What the Chinese want is, in fact, what the educated urban Malaysian voter, regardless of ethnicity, wants: respect, and an acknowledgement of their right to an inclusive, peaceful existence, says Dr Ong Hean Teik.
The Utusan Malaysia headline of May 7 posed an interesting and pertinent question of what more do the Chinese in Malaysia want.
It is a pity that Utusan is unable to see that what the Chinese want is, in fact, what the educated urban Malaysian voter wants, regardless of race or religion. There are three important characteristics lacking in the Barisan of today.
Any other mainstream media writing what has been written by Utusan Malaysia would have lost their licence to publish a long time ago.
Intelligent, courageous leadership
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The Chinese comprise only 30 per cent of Malaysian voters, yet Pakatan Rakyat won 51 per cent of the total votes cast. By saying that the election result was because of the Chinese voters, the Barisan Nasional leadership demonstrates an inability to objectively face reality.
Barisan’s acceptance of Zulkifli Nordin as its direct Shah Alam candidate similarly shows a lack of intelligence and courage. Here is a lawyer who does not feel that dialogue and discussion can resolve matters, having forcefully disrupted a Law Society seminar a few years ago. He had vowed loyalty to, and then turned on, his previous political parties (Pas and PKR). He has publicly belittled an ancient religion with a million Malaysian followers.
Umno making way for Ibrahim Ali to contest the Pasir Mas constituency is similarly bad judgement, showing its acceptance and approval of a crude man who prides himself with using vulgar words in public interviews.
To give them such special honour and credit shows a lack of intelligent reasoning and an inability to stand up against the loud extremist faction of the party.
Attributing the election outcome to a “Chinese tsunami” is illogical in the face of concrete facts and data. Pas won an additional seven state seats in Selangor, all in Malay-majority areas.
Lim Kit Siang could not have achieved a majority of over 14,000 votes in Gelang Patah without good support from Malays who form 35 per cent of the electorate there.
Similarly the Umno-backed Perkasa extremists were conclusively rejected in Pasir Mas (96 per cent Malay) and in Shah Alam where Malays make up 70 per cent of the electorate.
To blindly spin the 2013 election outcome to suit its raced-based founding philosophy of 1947 shows up a political party that wants to be stubbornly unwise. Unless Umno’s leadership can find the courage to face facts, the party may become redundant and obsolete for the educated 21st century voter.
Respect for and recognition of rights
Academic studies have consistently shown that increased income brings more happiness and satisfaction only up to a certain point. When a society progresses out of poverty into middle class, increasing income does not increase satisfaction proportionately. It is the psychological aspects of living that produces a better quality of life.
Whatever the radiation scientists claim, the people of Bentong (45 per cent Malay, 44 per cent Chinese) will ask why a factory run by an Australian company is unsuitable for Australia or Damansara Heights but can be located in their backyard.
In 2008, Health Minister Liow won Bentong by over 12,000 votes. This year he retained Bentong with less than 400 votes against a political novice who is a green activist. The urban electorate, Chinese or Malay, seeks respect and recognition of their right to a safe living environment.
In Penang, the 1Malaysia Charity organisation hosted numerous concerts and dinners in support of Barisan candidates. At their functions, T-shirts, beer, hawker food and lucky draw gifts were given free.
Initially there was merriment and wonder at this new campaigning style; this then became anger and disgust when even cash incentives were handed out. The electorate felt they were treated with disrespect, as if their rights, dignity and vote were up for sale.
Numerous development issues had plagued the Penang DAP government in the months leading up to the election, and the increased majority they subsequently obtained can only be explained by the strong rejection of what the other side represents. Money cannot buy happiness, and similarly, the urban electorate set out to show that money cannot buy their vote in Penang.
The urban electorate in Malaysia is obviously better off economically compared to the rural dwellers. They have reached a stage when extra economic incentives can no longer easily win their approval.
Instead they asked for respect, and an acknowledgement of their right to an inclusive, peaceful existence in the country. They seek recognition as a legitimate electorate with the right to choose the governing party. Blaming and insulting them for voting against the Barisan will only guarantee the DAP and Pakatan a brighter future.
Competent and efficient institutions
There is no doubt that relative to those who were once our equivalent, we Malaysians have fallen behind. The Singapore dollar which was equivalent to the ringgit in the 1970s is today 2.5 times higher. Malaysia beat South Korea and Japan in the 1972 Olympic football qualifying rounds; today we are nowhere near these two World Cup Finals-participating countries.
Universiti Malaya had topped the list of universities passing the United States medical qualifying examination in 1969, ahead of Melbourne and Singapore University. In 2011, Universiti Malaya was ranked 401 out of the 500 universities in the Shanghai Jiao Tong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universities.
The educated, smart-phone holding, internet-surfing urban voter is aware of world-wide trends and wants to experience the best that life can offer. When the governing party is unable to develop the country to its full potential, its popularity will drop.
As demonstrated by the Noble Prize-winning Dr Ivan Pavlov, animals respond to incentives, and man is no exception. A system that promotes those who agree with and pamper those in power while sidelining those working hard to pursue competency will breed inefficient malfunctioning institutions. Even those not under their direct employment will be affected by these incompetent institutions.
When the police force is politicised and crime rate increases, more money will have to be spent on personal and household security. Even Nazir Razak admitted that he had hesitated coming back to Malaysia because of concerns about his children’s education. When the middle class spends on private education or health care, votes for the governing party will drop.
Chinese Malaysians now make up only 25 per cent of Malaysia’s population and to be named as the cause of major developments in the country is to be hurtful to this minority and insulting to the majority. On the other hand, government statistics show that Malaysia’s urban population has increased from 62 per cent in 2000 to 71 per cent in 2010.
No amount of rhetorical whitewashing can hide the fact that the poor performance of Barisan in the 2013 election is due to its failure to win the heart and mind of the urban voter. The faster it faces reality and moves away from its obsolete race-based mindset, the better its prospects for the next electoral battle.
Dr Ong Hean Teik is a consultant cardiologist in Penang.