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FEER: Wooing Malaysia's Chinese
By Tan Siok Choo
19/5/2001 2:26 pm Sat
[Beberapa perenggan di dalam rencana ini mungkin kurang enak dibaca
tetapi itulah persepsi beberapa masyarakat Cina mengenai pemimpin
pembangkang akibat putarbelit media. Apa yang menarik di sini ialah
pengundi baru kaum Cina dan bagaimana Suqui begitu menonjol di Lunas
sehingga menyebabkan kekalahan BN. Faktor pengundi Cina harus diambil
perhatian oleh pemimpin BA kerana Mahathir kini sudah mengorak langkah
untuk memancing mereka dari lari kepada parti BA. Ternyata di sini MCA
telah gagal dan tidak boleh diharapkan untuk menolong BN menonjolkan
imejnya. Mekap terbaru Mahathir untuk mengambil seorang (atau lebih?)
penasihat seperti satu sindiran buat MCA yang sudah tidak mampu berkerja.
Ia juga bertujuan untuk membaiki imej BN yang terjejas teruk oleh beberapa
isu yang gagal diselesaikan yang melibatkan masyarakat Cina.
The Far Eastern Economic Review
Wooing Malaysia's Chinese
By Tan Siok Choo
The writer is a former journalist and currently a visiting fellow at
the Institute of Strategic and International Studies in Kuala Lumpur.
The views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect
those of any institution with which she is associated
Changes, unprecedented in magnitude and scope, confront the
Malaysian-Chinese community today. Not only will they transform the
political landscape, but any political party failing to adapt to them
could find itself relegated to the margins.
These changes come in several interrelated strands. First, the number
of political-party suitors wooing the community is proliferating.
Traditional ones like the Malaysian Chinese Association and Gerakan,
both part of the ruling National Front coalition, and the opposition
Democratic Action Party, now must compete with ardent newcomers like
the Islamic party, Pas, and the new opposition party, Keadilan, to
find favour with the Malaysian-Chinese community.
Just consider the zeal Pas now shows in courting the Chinese
community. In 1981 it labelled members of the United Malays National
Organization, the leading party of the National Front, as infidels for
working with non-Muslim political parties. Today, Pas has joined an
opposition coalition that includes the DAP, a party that cannot by any
stretch of the imagination be described as "backward" in defending
real or imagined erosions of Chinese rights. Complicating the picture
is the entry of non-governmental organizations like the Malaysian
Chinese Organization Election Appeals Committee, or Suqiu. In a key
state-assembly by-election last November in Lunas, Kedah, Suqiu proved
it could match the DAP in mobilizing support from the Chinese
community. Because of a disagreement over which party from the
opposition coalition would field a candidate for the Lunas seat, the
DAP was largely absent from the hustings.
Second, the Malaysian-Chinese community is becoming younger.
Projections suggest that 518,000 Malaysian Chinese will be eligible to
vote for the first time in the 2004 general election. This group could
account for about 13% of the Malaysian-Chinese electorate in that
election. Additionally, by that year, voters aged 21-40 years could
comprise almost 47% of the community's electorate. This preponderance
of young voters could signal a shift in future voting trends.
A harbinger of this was apparent in the Lunas by-election. To be sure,
not all new voters voted. But it is arguable that the addition of
2,265 new voters to the electoral roll after the 1999 general election
was a major factor in the 29.1% swing against the National Front in
that seat. Admittedly, the National Front candidate obtained 2.3% more
votes in the by-election than the coalition's candidate in the 1999
general election. But this wasn't enough to prevent the loss of a seat
the coalition won with a 26.5% majority just a year earlier.
Next, the younger profile of the Malaysian-Chinese electorate, coupled
with rising affluence, suggests that political parties seeking support
from the community may need to redefine their vision. Traditionally,
two cornerstone issues for the Chinese community have been business
opportunities and education, in particular, opportunities for tertiary
education in local universities and the role of Chinese-language
schools. In the 1970s and 1980s, the MCA tended to focus on economic
issues. Uncertainty over the implementation of the affirmative-action
New Economic Policy in favour of the Malay community made such an
electoral strategy a necessity; it helped reassure Malaysian Chinese
that through their role in the economy they would still be a
meaningful part of the country. But a younger, more idealistic Chinese
electorate--like its counterparts in other ethnic groups--is likely to
place greater priority on non-economic issues. The 1998 recession, the
country's worst, served to underline the strength and resilience of
Malaysian Chinese-owned businesses. As fears on the economic front
recede, socio-political issues--the role of Chinese-language schools,
the rule of law and corruption--take on increasing importance.
But that is not to say that economic issues have been completely
erased from the Malaysian-Chinese mind. Indeed, there remains the
rising issue of globalization and its effect on segments of the
Malaysian-Chinese business community. The risks here are confined
mostly to those involved in "middleman" trade. For example, the entry
of international discount retailers such as Carrefour and Makro
threaten mainly Malaysian-Chinese-owned sundry shops and wet-market
What all these changes suggest is the possibility that the fault line
in the future political landscape may not be ethnic, but
socio-economic. Although the prospect is remote that they will do so,
ethnic-based political parties--whether in the National Front or
opposition--in fact may need to revamp the rationale for their current
ethnic-based political structures.