GE13: ‘Victory’ at any cost?

The DAP strategy of targeting MCA candidates could make the Chinese community the unwitting victim.

Bunn Negara, The Star

THE 2008 general election was significant as a “political tsunami” – the Opposition achieved its best ever gains, with the promise of an emerging two-coalition system.

That election would have been even more historic had it also achieved what many thought it would: end communal politics for good.

But it failed miserably, with no political party blameless. Perhaps it was too much to expect qualitative change in addition to quantitative change (seat numbers in state assemblies and Parliament).

Communal politics has been a bane of this country for as long as there have been elections.

That remains a fundamental reality into the foreseeable future.

For Barisan Nasional (and its predecessor the Alliance) as well as the Op­­p­o­sition, race-based politics is practised if not always acknowledged. It takes far more to turn that around than many have imagined.

Whether party membership is defined by ethnicity or not, one race or another dominates and characterises each party.

Parties that are multiracial in theory are just less transparent in their ethnic politics.

However, what turns an unfortunate situation tragic is when those parties most vehement about having “turned the corner” of communal politics are also doing the most to perpetuate it.

PAS as the Islamist party has set new standards in trying to ram Islamist-style restrictions down the throats of all Malaysians – Muslim and non-Muslim.

It now does so with more gusto and less hesitation.

PKR as another Muslim and Malay-majority party chooses indifference and complacency in the face of the PAS onslaught.

It has even supported the idea of turning Kelantan into an Islamic state.

The DAP prefers silence and inaction amid PAS’ swagger. Elsewhere it would wield its non-Muslim credentials, sometimes to the point of playing the Christian card.

None of this helps to tone down Malaysia’s sweltering communal politics. And since this reinforces the problem in Pakatan itself, it could prompt more of the same in Barisan as well.

The DAP’s latest move sees party adviser Lim Kit Siang contesting the Gelang Patah seat in Johor. It would be the latest “stop” in a long and roving parliamentary career.

MCA, which has half (seven out of 15) of its parliamentary seats in the state, sees Johor as its stronghold.

MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek condemned this as DAP’s strategy of “Chinese killing off the Chinese”.

Both Chinese-based parties are natural rivals whose mutual rivalry has now reached a new high.

DAP leaders may dismiss this alarm as predictable melodrama, but it contains a hard kernel of truth.

The DAP’s drive for power is not above pitting Chinese candidates against other Chinese candidates, which is likely to reduce further the number of ethnic minority MPs.

Johor is also Umno’s home state. There is virtually no prospect of the DAP snatching the state from Barisan.

However, DAP efforts to unseat MCA parliamentarians in Johor could produce a strong Malay-based Umno in the state government contending with a Chinese-based DAP in the Opposition.

That would be bad and dangerous for politics, race relations and the Chinese community’s representation in governance. It would be a regression, precariously setting an unhealthy precedent.

In recent years Malaysian political discourse became more multiracial as both Government and Opposition coalitions became more racially mixed.

With both Barisan and Pakatan led by Malay-majority parties, political differences were distanced from racial differences.

In the absence of thoroughly multiracial politics, that seems the next best option. The prospect of political fault lines coinciding with ethnic fault lines, raising the possibility of an ethnic conflagration as in 1969, has thus become more remote.

But the risk of returning to such political volatility remains. Respon­sible leaders of every party need to be cognizant of these realities.

Besides, the cause of shedding the racial element in party politics cannot be furthered by recourse to more racial politics.

Under a veneer of multiracial rhetoric, the DAP has been known to practise communal politics in its seat choices and allocations.

Lim’s foray into Gelang Patah to battle the MCA incumbent there is the latest example of this approach. Instead of creating a more multiracial two-coalition system, this communal cannibalism could promote an unhealthy and perilous two-race system.

Apparently, the DAP’s objective is simply to unseat MCA candidates, seen as soft targets since 2008, regardless of the cost to the people. That can only come at the expense of deepening racial politics in electoral outcomes.

Perhaps the DAP’s Chinese candidates are thought to have better chances in challenging MCA’s Chinese candidates than Umno’s Malay candidates. But that is still a tricky calculation depending on the circumstances at the time.

Thoughtful and responsible leaders may not consider that a risk worth taking, much less a cost worth paying.