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Penang crisis - MGG Pillai
By web aNtu

20/12/1999 2:09 am Mon

The Penang Crisis and Chinese Insecurities

The Malaysian Chinese a#sociation president, Dato' Seri Ling Liong Sik, suddenly has amnesia. He did not know six of nine MCA state a#semblymen boycotted the swearing in of the Gerakan chief minister and his state executive council until he read about it in the newspapers the morning after. He sleepwalks through national crisis, and now even through MCA crises. MCA should not be blamed, he now implies, for boycotting the swearing in; even UMNO and Gerakan state a#semblymen did. Even if they did, does this excuse MCA for this churlish action? Why is he alone nervous and the leaders of the other two parties not? The pathetically lame excuse that three of the six had "important work outside" is unacceptable. The presidential bleating about the mysterious and largely absent "Barisan Spirit" is irrelevant and inappropriate. The six a#semblymen would not have boycotted the function without a nod from MCA headquarters; if they defied party dictates, Dr Ling must use his power to punish them. If not, he condones what the six did.

This episode only confirms a leaky secret of three decades: MCA's and Gerakan's desires, hopes and wishes on behalf of their community is subject to UMNO's larger worldview. The speed with which UMNO neutralised the Penang crisis is but a minor example of this larger problem. Its leaders, to forestall party flak, leaves it to the Prime Minister, as UMNO president, to decide on the list. They prepare the list which the Prime Minister approves. (This is what the MIC president also does, and for the same reasons.) Over a period, non-Malay parties in the National Front find their political teeth extracted painlessly through cowardly abnegation, making their positions irrelevant in the national coalition. This is complicated by a refusal to let in new blood into their political parties except when forced to.

The political worldview of non-Malay National Front leaders is personal comfort than communal advancement. Otherwise, they would have ensured a system whereby the communities they represent would have a strong team in government, treating UMNO leaders as primus inter pares, guarding their rights and privileges jealously, especially their right to name their own candidates and cabinet ministers. Nor would they make public demands, like they did, over cabinet seats before its formation. Today, the MCA president cannot even nominate a candidate for parliament; as he proudly proclaims, that is the privilege of the UMNO president. When Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed was asked why the MCA vice president, Dato' Ting Chew Peh, was dropped from the cabinet, he said Dr Ling did not submit his name. Even that fig leaf cannot now be relied upon.

All this comes down to the community's short term view of life, the "bird in hand" mentality that, when applied to politics, necessarily gives it a short-term perspective. One prominent Chinese business man insisted he supports the National Front for reasons of "loyalty and patriotism". I gently reminded him that I could understand his loyalty to a political party in return for the riches he has received, but how does he equate voting for the National Front an act of patriotism? Patriotism is loyalty to the nation, not to a political party. He heatedly replied that he, as a loyal Malaysian, had no qualms about what he did. Another on the dining table pointed out the danger is not the present but the future, that official policies would keep our grandchildren in debt and possibly in chains. He responded quickly the future did not concern him, only the present did, that his grandchildren could look out for themselves. "They could always migrate," he insisted heatedly. His loyalty and patriotism is a short-term convenience, but none on the table wanted to push home the point.

But this philosophy pervades through Malaysia's Chinese political parties; it afflicts even the Democratic Action Party. Like the Gerakan, the DAP is a multiracial party with a Chinese leadership. In a crisis, the Chineseness surfaces. As now, when the general elections forced a rethink in every Chinese and Chinese-majority political parties. The general elections brought these Chinese insecurities to the fore, even if the Chinese community swung its support decidedly towards the National Front, as the Prime Minister noted in his monthly article in the Mainichi Daily New of Japan last week. Neither the MCA nor the Gerakan has the leadership that can life the community out of this quagmire.

M.G.G. Pillai