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Thursday, July 27, 2017

Umno desperate for votes

Writer questions response by prime minister to request by Indian Muslim association, without consulting with cabinet or other Barisan Nasional components.

The deadline to hold the 14 general election (GE14) is less than a year from now, and the situation today is the same as in GE13, when politicians on both sides of the divide do everything they can to fish for votes.

But there are still some fundamental differences between the two elections.

Turning back time to 2012, Prime Minister Najib Razak was busy moving around to win the support of voters.

As Malay support was very solid, he turned his attention to the Chinese electorate to try and help Barisan Nasional (BN) recapture the two-thirds majority while regaining Penang and Selangor.

He announced increased allocations for Chinese schools and attended dinners hosted by local Chinese organisations in a blatant show of goodwill towards the community.

His final tactic was to announce the approval for Foon Yew High School to set up a second branch campus in Pasir Gudang. Prior to that, he had wanted to announce the recognition of the Unified Examination Certificate (UEC) but obviously this was withheld at last minute.

Nevertheless, his effort to win back Chinese votes did not pay off.

Najib also did not forget to reach out to the lower segments of society as well as government servants, handing out RM500 BR1M under the 2012 Budget and improving the wage scheme in a bid to tame the frustrations among civil servants.

Similarly, Najib is also trying to woo massive numbers of voters this time, announcing at the recent Raya dinner organised by the Federation of Malaysian Indian Muslim Associations (Permim) that Indian Muslims in the country are bumiputeras and that the government is looking into ways to enable them to be given bumi status. He was responding to a request from the Permim president.

The weird thing is, the prime minister agreed to such a major issue almost instantly without taking any further consideration or convening a cabinet or BN meeting to discuss this matter.

He also fell short of elaborating on how to implement the bumi status for Indian Muslims.

We can see from here that Umno is indeed desperate for votes at this stage, and would not worry about any far-flung effects that may arise from this impromptu announcement, including accentuated polarisation among Malaysians.

When politics becomes the primary factor dictating the government’s policies, this country will be gradually pushed towards the quagmire of populist politics.

Another difference is that when Najib took over as prime minister in 2009, he proposed the “1Malaysia” concept meant to win the trust of non-Malays prior to the May 2013 general election.

Under the “1Malaysia” concept, all Malaysians irrespective of race and religion would be treated equally with fairness so as to keep the country in unity.

1Malaysia just a ‘trademark’

Back then Najib urged the cabinet, government departments and civil servants to strive to promote racial harmony and national solidarity while setting the goal of boosting job efficiency.

But, after BN failed to win the support of urban and Chinese voters, Najib came out with the “Chinese tsunami” statement and the “bumiputera empowerment policy”, followed by the establishment of units tasked with the mission of implementing the bumi economic agenda, hence reducing the “1Malaysia” concept into a trademark of the government’s populist measures such as 1Malaysia book voucher, 1Malaysia driving license assistance, interactive 1Malaysia people’s tuition, 1Malaysia discount card, 1Malaysia people’s shop and 1Malaysia clinic, among others.

While it is anticipated that Umno will not give up on Chinese votes, the party will unlikely demonstrate the same amount of enthusiasm this time. They will play the racial card in a bid to fortify their fundamental support base, engaging Indian Muslims being the most classical example.

Following Umno’s strategy to grant bumi status to Indian Muslims in the country, it is inevitable that Malaysians will shift their focus accordingly.

So far Pakatan Harapan has yet to respond to this matter probably because they do not want to act rashly for fear they will lose the support of Indian Muslims.

While the “1Malaysia” concept has been a move in the right direction, we have nevertheless seen a severe dearth of political will and policy adjustments to put that into effective implementation.

Sadly, Malaysian politics has now regressed into entrenched conservatism, segregating the people into bumis and non-bumis and in apparent contravention to the goals of the 2050 National Transformation (TN50).

In the face of politicians holding the whole nation to ransom, our civil society appears to have been largely muted. Is there any chance at all for us to recover our lost enthusiasm and hope?

By Lim Sue Goan, deputy executive chief editor of Sin Chew Daily.

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