The Chinese's financial wherewithal is holding the country upright, giving Malaysia the international edge. As a group running the bigger share of the country’s commerce and industries, and paying almost 90 percent of the country’s income tax, they do have the right to reject undue pressures.
By Raymond Tombung
Accusing the Chinese of ingratitude for voting for the opposition is another case of deliberate political irrationality which deserves an all-round denunciation by right-thinking Malaysians. This long-used and oft-repeated accusation has been forged into the minds of many leaders who see the Chinese as immigrants – semi-citizens who have forgotten their roots and now think they can do anything they want on their host-country’s soil. This implication, while hurting to the Chinese, places the accusers at a silly spot where they are seen to be devoid of a realistic perspective of the true meaning of Malaysianism and the real purpose of the democratic system of government.
To call the Chinese ungrateful for practising their democratic right is to presume them to be still subservient, and have limited right to exercise their power in choosing the government. To single out the Chinese for ingratitude ignores the fact that a huge section of the Malay electorates too are ‘ungrateful’ to UMNO for supporting PAS, PKR, and at one time Semangat 46 which almost brought the mighty UMNO to heel. The reality had long dawned that, despite the Malays’ majority in Malaysia, UMNO can no longer survive on Malay votes alone.
One would expect that the situation puts MCA and Gerakan in a spot where it would be hard for them to make a stand one way or the other. But rest assured that Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek is not happy, and he has no qualms about firing salvos at UMNO if the situation calls for it. He is, after all, on record for accusing the UMNO of making all the major administrative decisions without consulting the BN components.
In 2010, Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek accused UMNO and PAS as both using religion to gain Malay support. He also pointed out then that the country had been trapped as a “middle income” nation for more than 10 years, claiming that the competition between the two Malay-centric parties had led to some “non-progressive policies”. He had also gone on a verbal war with Datuk Hishamuddin Hussein, hitting indirectly at the latter for failing to recognise past BN failures and claiming that those mistakes would eventually bring the end of the MCA.
Soi Lek had no hesitation in saying that MCA “was not afraid to side with its opposition foe DAP in issues that benefited the community and would not run away from making its stand known.” He fearlessly claimed that some BN leaders have yet to learn from the 2008 general election and do not understand the urge of the people to reform.
Following attacks by Ahmad Ismail, the Permatang Pauh UMNO division chief who attacked the then Gerakan’s Acting President Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon in September 2008, Gerakan officially cut off ties with UMNO at the state level. During a ceramah in Permatang Pauh on Aug 25, Ahmad Ismail was alleged to have said the Chinese were mere squatters or temporary residents of the nation and therefore, it was impossible to achieve equal rights amongst races in the country. At a meeting after Penang Gerakan’s reaction, Ahmad’s supporters tore up pictures of Koh.
MCA’s and Gerakan’s defiance arises from indignance after extended tolerance of pressures over the decades, and from their awareness of their political strengths within and outside the BN. UMNO needs them to secure its hold on power, and so getting rid of the two parties, or even one of them, is not an option. Also, the application of the divide-and-rule tactic does not go very far in the case of the Chinese. If the Indians, KDMs and the Ibans can be pushed around at will, the Chinese cannot be; they have too much power – the power to bring down UMNO, and shift the political direction of the country!
In May last year, former Prime Minister Tun Mahathir Mohamad lamented that UMNO – the party he led for two decades – has failed to defend the Malays in the face of attacks from the minority Chinese. “What is happening now is that Malays are forming NGOs because of Chinese attacks against the Malays, and UMNO seems unable to defend them,” he said in his blog. He lambasted “Chinese extremists” for their unreasonable demands such as the … questioning the provision of Malay special rights in the constitution, demanding an end to the NEP, reduction of quotas for Malay students. “They even say the Malays are also ‘kaum pendatang’ or immigrants,” he said.
By the sounds and fury from the Malay front, can we conclude that the Malays are now on the defensive against the Chinese? Because the Chinese are fighting back due to the Malay’s discrimination and unreasonable insistence that the Chinese are “a minority” and “immigrants” and are entitled to less? MCA has been very aggressively advocating Chinese rights as a means to garner higher support from the Chinese electorate, which is ironic because UMNO, the target of this aggressiveness, will also benefit from it.
On the opposition side DAP has been on the wild upswing especially since the 2008 general election during which it took Penang and left trails of destruction for BN in many other states. Now that it had gained significant grounds in Sarawak (increasing its seats by 100 percent), it has been accused of ingratitude and spreading the racist virus, which reflects the threat it is now posing to the BN.
It is becoming very believable that in the next parliamentary election and the state election in Sabah, DAP is poised to gain more seats, even become instrumental in the fall of a few more states, and this is a clear possibility which now strikes fear into the BN. The Prime Minister’s number one consideration for holding a snap GE13 or delaying it rests mainly in the Chinese, or DAP, factor.
In that sense, the Chinese are already proving its muscle in being able to force the BN/UMNO to be careful, a fact which the BN/UMNO is wise to pay attention to, knowing the futility of trying to swing the Chinese political support with rewards in cash or in kind.
The Chinese may be comprising only 26 percent of the Malaysian population but they are certainly not a minority in the economic and political considerations. The government may impose all sort of restrictions against them, but it seems such restrictions only end up strengthening the Chinese.
As an example, the imposition of a compulsory pass in the Bahasa Malaysia subject in order to pass the Tingkatan V ended with us seeing Chinese students scoring a lot higher marks in the BM than Malays students!
The restriction against Chinese students entering the public institutions of higher learning led them to send their children to local private colleges or to study overseas, and when they graduate and come back they perform better than Bumiputeras.
Preventing them from entering the public service forced them to go leading and excelling in the private sector.
The NEP was a major plan to help the Bumiputeras catch up with the Chinese, but “Chinese economic dominance continued, despite all the hurdles of the NEP. In fact, the Chinese share of the economy actually increased during the NEP period. By 2002, the Chinese share of equity had risen to approximately 40 percent (from 34 percent in 1970).” (James Chin, “The Malaysian Chinese Dilemma: The Never Ending Policy (NEP),” Chinese Southern Diaspora Studies, Volume 3, 2009).
Mahathir had openly said that Malaysia had shifted from having a Malay dilemma to having a Chinese dilemma. It is now the big question of how UMNO should handle the Chinese. The confusion about the conundrum has led to the present situation in which the Chinese have been handled with an unwritten policy that vacillates between accommodation and curtailment.
For UMNO, it cannot do without the Chinese, and yet they continue to be discomforting bedfellows. The dilemma for the Malaysian Chinese is clear: they cannot “go back to China” and yet are not entirely comfortable in their country of birth where they will forever be non-Bumiputeras. As a result of this half-century pressure, hundreds of thousands have actually left, not to “go back to China” but to join the worldwide Chinese diaspora.
Malaysia’s dilemma with the Chinese is that the Chinese wants more rights than what they are supposed to deserve, but without the Chinese the country will collapse overnight. Their financial wherewithal is holding the country upright, giving Malaysia the international edge. As a group running the bigger share of the country’s commerce and industries, and paying almost 90 percent of the country’s income tax, they do have the right to reject undue pressures.
Ultimately we have to face the hard question of how far we would be willing to accommodate the Chinese in Malaysian politics. For certain, continuing to treat them as second-class citizens would be untenable, not indefinitely. Some Chinese leaders had already raised the question of why should UMNO be autocratically making all the decisions in BN, including in the matters of who should be the Prime Minister. Is it an unwritten principle in perpetuity that only Malays can become Prime Ministers and Deputy Prime Ministers? Technically, on paper, a person of any ethnic background can conceivably become a Prime Minister under the current administrative system, but the realpolitik on the ground is vastly different with UMNO’s clout and traditional hold on convention, and the special position of the Malays, firmly in place.
Can the Chinese and other ethnic groups effect a political change that will transform this tradition and convention? Will the current hot and cold fluctuation of the standoff between UMNO and the Chinese BN parties lead to a final decisive confrontation, or to a stabilizing compromise? Or will a political change debilitating to BN occur in the forthcoming GE13 and bring this standoff to an end by default? Will a new political climate come about in which the Chinese will have more meaningful roles in Malaysian politics?
It will be very interesting to observe how the highly anticipated GE13 will or will not reshape the current arrangements and redirect our future toward a new Malaysia in which all will be equal with no one being more equal than others.