By Chung Hosanna
If anything was clear from the LGE vs CSL debate, it is that racial politics has overstayed its welcome. The half-a-century-old model of “divide and conquer” as practiced by the race-based coalition Barisan Nasional is on its last legs.
When embattled MCA President Chua Soi Lek faced DAP Secretary General Lim Guan Eng at a live televised debate on 18th February, even on its home ground, MCA seemed struggling for relevance.
Throughout the entire showdown, Soi Lek tried very hard to prove that MCA is not merely an appendage to UMNO. In an effort to shrug off the label of a weak MCA constantly kow-towing to “Elder Brother” UMNO, he boasted that MCA could “take UMNO on”.
UMNO still wields the lion’s share of Parliamentary seats and is the undisputed “Taiko” in the BN coalition, it does not auger well for MCA to go out on limb and offend UMNO.
In a battle for its own political survival, MCA has no choice but to play the race card and portray itself as a defender of Chinese rights. After all, UMNO has Perkasa and its right-wingers to shore up communal support. The Chinese too want to feel assured that they would not be ill treated in this equation. Cue MCA to act as hero and savior to the minority Chinese.
Yet in the same breath with the divide and conquer race rhetoric that BN selectively preaches to each community, it also whispers an elusive dream of 1Malaysia to woo moderates. Looking at their political double-speak, many have come to realize that this 1Malaysia is more a pipe dream than a Malaysian dream.
So why did MCA as the host, not set the agenda but choose a topic that is clearly a reaction to answer the opposition’s slogan? In essence, MCA tried to plant the fear that having a two-party system would lead to Chinese Malaysians being left out of the government and concentrated in the “powerless” opposition.
“Two party system” has been the battle cry of the DAP and Pakatan Rakyat since 308 to articulate its aspirations for the Malaysian people. What then is the policy of MCA that it intends to present come GE13?
Surrounded with MCA supporters whose constant boisterous cheers gave no doubt as to whose turf it was, yet Soi Lek’s demeanor was not that of a confident host. Instead, he adopted aggressive attacks from the get-go; a big contrast with his smiling opponent Guan Eng who appeared relaxed.
What we witnessed on 18th February was a defensive president and a loutish crowd of unruly supporters, the signs that MCA is afraid of an increasingly powerful PR which many Chinese Malaysians are now throwing their weight behind.
What’s race got to do with it?
Organisers ASLI and INSAP claimed that the conference was an inclusive intellectual discussion about the future of Chinese Malaysians, said to be facing “political crossroads”. But by asking participants to put on the racially tinted lens of a “Chinese Malaysian”, there is no denying the racial element inherent in the entire conference.
Is the future contemplated by a Malaysian of Chinese descent that different from that of a Malaysian of another race?
Why weren’t we discussing the future of the nation as a whole? Instead of scrutinizing the best policies for all Malaysians, MCA would rather us figure out what policies would be more beneficial for Chinese Malaysians.
There is a fundamental flaw in the very theme of the conference, “Malaysian Chinese at a Political Crossroads”, because it presupposes that only a Chinese can understand what Chinese want.
The notion that politicians in power would only look after rakyat of the same skin color is outmoded, obsolete, and frankly distasteful to all fair-minded Malaysians. The whole point of democracy is that your rights are equal to mine, whether I’m a poor Chinese girl from Jinjang, or a rich Malay dude from Bangi.
Elected representatives are put in office in order to look after the welfare of the people. I for one would appreciate more time being spent on figuring out policies that would best benefit each of us, instead of listening to a politician who promises to look after my race.
My race doesn’t need defending; it is the cause of the poor, the needy, the voiceless, and the weak that needs to be championed.
Guan Eng spoke passionately about a two-party system that focuses on policies to aid such people. He reminded the audience of the successful model adopted in Penang by the PR government and highlighted its fiscal prudence. He spoke of removing corruption and restoring integrity.
I didn’t care whether the Penang Chief Minister was Chinese. I cared that he was competent. I want a system in Malaysia that doesn’t care what race I am. –The Rocket
Yellow-clad DAP supporters who kept their cool despite being outnumbered and provoked. Although DAP supporters were largely hampered from the audience participation segment, DAP Pahang’s young rising star Chow Yu Hui’s rational and intellectual manner of questioning earned him the moniker “DAP’s Jawab Gor”.
In a historic first for the nation, the Secretary General of an opposition party got equal airtime in a nationally televised live debate. This bodes well for the maturing of Malaysian political culture and paves the way for a brave new world.
For once, Lim Guan Eng got a chance to explain the policies of PR to a wider national audience thanks to pay-to-view TV station Astro. While state-run TV stations still censor news and black out pro-opposition coverage, Astro’s bold move is a step forward for media freedom.
MCA supporters distinguished themselves by their jeering, cheering, and incoherent, even irrational audience questions. Case in point is MCA Selayang Coordinator Jessie Ooi who has since earned infamy for heckling Guan Eng –of all issues- about Penang Municipal Councillors towing away illegally parked cars at 10.30pm. Netizens have dubbed her “Ms Tow Truck” or “Kak Tunda” and memes ridiculing her have gone viral.
MCA’s constant harping on the PAS and Islamic State boogeyman sounded like a broken record –and a bad one at that. By and large, Chinese Malaysians today no longer fear PAS, which has increasingly moved to the center with a tone of moderation. On the other hand, UMNO’s right-wing racial politics and corruption incurs the wrath of the people.