Chinese campaigned for BN during 1998/99 crisis

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ANOTHER example of Malaysian Chinese rising to the occasion was seen during the 1998/1999 political crisis.

Though Chinese guilds have often stated they are “politically neutral”,  they decided to take a common stand in the November 1999 general election when the country was torn apart politically by Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad’s sacking of his then deputy Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim from the Cabinet and  Umno in September 1998.

Massive protest rallies were the order of the day then.

Seeing the killing of many Chinese in the Indonesian riots in May 1998 amid a severe financial crisis and capital flight, and fearing that some local politicians with personal agenda might create incidents that could lead to the repeat of the racial bloody clashes of May 13, 1969, leaders of several major Chinese associations met and decided to launch a whisper campaign to support the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) led by Mahathir.

“We decided to give support to Mahathir to restore political stability. We feared that if Mahathir lost the election, there could be political chaos. Though many were critical of Mahathir, we thought this was the best course to take under such circumstances,” said a leader involved in this meeting ahead of the election.

The BN and Mahathir won the general election but the victory was one of the weakest experienced by the ruling coalition since 1969.

Malays critical of  Umno

Apart from Chinese, there are Malays who are unhappy with the racial undertones of the 65th  Umno general assembly.

Datuk Zaid Ibrahim, a former Cabinet minister and ex- Umno man, says in his blog: “This year’s assembly is one of the worst in  Umno’s history … they humiliated our own people with impunity, urged Malays to stop the enemies from attacking them and Islam, and even told lies about the Quran burning incident in Kedah.” He was referring to the claim by an  Umno Wanita delegate that the Chinese were involved in the alleged incident.

“Umno president Datuk Seri Najib Razak set the scene himself when he decided to stop halfway in his speech to show footage of the May 13 riots before saying that  Umno was the sole guarantor of peace in the country and that Malays have sacrificed more than anyone to achieve that peace,” he adds.

National laureate A Samad Said told a forum Malays and Islam could not be under threat in Malaysia when all the positions of power and influence have been filled by Malays since Independence.

“All of Malaysia’s past and present prime ministers, deputy prime ministers and even the home ministers have been Malays. Look at the police and the military, Malays make up the majority, including all the high-ranking positions.

“So why are Malays and Islam under threat? The question of Malays and Islam coming under threat only pops up during general elections and  Umno general assemblies,” Samad said.

“Malays have ruled the country for 57 years and Islam is the national religion. What has  Umno been doing if Malays and Islam are under threat?”

Political implications

Though Najib, in his closing remarks at the assembly, adopted a moderate tone telling  Umno delegates that it still needs the support of the Chinese in the next general election due in 2018, analysts warn that  Umno could lose Chinese votes due to its hostile rhetoric.

Sin Chew Jit Poh’s columnist Lim Meng Wah suggested  Umno should learn a lesson from Taiwan’s just-ended local elections, in which President Ma Ying-jeou’s Kuomintang party lost nine of the 15 cities and counties it used to control. Ma, whose pro-China policies did not go down well with his people, quit as party chief last Wednesday. Taiwan’s media expect the opposition to win in the 2016 presidential election.

“The Taiwan municipal elections show that the people could always withdraw their support if the government is no longer with them, although initially they could be your staunch supporters,” Lim wrote.

Mew, a Nantah alumni, says: “Though understandably some  Umno politicians need to resort to Chinese bashing to get noticed, unavoidably this will affect national unity and social harmony.”

For the future of the country, it is distressing to see a lack of outcry from the BN component parties that represent other races in the ruling coalition, says Zaid in his blog.

“I believe members of the BN component parties have become filled with such fear that they dare not even say a word of disapproval, let alone condemn the racially charged speeches….I would not be surprised if they fail to win any votes from their own people.”

This article first appeared in The Edge Financial Daily, on December 8, 2014.