says:

    Neptunian’s right. BN doesn’t behave as though it knows it’s wearing two hats – a party political hat and the “Gov’t of Malaysia” hat, at least for now. It acts as though they were the one same hat. Only when BN is consigned to becoming the opposition by Malaysian voters will they realise these are quite different hats.

  7. Enggie21 says:

    When Umno lives and feeds on money politics as a way of life, can anyone expect anything good to come out of Umno or even BN? Umno is already beyond redemption for sleeping in the same bed with Perkasa, and it is too cocky to acknowledge that it is on the same road to extinction as the Third Reich.

  8. Gumball says:

    I feel for this writer. The hope I had for Hulu Selangor as a reflection of the majority public was for the people to have grown to be far-sighted. I trust that all the acts of [alleged] murder/corruption were well spread and whether they are true or not leaves little doubt even to the lay[person's] mind. Yet the majority is incapable of doing the right thing. The BN mechanism works. Malaysia may remain doomed.

    @Neptunian
    Of course there’s no difference. Tax payers’ money is government money. Whatever they can take they deserve. In their minds, they do no wrong. That’s the value system of this country.

  9. Netizen says:

    Can’t help feeling the same way. How long will it be before rural Malays and Indians understand that election goodies are not gifts for political parties to give out, but responsibilities that should have been carried out? How long will it take them to realize that they could have better service and amenities every day if they, for once, would enact a regime change to flush out the system. Then they would have regained their power to enforce better service.

  10. Reza says:

    [People] like Ibrahim Ali and Perkasa are the reason why this country is in its current sorry state. Punishing voters for not voting for your party is an incredibly stupid idea which will only make things worse. Instead, the party should be doing MORE for the Chinese [Malaysian] community to win their hearts and minds.

  11. M.K. says:

    The fact is, most Chinese [Malaysians] do not depend on BN or the government for their survival. Hence, it would take a lot of affimative actions coupled with a clean and transparent administration to convince not just the Chinese [Malaysians], but the other races to support BN.

    Even after the GE12 tsunami, we have not seen many positive changes except a lot of sloganeering. As long as this continues, more and more people will swing their support towards opposition parties.

  12. Dean C. says:

    I wonder who are the “ungrateful” ones; those that “tidak reti mengenang budi”. If I remember correctly, a former Prime Minister said the (Malaysian) Chinese paid 90% of the taxes collected in this country. So, all of our MPs, Ministers’ and civil servants are largely paid with taxes collected from the Chinese [Malaysians]. Nearly all government endeavours, including 1Malaysia and the goodies to the Hulu Selangor voters would presumably be largely funded by the Chinese [Malaysians].

    Despite being overwhelmingly the major contributors to government coffers, Malaysian Chinese are being demonised time and time again, especially by politicians who have failed to convince them. You can’t blame customers who refuse to buy what they think are inferior products and services.

    Will the Malaysian Chinese in this country be villified like the Jews were in pre-war Europe, just because they are smart, industrious and way ahead of everyone else?

  13. DL says:

    One of the main reasons why there was a political tsunami in March 2008 was the availability of alternative information especially in the new media. People are not stupid but need access to information. Rural people have limited access. That is why it is difficult for PR to win in East Malaysia. The greatest challenge for PR is the political education and the dissemination of information to the rural folk. BN has the upper hand especially in the distortion of information. Sadly sometimes PR also play the distortion game, but this is minor compare to BN. We need “neutral” websites like The Nut Graph to challenge the “official line of thought”.

    Question is how to reach the rural and/or uneducated people.

  14. Stewoolf says:

    Imagine the ideal situation according to Deborah’s descriptions — end of racially biased policy, liberal economy, corruption free [environment], etc — is here and translates into a prosperous nation and effecient government comparable to Singapore, or more…The best candidates get the jobs, the risk-taking entrepreneurs take in big bucks…and the PM is a Chinese [Malaysian], 95 out of 100 of the wealthiest persons are Chinese [Malaysian]. Basically the Malay [Malaysians'] worst nightmare becomes reality! Why would the Malay [Malaysians] desire such a situation? Maybe the alternate patronaging, pandering political culture is preferred. [...]

  15. Colin Wong says:

    It is not so difficult to understand. Umno is outright feudal.

  16. -.- says:

    These are exactly my thoughts. Who is (someone who should not be named, but you know who) to tell SJK C Rasa not to come collect the RM3 million if the weighing scale party lost? Those are our rights, and so is the stuff you’ve been giving out in this buy election!

  17. Shaun Kua says:

    I think Deborah has summed up the “balas budi” attitude perfectly. It is interesting how this warped concept is so ingrained in the consciousness of some that it is blatantly expressed in our local newspaper coverage. In my opinion, it stems from something very human in all of us. How many of us have been disappointed at a friend’s “attitude” towards us, after “all” we’ve done for him/her? It is very…human…to expect reciprocation of our kindness, sacrifice and/or generosity, even in insignificant matters like doing favours for a friend. As benign as our thoughts may seem in relation to such simple matters, this is perhaps the kernel, the core, the critical flaw in certain individuals, that mutates into a resurrection of the spectre of colonialism, slavery and in our case, the “balas budi” attitude, time and time again.

  18. dominik says:

    Statement by Ibrahim Ali of Perkasa – “Chinese must repent for being ungrateful” – is the most ridiculous statement ever made by a law-maker. If not for the non-Malay [Malaysians] especially the Chinese and Indians, people like him would still be padi farmers riding a bicycle rather than a Mercedes. This type of lazy extremists should be voted out in the next election. Period.

  19. the reader says:

    With this kind of backward attitude…I wonder why anyone ever voted them…Opposition are Malaysian too!!

  20. sonofDulla says:

    Why need this Unified Exam Cert .. we should strive for 1Education in tandem with 1Malaysia right?

  21. power says:

    We, the Chinese [Malaysians] want Power, actually. Money is not power in Malaysia, we want to be able to tell other Malaysian as and when we want them to bend over as we like.

  22. ar says:

    I absolutely agree with you, Deborah. This “hutang budi” campaign which the BN used in Hulu Selangor was really the lowest of the low. My blood boiled when I saw the old-school Malay proverbs reminding people about the debt of kindness lining up the roads to the Felda settlements in the lead-up to polling day.

    Duty and kindness are not the same thing. I only hope that voters understand this.

  23. JasChong says:

    Who is the boss of Malaysia? The politicians or the rakyat? If it is the politicians, then yes, the rakyat should show gratitude for any project or money handed out to them by the politicians. But it is the rakyat who votes the politicians into power and to represent their interests. Thus the politician has duties to give grants or even to tar the road. The rakyat even pays for development by paying taxes. The politicians should “berhutang budi” to the rakyat and not the other way around.


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