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Politics old and new
Published on: Sunday, May 06, 2018

By Datuk Stan Yee

A few days ago this paper carried a headline attributed to a senior BN politician, which said: “Sabah Chinese Cannot Afford To Make A Mistake” A statement in similar vein appeared again on Saturday, this one warning that “Chinese Stand To Lose Big” if the community supports the opposition.

The loss referred to is the likelihood of zero Chinese representation at the state and federal level following the forthcoming election.

My immediate reaction to the first statement was, why the Chinese in particular? When it comes to voting in GE14, which community can afford to make a mistake? And what would be considered to be a mistake anyway?

A similar warning was uttered repeatedly in past elections.

The strange part of it is the seemingly ominous “come what may” belief that Umno will still be returned.

The reason? “Umno is still rock solid” because only three out of the 222 divisions have left Umno.

This is like saying, this ship is in top conditiion because it has sprung leaks in only 3 places.

Incidentally, I recall that it is Parliament that has 222 seats, and not sure if Umno has the same number of divisions, or that Umno Sabah has 60 divisions and not 25. Equally strange, there is no mention of BN, only Umno.

There is no way we can remove race from politics in this country. Sabah used to have eight Chinese-majority urban constituencies where the Chinese were known to be the “king makers”, who were effectively the harbingers of change whenever they aligned themselves with a popular sentiment that craved change.

They were thought to be partly instrumental in ending Usno rule in 1976, and, together with the KDM community, in ousting Berjaya in 1985 to install the much disturbed 9-year PBS rule.

That was a long time ago. Since then the Chinese have not distinguished themselves other than as a supporting cast in Sabah’s political drama, not even as game-changing blunderers, thanks to the man who re-engineered Sabah’s urban demography in his 22 year-old rule, a strategy his successors adopted, exploited with glee and followed through to the next level. But the man is back, seemingly all contrite and wanting to ‘make amends’.

In any event, the effectiveness of the warning to the Chinese not to make a mistake has never been tested.

No one knows whether the Chinese had heeded the veiled threats or just ignored them.

More likely, the matter simply resolved itself, because in the years since 1994 the BN had won again and again, not necessarily on the back of the Chinese voters who had avoided making the much-feared mistake.

BN politicians are also fond of telling the Chinese community, and the Christian communities as well, how ‘generous’ the BN government has been to them, probably alluding to the occasional financial assistance to help them build schools and churches.

Does this mean that such occasional allocations are charitable donations for which these communities owe the BN government a debt of gratitude? As taxpaying citizens don’t these communiities deserve assistance as a matter of right and not as ‘generous’ largese? I can’t recall hearing any leader speak in a similar vein about generosity and gratitude before a predominently Muslim audience.

Today, if the Chinese were to throw caution to the wind and pile their weight on ‘change’, what then?

What is likely going to happen to them? At any rate, the “mistake’ would only come to light if BN loses, and if they lose they are unlikely able to penalise the Chinese or any other communities either politically or administratively.

If it comes to that, what can a hostile government do to punish a people who are noted to be extremely self-reliant and who are not likely to depend on the government’s occasional handouts? Nothing much of consequence, I would imagine.

People might think the new generations of Chinese have grown soft and would always cling to the rich and powerful to feel secure, as some do, but a great many propably still prefer to strive on their own and follow their conscience.

All they ask for is to be treated fairly and to be allowed to educate their children without too many strifling restrictions.

They are not too demanding and prefer to be left alone to work and carry on their businesses.

In the final analysis, as admitted by Tun Mahathir, they make up the bulk of the taxpayers.

On the other hand, if the PH coalition comes to power, will a time of turbulence ensue like in 1985/86, or worse?

Will the economy deteriorate further? Is this the mistake the Chinese are warned against making.

When Malaysia came into being in 1963 the immigrant Chinese in Sabah became citizens by operation of law.

The natives here do not call them pendatang as the Malays call the Chinese in Malaya.

Although economically not much better off than the Bumiputra communities, they accepted and supported the rationales of the New Economic Policy or its latter-day version, the Bumiputra Economic Empowerment Agenda.

However, they do not link it with any notion of the ‘social contract’ as understood or misunderstood, as the case may be, in Malaya.

As a community the Chinese are well accepted in Sabah especially by the KDM people with whom a great many have family ties through intermarriages. Culturally they share much in common and are easily intertwined and synthesized, as clearly seen in Sabah’s large Sino-native population.

As the election approaches an overwhelming majority of voters must have already decided how they will vote.

At this late stage the ‘fence-sitters’ probably no longer wait for inspiration and have vacated their perches.

There is an old maxim that says if you want good food go to a crowded restaurant. In recent days we have seen pictures of some eating places jam-packed with people, while others with only a handful of ‘customers’.

Obviously the maxim does not always apply when food is not the only attraction.

There are mass gatherings elsewhere as well, where nothing appears to be on offer.

I would think most voters have not changed their minds since the last election or even since the one before.

More than ever, voting in this election is choosing a party or a coalition of parties according to their stand for or against change.

By Change is meant bringing down a deeply rooted BN federal government for the first time in 60 years, and an equally well-entrenched BN state government since 1994.

The whole focus is on taking down these structures. When the stakes are as high as they are today, the process begins with the elimination and short-listing of parties. Few would fret over which candidates they prefer.

It is not unlike judging a whole lot of pretty girls in a beauty contest where one contestant is as pretty as another, and you find it hard to decide. At any rate, you have only two votes to cast, one for Parliament and the other for the state assembly.

Some people call the GE14 as the mother of all elections. It probably is if you are one of the many who believe that this country has been heading towards disaster and desperately needs a new lease of life.

It is also a very divisive election that has caused families and friends to fall out and former comrads to become estranged.

The stakes are high and will impact every community in more ways than anyone can foresee.

But individual politicians who have been in the seats of power for so long, and those who have tried to unseat them, will of course be in the epic centre of the change.

The outcome will be especially felt by whole communities of political dependents and hangers-on known locally as ‘macais’ who have been and will likely continue to be part of the country’s political eco-system.

No doubt, these active but mostly beheind-the-scene forces, old and new, will try to assert themselves to influence the course of events as they have done before.

As we face a future that is becoming more complex by the day, the old racial politics of yesteryears must give way to the multi-racial, all inclusive politics of the new generations who are less fixated and have fewer hangups on the old style community-based perspective of thngs.

The future belongs to them and they will build a superstructure that will be neither exclusively Chinese nor Momogun nor any combination of the Muslim communities.

It will be all of the above in a solid mass. I see this in the new political dynamics now impacting this election.

It is unstoppable.

The old politics based on race and religion no longer has a place in our young people’s future.

If I may go back to the political statement that prompted this article, I would say, sure, the Chinese cannot afford to make a mistake, and certainly they stand to lose, and lose badly, if they persisit to engage in the old race-based politics of the past.

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