Guna’s Take on the Politics of ICERD and Harapan’s Volte-Face


November 27, 2018

Guna’s Take on the Politics of ICERD and Harapan’s Volte-Face

https://www.malaysiakini.com/columns/453556

QUESTION TIME | If we thought that UMNO-style gangster politics is dead and gone with New Malaysia, we have been very sadly mistaken as the recent issue over the ratification of the International Convention for the Elimination of all forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) shows.

Somehow or other, the ratification of this convention has been taken to be a major attack on the special privileges of bumiputeras, including Malays, resulting in a cacophony of protests by UMNO and PAS, which were rather badly handled by the Harapan government.

It is no such thing.  There are enough safeguards and provisions in the IICERD for the special privileges of bumiputeras to continue and there are countries such as the US which ratified the treaty, saying its own constitution provides for those rights, and if there is any problem, then its constitution will stand supreme against ICERD.

Despite what Prime Minister Dr Mahathir Mohamad has said about having to amend the constitution, which would require a two-thirds majority in Parliament, to ratify Icerd, most expert legal opinion is that there is no such necessity. In fact, Mahathir had said in September at the UN General Assembly that Malaysia would ratify six UN conventions, which includes Icerd.

The about-turn that Harapan made over Icerd is substantive for one very important reason: it has basically submitted to the blackmail of UMNO and PAS who had threatened not just demonstrations but violence. Demonstration organisers talked openly about creating another May 13 in videos that went viral, raising needless alarm and concern.

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The mute Malaysian Women Libbers

That will only encourage them to come up again and again with gangster-style tactics of violence and bloodbath when every issue of importance is debated. Capitulation to them now over an important issue in Malaysian politics will only make them raise their voices higher and their threats more severe in future.

What was terribly surprising was the silence and muted response by Harapan leaders over an issue which had been twisted and turned by the opposition UMNO and PAS into a highly explosive racial and religious one.

Social redress

There was no attempt to explain that ratifying the ICERD was in no way against bumiputera rights but was aimed at endorsing universal principles against any form of racial discrimination. ICERD specifically excludes special privileges for any community as a means of social redress for as long as that is necessary.

There are some who say that the Federal Constitution sets no limit on special privileges, but even that is not an issue as Icerd can be ratified subject to the primacy of a country’s own constitution as the US did when it ratified Icerd in 1994.

These concerns are addressed and allayed comprehensively in this article by respected constitutional scholar Shad Saleem Faruqi who deals with all the major legal and constitutional issues over ratifying ICERD.

 

Here are the concluding remarks of his article: “ Even if ratified by the executive, Icerd cannot displace Article 3 (Islam) (of the constitution), Article 153 (special position of the Malays and natives) and Article 181 (prerogatives of Malay Rulers). This is due to the legal fact that our concept of ‘law’ is defined narrowly in ArticIe 160(2) and does not include international law.

“The constitutional position on the ICERD is, therefore, this: Even if the ICERD is ratified by the executive, it is not law unless incorporated into a parliamentary Act. Even if so legislated, it is subject to the supreme constitution’s Articles 3, 153 and 181. Unless these Articles are amended by a special two-thirds majority and the consent of the Conference of Rulers and the Governors of Sabah and Sarawak, the existing constitutional provisions remain in operation.

“The ICERD is not a law but only a pole star for action. Its ideals cannot invalidate national laws. The agitation against it is contrived for political purposes and perceptive Malaysians must not allow themselves to be exploited by politicians.”

Unfortunately, that is exactly what Harapan has done by capitulating to UMNO-PAS and others threats of violence over Icerd at a demonstration to be organised on Dec 8. Now that demonstration is going to be a celebration of their “success” – how pitiable.

Here is the Prime Minister’s Office’s statement on the matter: “The Pakatan Harapan government will not ratify CERD. “The government will continue to defend the Federal Constitution, in which lies the social contract agreed to by representatives of all races during the forming of the nation.”

Narrow agenda

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A Janus-faced Malay Politician

“It was Mahathir, after all, who said point blank to the Malays that they should stop supporting UMNO because its leader was involved in the largest kleptocracy the world has known via 1MDB where RM42 billion was lost. Surely through proper information and education, most Malays can be made to realise that ratifying ICERD does not affect their rights or the rights of other bumiputeras.

But instead, the silence of Harapan leaders and their lack of defense of the reason why ICERD was to be ratified as part of the intentions voiced in their manifesto led to this issue systematically being used to whip up sentiment, spiralling up to the defence of Malay rights which it is not”.–Gunasegaram

That pathetic statement follows upon Mahathir’s volte-face over signing ICERD, saying the untruth that a constitutional amendment is needed to ratify the convention, and taking the easy way out instead of explaining to the Malays, who appear to be the only bumiputra group opposed to the ratification, what the real situation is.

It was Mahathir, after all, who said point blank to the Malays that they should stop supporting UMNO because its leader was involved in the largest kleptocracy the world has known via 1MDB where RM42 billion was lost. Surely through proper information and education, most Malays can be made to realise that ratifying ICERD does not affect their rights or the rights of other bumiputeras.

But instead, the silence of Harapan leaders and their lack of defense of the reason why ICERD was to be ratified as part of the intentions voiced in their manifesto led to this issue systematically being used to whip up sentiment, spiralling up to the defence of Malay rights which it is not.

And handing a victory on a platter to the gangster politics of UMNO, PAS and others who play up racial, religious and royalty sentiments and threaten violence, not in furtherance of Malay rights, but their own selfish, narrow agenda of capturing Malay votes and support.

It is more than a sorry state of affairs for it might lead to pressure on the entire Harapan reform agenda if a simple ratification of the ICERD can be turned into such a serious non-issue.


P GUNASEGARAM wonders how many more manifesto promises Harapan will break. E-mail: t.p.guna@gmail.com

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

ICERD Controversy Needs More than Politics to Resolve


November 26, 2018

ICERD Controversy Needs More than Politics to Resolve   

 

by Tawfik Ismail and Lim Teck Ghee

Two recent commentaries on the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD) ratification controversy have argued that it is necessary for the government to make known its position on the issue.

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According to the Sik-Bisik Awang Selamat column of Utusan Malaysia those who oppose ratification have a valid concern in that it will challenge the constitution which affects the special rights of the Malays, the bumiputeras and the Malay rulers. The column noted that the issue will continue to divide the nation as long as the government  drags its feet and does not come out with a clear and definitive decision. The Utusan writers also pointed out that If the politicians cannot take a firm stance on the issue, how can they expect to convince the populace?

 

The second commentary by Dr. Musa Mohd Nordin and Dr. Awaluddin Mohamed Shaharoun makes the point that that UMNO-PAS politicians are using the issue to create instability in their efforts to topple the Pakatan government. They also provide a necessary reminder to the public that PAS president, Hadi Awang, in an Utusan Melayu report dated 15 September 1985, then in his capacity as Terengganu State Commissioner, “pledged to abolish Malay rights if PAS came into power”. More specifically, he added that these include “the removal of Malay Reserve Land, National Economic Policy or other policies which only served the Malay interest. PAS promised that all races would be equitably treated”.

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Anti-ICERD rally is now void of reasoning

Although diametrically opposed in their support of the political parties, both sets of commentators seem to agree in assigning the primary responsibility for resolving the controversy to the political leaders of Pakatan and Barisan.

A politically driven top down authoritarian approach to managing this controversy now has taken place with the announcement from the Prime Minister’s Office that the Pakatan government has decided against ratifying the ICERD.

 

According to the PMO statement, “The government will continue to defend the Federal Constitution, in which lies the social contract agreed to by representatives of all races during the forming of the nation.”

 

While this clearly hasty and apparently panicky decision may have the effect of dousing the inflamed sentiments and views of some members of the public, it is at best a temporary band-aid or cooling agent.

What has happened is that the ICERD issue and the question of Malaysia’s ratification – for better or for worse – has become and will remain a cause celebre which will continue to generate widespread controversy, fierce campaigning by opposed groups and heated public debate.

 

To ensure that the ICERD ratification issue is not further hijacked by political parties and politicians for their own agenda,  a final government position needs to be made which takes into account the views of all stakeholders and the larger citizenry.

We propose the following process of examination and analysis to take place:

 

  1. The main objections expressed against ratification relate to concerns about how the international treaty will adversely affect the special position of the Malays, the other Bumiputeras, the Malay rulers, the Malay language, etc..

  2. In addition, the latest statement by PMO brings in a related but new issue of the ‘social contract’ agreed to by the various communities at the time of independence which the ICERD ratification apparently will conflict with.

  3. All major stakeholders – apart from political parties – should review the provisions of the ICERD and determine how the country’s act of ratification will exactly impact on each of their positions as well as on the so-called ‘social contract’.

  4. In particular, each major stakeholder identified by critics of the ICERD as having their position or rights or interests adversely affected by the treaty ratification – the Rulers Council, JAKIM and other Islamic bodies, social, cultural, language, academic, and other Bumiputra bodies and organizations should take the opportunity to give priority to this exercise and  communicate their findings and conclusions to the public and the government. In this way, they can either refute or confirm the concerns made by others on their behalf.

 

Silence from non-partisan and non-politically aligned key stakeholders will not serve the nation well.  We are all aware that fear and insecurity are being fanned and manipulated by the anti-ICERD Malay faction and this will not stop soon.

Finally, we note that the best way of responding to those who claim to represent or speak up on behalf of the Malays is to remind them of the wisdom of our past leaders in building the nation.

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One of the most influential leaders of our recent history, Tun Dr. Ismail, has explained that:

“The Special Position of the Malays [is] a handicap given to the Malays with the consent of all the other races who have become citizens of the country so as to enable the Malays to compete on equal footing for equal opportunities in this country. That and that alone is the only aim of the Special Position of the Malays.”  (From Ooi Kee Beng, “The Reluctant Politician: Tun Dr. Ismail and his Time”, p. 225).

 

We believe that the ultimate national position on ICERD ratification – whether for or against it – should be derived from historically informed, empirically driven, truth-finding, objective and independent analysis along the lines we have set out. This alone can enable us to break the deadlock over the issue and be acceptable to the great majority of Malaysians who want the country to put this issue behind them and to move on.

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*Tawfik Ismail, eldest son of Tun Dr Ismail, is an alumni of St. John’s, Royal Military College and Oxford University. He represented Sungei Benut as Member or Parliament from 1986 till 1990.

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Dr. Lim Teck Ghee is a public policy analyst and author of the book, Challenging Malaysia’s Status Quo.  He is also co-author of the recent book on the 14th GE, Anatomy of an Electoral Tsunami.

 

 

 

When it comes to ICERD, New Malaysia is the Old Racist Devil again


November 25,2018

When it comes to ICERD, New Malaysia is the Old Racist Devil again–BACK TO UMNO 1946. This time with PAS

By S Thayaparan

http://www.malaysiakini.com

I said the old devils are at it again,

And it’s right now like it was back then,

The old devils are at it again.

– William Elliot Whitmore, ‘Old Devils

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COMMENT | In an interview, DAP’s Lim Guan Eng was reported to have said “the situation needed to be pacified, it should not stop people from continuing to express their views on ICERD (International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination).”

Really? So, let me get this straight.

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ICERD–MY  WAY or JUST HIT The North-South Highway

 DAP, which has not given its official stand on the ratification of ICERD, wants people to express their views on this issue?  DAP, who routinely mocks MCA for being subservient to UMNO wants people to express their views even though it has not declared its own position on the issue after the cabinet decided (by consensus) not to ratify Icerd?

DAP, the purveyors of the Bangsa Malaysia Kool-Aid, wants people to express their views, even though it has warned the Chinese community (and others) to be wary until after the December 8 anti-ICERD celebration?

So, the Finance Minister of this country, who has made these tirades about speaking the ‘truth’ even though it is economically or politically disadvantageous to do so, suddenly seems to have lost his ability to speak when it comes to the issue of ICERD.

But don’t worry folks, I am sure you will speak up on this issue, even when Lim, if asked to comment, will just deflect, leaving you holding the bag.  Another DAP leader, says this country needs a vision which highlights the virtue of the middle ground.

When politicians babble on about the middle ground, what they forget to tell you is that it is contextual. Here in this country, when I talk to people about what they think the middle ground is, they speak of middle Malaysia with two definitions.

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The first is the social contract. It is not a real document but rather it is an unspoken understanding. The middle ground is that there are policies and ideologies in place that benefit the majority, and as long as minorities can exist comfortably, albeit with limited freedoms, they must not question the inequalities of the system, even if that system which claims to “uplift” the majority is in reality detrimental to the community.

The second definition was borne out of the political turmoil that split the Malay community when Anwar Ibrahim was ejected from the UMNO paradise. Or at least, that’s the narrative that we are most familiar with.  This middle ground is defined by concepts like equality, secularism and numerous other progressive ideas championed by the urban educated electorate.

So when people talk of Bangsa Malaysia for instance, they are really talking about the idea that everyone is equal in law and the aspirations to certain fundamental freedoms that people in other countries take for granted.

Here’s the thing though, ICERD was that vision of a middle ground that Pakatan Harapan claimed fidelity to. It is in their manifesto and the rhetoric of the more outspoken members of its coalition.

Rational (Harapan-aligned) critics of ICERD did not make the argument that the treaty would destroy the Malay community because they could not point to anything that did that.

What they argued was that the ratification of ICERD would be politically disadvantageous – or so they claim – and that the present government would lose its credentials as protectors of race and religion. This neatly falls into the first definition of the middle ground.

The reality is that ICER was a symbol and a declaration which is actually a baseline for functional democracies for the second definition. The religious far-right who oppose Icerd did so because they believed in the supremacy of their race and religion. What Icerd did was to say everyone should be equal.

Threats of violence work

By not ratifying Icerd, the government did two things. First, it legitimised the views of people like PAS president Abdul Hadi Awang. This really does not bother me. Hadi is the politically incorrect face of Malay supremacy.

As I said earlier – “The funny thing is that state governments controlled by the opposition bend over backwards to accommodate Muslim preoccupations and have to continuously defend themselves against charges of racism and yet the mainstream Malay establishment does not disavow someone like Hadi.”

Think of it this way. Has any Malay-Muslim Harapan politician come out and say that Hadi is wrong when it comes to issues of race and religion? Have any of these politicians offered an antithetical view of Hadi’s numerous toxic narratives?

Sure, some political operatives have made meek protestations and gingerly attempted to offer a counterview, but nobody has had the cojones to say Hadi’s view of Islam is wrong.

So I am not so worried about the first point because the foundation of mainstream Malay politics is racial supremacy, but what has happened over the years is that mainstream Malay power structures have done a reasonable job in balancing Malay and non-Malay expectations so we did not turn into just another failed Islamic state.

The second point is far more dangerous. When Harapan rejected ICERD, they sent a message to the religious far-right that their threats of violence work.Now, some would say, hasn’t this always been the case? No, this time is different because Harapan, which claimed to be a progressive force, caved in to the religious far-right.

This was not the UMNO decades-long hegemon playing to the gallery. This was a supposed multiracial coalition telling the racial and religious far-right that they were afraid to confront them even though they had federal power.

It sent a signal that the Harapan government could be brought to its knees when the issues of race and religion are used. The problem here is that the racial and religious far-right could turn every issue into a religious or racial issue and by attrition, bring down a democratically-elected government.

If this sounds scary, it really isn’t. What the Harapan government should do is determine which kind of middle ground they want to occupy. This would mean jettisoning those ideas which they have long promulgated to rile up the base.

Chin Tong is wrong when he talks about a non-Malay periphery electorate wanting to fight fire with fire. What they want – and I doubt they are a periphery – is for Harapan to occupy the second definition of the middle ground. This puts them in conflict with those who view the first definition as pragmatic and conducive to maintaining power in this system.

Harapan, and the DAP specifically, has to find its scrotal sac and define the middle ground even if it means acknowledging that there is no new Malaysia, only a BN Redux.


S THAYAPARAN is Commander (Rtd) of the Royal Malaysian Navy.The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.

 

Longing for a kinder, compassionate, more humane and freer Malaysia.


September 7, 2018

Tough Love: Longing for a kinder, compassionate, more humane and freer Malaysia.

by Zainah Anwar

http://www.thestar.com.my

THIS time last year, I wrote about my longing for a better Malaysia, and how my utter belief that this was possible would always triumph over my many moments of despair. There was just too much good in this country for us to ever give up hope.

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And this year, as we celebrate our 61st year of Merdeka, I am simply thrilled. Thrilled that what most people thought was impossible, became possible. Malaysia bucked the global trend and voted into power a reformist government, throwing out a kleptocratic government and a ruling party that had held uninterrupted power since independence in 1957.

The election of a reform-minded government that believes in an inclusive Malaysia and eschews the use of race and religion for political gain does not of course mean we are home free. It is important that we who voted for change remain vigilant that the Pakatan Harapan government delivers on its promises of transformation. And to do this transparently and in consultation with stakeholders.

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Malaysia’s autocrat turned reformer: at 93 can he deliver?

Politicians and voters now realise the power of the ballot box. It cannot be business as usual, replacing one set of economic and political elites with another set whose priorities will be to divide the spoils of victory.

As we welcome the first Merdeka and Malaysia Day under this new Malaysia, I have many wishes for the kind of country I want to live in.

First, I wish to see our ministers summon the political will and courage, and build their knowledge and strategies on how to deliver their reform agenda. And not least, how to stand their ground and defend what is just and what is right, in the face of opposition. We in civil society are tired of seeing too many ministers over the decades retreating in the face of criticism from ideologues, instead of defending a principled position.

Many NGOs, activists, academics, professionals who have long been working on issues such as human rights, women’s rights, education reform, poverty eradication, and economic justice, stand ready to support this government with the kinds of data, analysis, policy instruments, arguments and strategies needed to deliver on the reform agenda and build public support for this urgent necessity for change.

We want to see this government succeed in making this country a just home for all. We pray this government does not squander that goodwill.

Second, I wish to live in a kinder, compassionate, more humane Malaysia. It pains me to see the frenzy of hate, attacks, violence, demonisation of the LGBTIQ community in the country. Why this obsession with another citizen’s sexual orientation and gender identity? The debate is not about same-sex marriage or even about the halal or haram of their sexuality. It is about the right of LGBTIQ people to freedom of movement, their right to work, to health and to live a life free from violence. Why should that be contentious? They are citizens of this country and entitled to the same fundamental rights that other citizens enjoy.

It is obvious that the issue has been whipped up as a political tactic to generate hate and fear, spearheaded by those opposed to the reform agenda of the new government. So they stir up controversies in order to rebuild lost ground. And politicians fearful of losing popular support cave in, so quickly, so easily, so thoughtlessly.

How could a small, oppressed, and discriminated community who actually live in fear on a daily basis, and who long to live in peace and dignity ever pose a threat to Malaysian society? How could an all-knowing compassionate God ever condone cruelty against his own creations just because they are different? So let’s be confident in our faith and believe that if God really wanted all of us to be the same, he would have done so.

Third, I wish to see an end to corruption that has been long fuelled by the intricate web of business and politics in this country. Professor Terrence Gomez’s just released research findings on Government in Business reveal a mind-boggling labyrinth of thousands of GLCs at federal and state levels, most of them unlisted and thus, unscrutinised. There are of course GLCs that are professionally run. But many also serve as tools of patronage and as vehicles to provide politicians with monthly directors’ fees to support their political ambition – at best.

At worst, official investigations and media revelations of outright corruption, criminal breach of trust, and asset stripping display a spectacle of unbelievable greed and betrayal of trust.

Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamed himself has called such GLCs “monsters” that have deviated from their original noble intention of helping the poor.

The Head of the Council of Eminent Persons, Tun Daim Zainuddin, has promised that this time the government wants to get it right in delivering its bumiputra empowerment policy.

We all wait with bated breath, for this country cannot endure, economically, politically and socially, yet more decades of affirmative action on the basis of race rather than need, and all the consequent distortions and abuses that had benefited the economic and political elites.

Fourth, I wish to live in a country where the political leaders and the citizens embrace our diversity as a source of strength, and not a threat. And to walk the talk. It is imperative that the new government sets the tone that it will not tolerate further manufacturing of a siege and crisis mentality among the Malays and supremacist speeches in the name of race and religion to incite hatred and fear of “others”.

This country was on the verge of implosion, and it was the wisdom of the rakyat that saved us, when with courage we voted into power a reformist party.

I was in Bangkok last week to give a talk on identity politics in South-East Asia together with speakers from Indonesia and Myanmar. They were depressed about the political developments in their countries, and my optimism on Malaysia was tempered by the reality that they too had earlier voted in reformist leaders who have now succumbed to the politics of race and religion in order to remain in power.

But I would like to believe that Malaysia is different as we have strong antecedent resources that will put us in good stead in moving forward on a reform agenda. Most importantly is the entrenched belief that this country cannot survive nor prosper without the three major races accepting each other and learning to give and take in sharing equitably the wealth of the nation. It can never be a winner take all game in Malaysia.

Second, we have a significant minority population. This means there is a limit to how far the majority group can use race and religion to serve the interest of the ruling elite, before paying a high political cost for its relentless transgressions, or complicity in its inaction and silence.

Third, while things are far from perfect, our long record of economic growth, poverty reduction, and strong state apparatus put us in good stead that a more open and robust democracy will not be destabilising, and can lead to a more inclusive Malaysia.

Moreover, a large educated Malaysian middle-class and a strong business community eschew any hint of violence or chaos or extremism, and there is a growing critical mass of voters, not least from among the young, who expect their freedoms and rights to be upheld.

And more than anything, the rakyat feel very precious about what we have achieved. As much as we are willing to give Pakatan Harapan the support it needs and the time, too, to deliver on its reform agenda, we have learnt from the mistakes made in the past. We are no longer willing to acquiesce in silence in the wrongdoings and abuses in powerful places, in return for stability and prosperity.

This is the new Malaysia where it will be tough love for all.

The ‘Apa Lagi Cina Mahu’* politics of endless division


May 5, 2018

GE-14–Four Days to May 9, 2018

The ‘Apa Lagi Cina Mahu’* politics of endless division

Malaysia’s GE-14 marks the end of Malaysian Chinese politics after 60 years of dwindling and divisive outcomes.

The political issues the Chinese community face at the 14th general elections (GE14) hasn’t changed much for the past 40 years. Since the introduction of the New Economic Policy (NEP) in 1971, what the Malaysian Chinese community wants can be easily summarised in a single sentence: the community wants political equality and equal treatment, and a free hand in the economy. And an UMNO-led government will never grant these two wishes, now or ever.

By almost every political measure, the Malaysian Chinese community’s political interests are systematically pushed aside in the name of a ‘Malay Agenda’, or to be blunt, in the name of the Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) ideology. It’s taken for granted that if a Malaysian Chinese company wants government business or to grow bigger, it needs one or two influential Malay partners, preferably one with a direct connection to UMNO. The gold standard is to have Malay royalty as your business partner.

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UMNO President Najib Razak has lowered his harsh rhetoric against the Chinese Community as he needs their support for GE-14

Politically marginalised by government policies, Malaysian Chinese sometimes call themselves ‘second class’ citizens. From the annual distribution of university scholarships and placements to business opportunities, being a Bumiputera Malay means you have the first bite. In the economic arena, big government projects are usually granted first to Malay-majority companies or joint-ventures between Bumiputera Malay and Malaysian Chinese business people. Many government projects and procurements require the bidder to be Bumiputera-majority companies. In practice, non-Bumiputera companies are simply not allowed to take part in the tenders.

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This is the reason why the Chinese-based parties in the UMNO-led Barisan Nasional (BN), the most prominent being the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Gerakan, do not substantially discuss public policies of national importance. They accept initiating important public policies are the purview of UMNO. The MCA and Gerakan’s roles are to react to the policies after they have been adopted by the government, and political success is measured by their ability to tone down or blunt the policies that often hurt Malaysian Chinese interests.

Both the MCA and Gerakan have defended their legitimacy over the past four decades through “service politics” rather than advocating political equality. The MCA and Gerakan systematically established ‘service centres’ to help constituents with day-to-day problems rather than dealing with policy issues. Constituents can seek assistance in their dealings with government departments, or welfare assistance such as applications for the government’s BR1M cash handouts. This model has proven effective for the BN Chinese parties at a local level as municipal councillors are directly appointed by the BN government.

At the same time, the BN Chinese parties also engage in ‘fear politics’. They insist that without their presence in the federal cabinet and state governments, the implementation of Ketuanan Melayu will be even more severe for the Malaysian Chinese community. By claiming to blunt or modify the sharper aspects of pro-Bumiputera policies, these parties defend their relevance in the BN coalition.

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MCA President,  Liow Tiong Lai

THIS METHOD HOWEVER fell apart in 2013. At the 13th general elections (GE13) in 2013, then MCA President Dr Chua Soi Lek took a political risk by declaring to the Malaysian Chinese community that MCA would not join the UMNO-led government if it failed to win the support of the community. This desperate move backfired and the MCA suffered heavy losses at GE13, ending up with only seven parliamentary seats and 11 state seats. Chua kept his promise and the MCA declined all appointments to the federal cabinet. Within a year however, Dr Chua was defeated in a party election by Liow Tiong Lai, who stood on a platform of “returning to cabinet to represent” Chinese interests. To UMNO’s credit, it stood by its oldest ally, probably knowing that the MCA’s losses were due to UMNO’s aggressive Malay agenda. The MCA was duly given two cabinet posts in the federal government plus other positions after Liow’s party victory.

This was a watershed episode in Malaysian Chinese politics. The Chinese community learnt that life goes on without any MCA representatives in the cabinet. The MCA, or for that matter, any Chinese representation in the federal cabinet, did not alter their daily lives. The Malaysian Chinese business class could not care less as they have been directly doing business with UMNO proxies for decades. The stark truth is that the Malaysian Chinese community does not count politically at the highest level of BN government.

While the MCA “in and out” saga was going on, the Malaysian Chinese community could see that Penang’s DAP-led state government, and DAP representatives in the PKR-led Selangor state government (elected in 2008), were doing a good job in ensuring that anti-Chinese policies at the state level were kept to a minimum. While affirmative action policies were still being pursued, the Chinese community could see that more resources were being channeled into Malaysian Chinese-owned small and medium-sized enterprises (SME), and the Chinese schools sector. In other words, it was possible to pursue both Malay interests and Chinese interests in most areas. The general perception among Malaysian Chinese was of an UMNO-led government pursuing Malay interests at the expense of Malaysian Chinese interests.

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Blatant attacks and insults against the Malaysian Chinese community by Malay and Islamists right-wing groups in the past few years have only hardened the attitude against UMNO. It does not help that senior UMNO officials come out regularly with blatantly anti-Chinese statements. An infamous incident was a senior UMNO minister telling Malays to only shop from a Malay-owned shop, which he later followed up with a government-funded project to build a Mara digital mall where only Malays could rent the stores.

Is it any surprise that UMNO is seen by most in the Chinese community as the purveyor of anti-Chinese racism? On top of this, most in the Chinese community believe that Prime Minister Najib Razak was involved in the 1MDB corruption scandal. Not only is UMNO allegedly racist, but its leader is an alleged kleptocrat as well.

At GE-14, the MCA has modified its ‘participation in government’ rhetoric with a new twist. Rather than just saying that the Malaysian Chinese ‘voice’ will be missing if they are not elected into any federal cabinet, the MCA has trumped up its role as a bridge between Malaysia and China’s One-Road-One-Belt (OBOR) project. In MCA contested constituencies, there are prominent billboards of MCA leaders meeting President Xi Jinping and other China leaders. The message can not be clearer –the MCA is gaining importance in the UMNO-led government because the massive investments in the Malaysia-leg of the OBOR projects. And this will require the MCA’s expertise and links with China. UMNO needs the MCA as UMNO needs the OBOR-linked investments. With China’s rise as the regional power, UMNO will have little choice but to take the MCA and Malaysian Chinese more seriously.

WILL THE MALAYSIAN Chinese community heed the MCA’s new approach? The short answer is ‘no’. The MCA (and Gerakan) do not seem to realise that the Malaysian Chinese community has moved beyond these parties’ style of ‘service and fear’ politics. Because of their inability to rollback alleged anti-Malaysian Chinese policies of the past decades, they will not buy the argument that China’s rise will lead to a similar rise in the MCA’s reputation for UMNO. They see the MCA as a party of opportunists who are getting personal benefits by agreeing to be UMNO’s Uncle Tom. This view is so ingrained in the Malaysian Chinese community since 2008 that only a mass hallucination will alter this view.

Most of the parliamentary seats won by the MCA and Gerakan are in constituencies where there is a high percentage of Malay voters. The incumbent MCA President Liow Tiong Lai is standing in Bentong where 47% of voters are Malay, while Gerakan’s president is standing in Teluk Intan, a constituency where 41% of its voters are Malays. UMNO delivers the Malay voters to the MCA and Gerakan, thus enabling the incumbent to win the seats with only 10 to 15% of Chinese votes. In constituencies where there is a clear Chinese majority, the winner in almost all cases is the DAP.

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Former MCA President Ong Tee Keat

I will leave the last word to Ong Tee Keat, another former MCA President. In a confidential remark to US embassy officials, he said “there was once a day in Malaysia when the MCA would get the leftovers, but now we are just hoping to get some crumbs from the UMNO table.”

*This was the notorious headline run by UMNO-owned newspaper Utusan Malaysia in the aftermath of GE13, scolding the Malaysian Chinese for the party’s poor results.