(This post was originally published at The Malaysian Insider)
Even before the elections took place, various Umno leaders led by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and Utusan Malaysia have led the onslaught against the Chinese in the country. Now that the results are in, they are taking to a new level the politics of suspicion, hatred and revenge in the Malay masses for what they say as a betrayal by the Chinese voters.
There are several undeniable contrary facts to their thinking.
Firstly, as others have pointed out, the so-called Chinese tsunami was actually a Malaysian tsunami which accounted for the largest ever proportion of total votes — in fact the majority — going to the opposition. Simple arithmetic explains why the Chinese who comprise less than 30 per cent of the total population can barely account for at most half the total votes cast against BN even if all Chinese had voted against BN.
Secondly, the Chinese rejection of BN is in fact a rejection of Chinese racial politics as espoused by the MCA and its junior Chinese partners in BN. If the Chinese had wanted to engage in racial politics as usual, surely they would have voted for the towkays and the cronies who have been the leading players in MCA politics over the past 50 years.
Thirdly, the Chinese cannot in any way be described as being anti-Malay. The majority of Chinese are anti-Umno but this is quite different from being anti-Malay. This can be seen from the Chinese votes which went to Malay candidates from PAS and PKR. The trend of Chinese voting for Malays and other non-Chinese from the opposition even when there is a Chinese BN candidate is a clear signal that they want the changes and reforms proposed by the opposition.
Handouts dished out by BN to Chinese schools and Chinese temples or ang pows paid out to Chinese voters may have worked in the past but no longer now. While many Malay voters will feel obligated to vote for BN after being provided with goodies, the Chinese will happily accept them but vote the other way. They see no moral issue at stake in doing so; and from the voting data that is available they are being joined in this rejection of election bribes by young Malays throughout the country.
What do the Chinese want?
What are the specific changes that the Chinese want? In my social work I have found that the most important concern of the Chinese is fairness in the system, especially in education, business and the civil service.
Most Chinese are rational, adaptable and self-reliant which accounts for their ability to survive in even the most challenging of conditions. Even though they have been against the NEP, they have lived with its discriminatory implementation for the last 40 years in the belief that the system of preference for Malays in economy and education would come to an end once the Malay share of the economic and educational pie has reached a reasonable proportion.
Never mind that the NEP was supposed to end in 1990 as first promised by BN. The Chinese were willing to live with its extension for another 10 years beyond 1990. Even after 2000, the Chinese were prepared to tolerate yet another 10-year extension of the NEP.
Today, 23 years after the NEP was to have ended, Chinese patience has run out and the sense of betrayal by the MCA and other Chinese parties has reached its peak. The Chinese young and middle-aged constituencies have had enough of what they view as political eunuchs and opportunists leading the MCA and Gerakan. Moreover, they have no faith or trust in the country’s broken socio-economic system which is dominated by Umno and which has not only divided Malaysians but also held back our economic advancement.
Fair and open competition with due regard given to need and merit irrespective of race so that their young children can have a real future to look forward to, good governance so that the economy can grow to reach the levels of South Korea, Taiwan and Singapore — this is what the Chinese want.
Can the leopard change its spots?
Until BN changes direction on educational scholarships, civil service jobs and promotion, permits and licences, GLC employment, and the other sectors of Malaysian life in which the NEP has penetrated; until reforms are introduced to fight corruption and ensure a higher standard of life than what is now the case, I can confidently predict that the Chinese votes will not be returning to BN.
Can the BN leopard change its spots? There is little evidence that this can or will happen. In fact, some of the newly appointed ministers in Datuk Seri Najib Razak’s new Cabinet are continuing to beat the drum on the politics of hatred and revenge. Newly-appointed Home Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Zahid Hamidi has now said that Malaysians who are unhappy with the country’s political system should leave the country.
Zahid must be made to withdraw those irresponsible and provocative remarks which in the Malay papers and media will be seen as targeted mainly at the Chinese. Otherwise it will be clear that Umno and BN have not learned anything at all from the elections — just the need to continue with or condone racist and hate politics.