Yesterday, I was invited to speak at a roundtable organised by a local newspaper on 'Shrinking Chinese Votes and Its Impact on Power Sharing'. I do not want to dwell to much into the details to be fair to the organiser. I hope you will be able to read it soon.
My initial reaction was this title touches on our parochialism. I am sure you have heard of shrinking Chinese votes through redelineation, electoral gerry mandering and slower birth rate. Interestingly, it is not true that the Chinese population has declined in number. On the contrary, Chinese population in Malaysia has increased from slightly over 3 million in 1957 to about 6 million by year 2000.
I argued that it is too simplistic to take a communal and communitarian approach in dealing with the question of shrinking Chinese votes or influence. If we take a communal standpoint, there is no need for a debate. It is obvious that relatively Chinese population will grow slower than the dominant Malay-Muslim community.
However, the fact that politics in Malaysia is race centric we have no other choice. Chinese leaders from the ruling coalition have argued that it is essential they receive full support from the community to better represent them in the government.
I pointed out that the main question is no longer about representation. The main challenge for these political parties is to reconnect with the society. The community has changed. Younger Chinese Malaysians are no longer tied to this parochial mindset about the need for a Chinese voice in the government. Many of them are simply demanding equal treatment as citizens, better governance and policies, no abuse of power, and others. Yes, they are frustrated because some segments within the ruling coalition still refused to accept that all Malaysians must be treated equally.
I argued that it is wrong to say Chinese Malaysians are going to vote for more opposition in the next general elections. I see as a rural-urban divide phenomena. Urbanites are the first to face the brunt of poor governance, bad public delivery system, higher inflation etc. The ruling coalition has proven to be very effective when comes to rural management but does not demonstrate the same eficacy when dealing with urban development. I see the lost of support coming from mainly urban votes and it is coincidental that majority of Chinese community are concentrated in urban and semi-urban areas.
Another speaker pointed out that out of the 4.9 millions unregistered voters, 4 millions are Malays mainly in the urban areas. If these people are included in the electoral roll, the analysis becomes clearer.
It is unfortunate we have to racialise all discussions. The ruling government should not focus too much on politics and neglect governance and policy making.
Chinese representation in the government is not about number only. In the last 3 general elections, most Chinese based component parties had won comfortably. However, they have not demonstrated their ability to influence policy direction and implementation in the country. Issues concerning the abuses of the NEP, corruption, vernacular education, public service, democractic reforms and others remained out of the domain of these leaders. They must not merely focus on community service and neglect their role in power sharing and effecting change.
Perhaps these parties need a deep soul searching. I argued that our political system remained in the post-independent generation. It is outdated and outmoded. While political parties were established on racial lines during those period, these parties must be willing to evolve as the nation starts to do so.
If we are going to experience the same race-based model after 50 years since independence and for the next 50 years into the future then something must be terribly wrong with this society. A speaker from a race-based party opined UMNO must change first if we want to do away with race-based model. I retorted that if other component parties cannot persuade UMNO to do so and it is unwilling to change then they should relook at the BN model to see if this is what they wanted to support - perpetual racialisation, which is detrimental to all other component parties and race-based opposition parties too. Race politics is about number, unfortunately.