It’s Not About the Chinese, Syed Ali!

By Kee Thuan Chye

If Umno Cheras division chief Syed Ali Alhabshee thinks he’s reaching out to the Chinese by asking them to tell Umno why they did not support the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) at the 13th general election (GE13) and what they are unhappy about, he’s still missing the point. The rejection of BN at GE13 is not about the Chinese. It’s about governance.

Good governance and an end to corruption are among the things every caring and intelligent Malaysian wants. Why does he single out the Chinese?

True, many Chinese care about the country and therefore want it to do well, and they don’t think that under BN rule, it will, so they voted for a change of government. But then so did a few million others comprising Malays, Indians, Kadazans and Ibans who also care about the country and want a better government.

If Syed Ali can grasp this basic idea, he should instead be telling his own party’s leaders that they need to do much, much better to deserve being in government – in fact, to change. And change drastically. He should be telling them to stop playing the same old politics they are still playing, like exploiting the issues of race and religion to divide the people.

He should tell Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin to take back what he said on July 31 and even apologise for it: “Muslims do not insult the religion of non-Muslims such as Christianity and Hinduism. But non-Muslims are insulting our religion.” That’s the kind of inflammatory remark we can expect from an extremist, not from a deputy prime minister.

Yes, bloggers Alvin Tan and Vivian Lee did upset Muslims with their Ramadhan greeting over a bowl of Bak Kut Teh, but how could Muhyiddin discount Perkasa Vice-President Zulkifli Noordin’s belittling of Hinduism when he expressed scorn at Hindu gods, or Johor school principal Siti Inshah Mansor’s alleged remark in 2010 that the Indians looked like “dogs” when they wore their prayer strings?

It is distorted statements like Muhyiddin’s that polarise the people even more. And as the nation’s number two leader, Muhyiddin should have known better to keep his mouth shut instead of creating further tension on the issue. After all, what purpose does his statement serve? It only serves to revive anti-non-Muslim sentiments at a time when conciliatory measures are greatly needed.

But then we have seen many times before that this is how Umno leaders operate. It is also part and parcel of their desire to assert their supremacy over the populace, especially over those who don’t bend to them. Now, because Umno has won nine parliamentary seats more at GE13 compared to GE12, it is asserting itself even more. It is pandering to right-wing Malay-Muslim sentiments to consolidate the support from its ‘safe deposits’.

This is precisely the sort of thing that those who reject Umno-BN don’t want any more of. So whatever Syed Ali may say about Umno-BN wanting “the Chinese to be with us”, it is mere wishful thinking. If Umno-BN remains as it is and continues to behave the way it does, the Chinese and the others who voted against it will never trust it.

Syed Ali also says Prime Minister Najib Razak has done a lot for the Chinese and he therefore cannot understand why the community didn’t support Najib at GE13. But that’s not the point either.

It’s not about providing for a community – ANY community – but about providing what’s good and right for the country. It’s not about protecting the interests of Muslims or non-Muslims but about maintaining the rule of law and upholding fairness.

The prime minister must see to the needs of all citizens, regardless of race. So it is his duty to cater for the Chinese as much as he caters for the Malays, Indians, Kadazans, Ibans, etc.

The point is, has Najib done much, if anything, to bring about inclusiveness? Is the Government no longer discriminating against non-Malays in the civil service, the police, the armed forces, the universities, etc?

Has he been serious in addressing corruption? (Let’s not mention the “window dressing” he performed in co-opting former Transparency International Malaysia president Paul Low into his Cabinet.) What is the latest on the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission’s investigations into the alleged corruption of Sarawak Chief Minister Taib Mahmud?

Has Najib stopped the practice of cronyism? Are big projects still being handed out through negotiated contracts rather than open tenders? Will he institute reform as of now or will everything have to wait till after the Umno party elections in October so he can try to safeguard his position as Umno president and prime minister?

Syed Ali says Najib is a good prime minister. Does a good prime minister do things by halves? If we look at Najib’s four-year track record, we can see he has characteristically taken only half-measures to address needs and issues. He has not shown the courage to go all the way.

He repealed the Internal Security Act (ISA) – which, incidentally, Syed Ali disagrees with – but then he replaced it with the Security Offences (Special Measures) Act.

He announced last year that he would repeal the Sedition Act, but he also said he would replace it with the National Harmony Act. But now, a year later, no whiff of a draft has appeared. Lately, some of his Umno colleagues have been making noise about retaining the Sedition Act and Najib has been prompted to say that the replacement will retain the spirit and three main principles of the former act. This sounds like any change is going to be an illusion.

As for the other restrictive laws, Najib has not repealed the Printing Presses and Publications Act (PPPA) to free the mass media, or the Universities and University Colleges Act (UUCA) to liberate academia. He has only made a few amendments to them and therefore offered only half-appeasement.

He promised to reform Section 27 of the Police Act, which required police permits for public gatherings, but he brought in the Peaceful Assembly Act which still requires organisers of gatherings to notify the police 10 days ahead. That’s still like asking for a permit. What’s more, he sneaked in prohibitive measures like forbidding street protests and also forbidding gatherings from taking place near a long list of designated places, making the new law even more restrictive than the old one.

After GE13, when the people called for the Election Commission (EC) chairman and his deputy to be sacked and the body to be reconstituted to make it truly independent because it had shown bias towards the ruling party at the elections, he again met them only halfway. He announced that a special committee comprising members of Parliament from BN and the Opposition would be set up to oversee the EC to allay concerns about its partiality.

In view of all these things, if Syed Ali still says Najib is a good prime minister, then he is only a half-good one. And that is not good enough for the Chinese, Malays, Indians, Kadazans and Ibans who voted against his party and coalition.

This message should be quite clear now, and one hopes Syed Ali gets the point. If he still doesn’t and continues to ask the same dumb question, it will only confirm the belief that only a change of government will do. Anything other than that will only be a half-measure.

* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling books No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians and Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More!