US diplomat foresaw DAP gains but not Pakatan success


US Embassy political counsellor Mark D Clark correctly predicted in 2006 that Malaysian Chinese voters would desert the Barisan Nasional because of its increasingly Islamic tone and greater reliance on racial politics, and that the DAP would benefit at the general election.

But he failed to foresee the extent of damage to the MCA and the Gerakan, and he could not know that the three main opposition parties (PAS, the DAP, and Parti Keadilan Nasional) would effectively combine to deliver a significant blow to the ruling party.

In a secret cable to the State Department on Aug 19, 2006, published at Malaysia Today through WikiLeaks, Mark Clark corrected predicted a general election either in the fourth quarter of 2007 or the first quarter of 2008. The elections were indeed held in the first quarter of 2008, on March 8.

He foresaw BN’s loss of Malaysian Chinese votes because of bumiputra policies. “As Chinese sensitivities heighten regarding Malay-centric policies, discontent with the status quo grows,” he said.

He also noted, as many Malaysian political pundits have also observed, that the Abdullah Ahmad Badawi government had allowed greater freedom of speech in the post-Mahathir era.

It had “allowed greater public airing of such discontent, albeit with limits”, although Abdullah was also “unable to shut down divisive debates in stark contrast to Mahathir’s firm control”.

Clark commented that no one was yet predicting the collapse of the Barisan Nasional and that Umno was not in danger of losing significant numbers of votes. But the BN’s Chinese component parties (the MCA and Gerakan principally) feared they would lose votes. “Growing discontent in the Chinese community has led many political pundits to forecast that many Chinese will abandon MCA and Gerakan and vote for DAP in the next election.”

But Clark, writing in 2006, did not see the opposition parties being able to provide Malaysians a real alternative.