Sunday, March 9, 2008

Chinese vent their frustration

A GROUNDSWELL of discontent among Chinese voters sent MCA and Gerakan packing in many seats in this election.
Political analysts estimated the swing to be significant, by about 20 per cent, leading to the fall of the Gerakan-led Penang government.

The two members of the Barisan Nasional lost their seats mainly to the DAP, which registered one of its most impressive performances in the history of the country's elections.

Among the big name casualties from Gerakan were its acting president, Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon, who lost in Batu Kawan, and Datuk Seri Chia Kwang Chye, who lost Bukit Bendera to DAP's Liew Chin Tong.

MCA's Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun and Petaling Jaya Utara incumbent was unseated by DAP's Tony Pua and Kota Melaka incumbent Wong Nai Chee by DAP's Sim Tong Him.
The swing was evident, going by the massive majorities garnered by DAP candidates. Seputeh incumbent Teresa Kok swept to victory with an unprecedented 36,564 majority compared with 12,895 in 2004. In Cheras, incumbent Tan Kok Wai won with a 28,300 majority compared with 11,861 in the last election.

As predicted by surveys and political commentaries in the days preceding the polls, unhappiness among Chinese voters translated into protest votes against the ruling coalition.

The seats where the Chinese formed the majority all went to DAP, except for a handful like Kulai and Kampar.

The second-largest community in the country was unhappy over several issues, notably the crime rate, hike in the price of goods, and what they perceived as the government's undelivered promises in efforts to combat corruption.

There was also uneasiness among the Chinese over several racial-religious issues that cropped up over the past year.

Usually inscrutable, Chinese voters this time around were not bashful about revealing which party they intended to "cross" on their ballot papers. They had also been vocal at opposition ceramah, turning up in thousands to cheer on the speakers.

"This was quite a departure as opposition ceramah in urban Chinese-majority areas usually do not attract such crowds," a political observer noted.

Last month, a poll by opinion research firm Merdeka Center revealed that only 30 per cent of Chinese were satisfied with the way the government was managing the economy, compared with Malays at 70 per cent and Indians, 35 per cent.

The Chinese felt the most important problem in the country was the price hike and rising cost of living, followed by crime and public safety, ethnic and racial inequality, and other economic problems.

But even then, MCA and Gerakan's huge losses were unexpected. Observers attributed this to the "silent majority".

Political analyst Ong Kian Ming opined that Chinese support tended to swing the most in Chinese majority seats because this was where they had a "security blanket" mentality, in that they did not feel that they needed to be protected from the Malays, unlike in more mixed constituencies.

He noted that it was also in these constituencies that the strongest DAP candidates were fielded and the Chinese minority sentiment played up.

What's the next step for the MCA and Gerakan?

Ong said they would need to listen more to the people, go to the ground and pay heed to what their constituents have to say. "I don't think there is any way for them to find a positive spin to the outcome of the election."

The other challenge for the non-Malay component parties is to find a balance between dealing with sensitive issues and remaining credible at the same time.

By tradition, MCA, for instance, prefers to shun the limelight when resolving sensitive subjects, ranging from Chinese schools to the award of government contracts to cultural flashpoints.

But this buttoned up image - which even its "Working quietly, and effectively, for results" campaign advertisements acknowledged - resulted in it being viewed as not doing anything to address issues affecting the Chinese community. Something the opposition exploited to the fullest during campaigning.

Being perceived as not doing anything can be fatal, since much of politics relies on perception.

The pressure will now be felt for the party to be seen to be more vocal. Unless the MCA is perceived to be more responsive to the community's sentiments, it risks alienating the Chinese even further.


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