The culture of vote-buying and promises of development have led the Chinese to distance themselves from the Barisan Nasional, experts say.
An indication of this is when they shunned the Sarawak United People’s Party (SUPP), the state’s venerable Chinese party, and decided to place their future in the hands of the DAP, the Chinese-based opposition political party from the peninsula.
Political observers say there has been an increase in political awareness, especially among the young, and a demand for good governance within the Chinese electorate.
Monash University political scientist Wong Chin Huat said these factors caused BN’s vote-buying attempts to backfire.
“The Chinese now know that the federal government needs the Chinese more than the Chinese need the federal government,” he said.
The Chinese-based SUPP won only six out of the 19 contested seats. Four of them had Dayak majority, while the other two were Chinese-majority areas.
The Chinese voters’ strident call for better governance was also seen in the 2008 general election when the MCA could only win 15 parliamentary seats.
The DAP, in comparison, doubled its seats from five to 12 in the state election , which shows that the Chinese were rejecting BN and Umno’s “benevolence”.
Wong said that BN’s tried-and-tested policy of handing out election goodies during campaigns have ceased to influence the Chinese and this sort of campaigning did not sit well with the Chinese and other urban voters.
“The Chinese have gone past the stage of pasar malam (night market) politics. You cannot bargain for votes anymore,” Wong said.
Only political transformation
Wong said that nothing short of a political transformation programme was going to win the Chinese back to BN.
He added that it was pointless for the government to announce a Government Transformation Programme (GTP) on the one hand, and practise vote-buying on the other.
Wong said that not even a greater Chinese political representation in the government was going to change their minds.
Citing the Indian community, he said: “Before the 2008 general election, there were more than eight or nine Indian MPs, and the community didn’t get anything.”
“Today, they are getting more attention, even though they have less Indian representation,” he said.
Wong also said that threats of withholding development in urban areas were ineffective, adding that it was pointless for the government to threaten urban voters.
“You can only threaten people you’ve already marginalised, like in the rural areas. But what about the urban areas? If Kuching doesn’t vote for the government, are you going to abandon the capital and move it to Sri Aman?” he asked.
Agreeing with Wong, political analyst Khoo Kay Peng said that the political wake-up call was not only limited to the Chinese, but to many urban voters.
Khoo said that no amount of donations to Chinese schools or other causes has helped put BN in a better light.
“The payments to Chinese schools is an outdated move. The Chinese have been paying for their own schools even when they were overwhelmingly voting for the BN,” he said.
What Khoo felt was more important, was the government’s sincerity in creating a more racially-inclusive Malaysia.
“I don’t see Umno as being sincere in its heir promotion of 1Malaysia. If it were sincere, then they would have been able to control Utusan Malaysia and Perkasa,” he said.
He said that the BN had failed in the 1969 general election, but had succeeded in 1974 because it took on a more racially-inclusive approach.
Khoo added that no amount of posturing was going to cow the Chinese into voting for the BN.
“The government keeps on trying to create divisions. It’s not the 1970s or the 1980s anymore where the Chinese are so scared of the government. Now the young are more active in politics,” he said.
The Taib factor
“There is nothing the government can do until they get rid of Taib. After he goes, Chinese issues may come upn again,” the Sarawak-born analyst said.
Chin said that businesses in the state often ran afoul of companies linked to Taib and his family, causing many to dislike the chief minister.
“A lot of Chinese there cannot start big businesses. If they do, Taib will surely come and kacau (disturb) them,” he said.
Chin admitted that even if Taib were to step down, his shadow would not go away immediately. Nevertheless, he said that the his influence would be “much, much less” if he was no longer in power.