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Saturday, November 12, 2011

All eyes on the Malay votes

By Wong Chun Wai, The Star

Of the 222 parliamentary seats, only 46 are Chinese majority. So winning the hearts and minds of Malay voters has become the focus of the competing Malay-based parties.

WHEN Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announced that the government had decided to scrap the PPSMI (teaching of Maths and Science in English policy) in primary schools, there was loud outrage from the urbanites.

This unhappiness has continued with most urban voters refusing to accept the reasons given by the Education Minister, believing instead that politics is the reason behind the decision.

There were subtle threats of punishing the Barisan Nasional government in the polls but PAS and PKR, both Malay-based parties, also quickly stated their stand against continuing the policy.

A Malay non-governmental organisation, Jaringan Melayu Malaysia (JMM), had revealed that its survey of 27,200 parents, mostly Malays, found 55% wanted the PPSMI to be retained compared to only 13% who didn’t. Of these respondents, 15,000 were rural parents. But Malay groups, and certainly Malay-based parties, had found their own surveys telling them the opposite.

With a general election looming, winning the hearts and minds of the predominantly Malay voters has become the focus of the competing Malay-based parties.

The fact is that of the 222 parliamentary seats, only 46 are Chinese majority and there is not even a single constituency with an Indian majority.

The three main parties, Umno, PAS and PKR, have all stepped up their posturing as defenders of the Malay/Muslim votes, well aware that while they need the support of the other communities, they cannot ignore the sentiments of the Malay voters.

So when DAP publicity chief Tony Pua said that if Pakatan Rakyat formed the next federal government, it would trim down the civil service – majority of whom are Malays – his allies had to scramble to do damage control.

Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and senior PAS leaders had to quickly douse the fire, denying that there was such a plan.

The opposition leaders have been on tenterhooks since the fiasco by PAS deputy president Mohamed Sabu, who allegedly described communist guerrillas involved in the 1950s Bukit Kepong incident as freedom fighters.

With many Malay families having at least one relative in the police, army or other uniformed unit, Mat Sabu’s remarks cost the Pakatan Rakyat a huge chunk of votes. Since then, the usually fiery speaker has remained quiet, and PAS is hoping that the anger against him will soon die out.

The Islamist party has also abandoned its attempt to project a more liberal image and has gone back to talking about hudud laws and the Islamic state and banning concerts to retain its core supporters.

As for Anwar, on the one hand, he is telling his Chinese audience that hudud laws are not part of Pakatan’s policy. On the other, he is telling the Malay audience that he backs the implementation of hudud laws, putting the DAP in a spot as PAS has said it couldn’t care less if the DAP agrees or not.

The DAP seems to be helpless over the issue with its leaders saying they have “agreed to disagree” over the implementation of hudud laws. PAS claims it would not affect non-Malays but this is a fallacy because it will extend beyond family and religious laws.

In criminal matters, when a case involves a Muslim and a non-Muslim, if hudud is chosen, it will clearly put the latter in a spot. One example is sex offences where four witnesses are required.

Only DAP lawyer Karpal Singh seems to acknowledge the difficult path ahead.

The fight over Malay votes has continued with DAP’s Lim Guan Eng coming out to say that if Pakatan wins, Anwar will be the prime minister. It is a move to allay fear among non-Muslim voters as PAS is eyeing the post.

There has been muted response from PAS as it is an open secret that its president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang wants to be PM.

Lim has insisted that Anwar would be PM “even if he is in jail (if convicted for sodomy charges)”, but the point is, if Anwar is going to be PM, then he wouldn’t be in jail.

Most non-Muslims wouldn’t blink over the Seksualiti Merdeka issue as they are aware that the event is not a gay orgy as claimed by some media.

Many of us find the hysterical reaction to be lacking compassion and even ridiculous, but this is the silly season. It was a case of wrong timing and political naivete on the part of the organisers. After all, the event has been held for the past two years without any controversy.

But human rights lawyer Datuk Ambiga Sreenevasan, who was invited to open the forum, is seen as an opposition figure, and with Anwar’s sodomy trial coming to a conclusion soon, the timing could not have been worse.

Well aware of the Muslim psyche and sentiments, PAS swiftly joined in to criticise the gay rights event.

The much-touted 11.11.11 date, which many thought would see the dissolution of Parliament, is over and with Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak himself saying that polls would not be held this year, the run-up campaign looks set to be a draggy affair.

Even now, the posturing, rhetoric, accusations and lies are becoming tiresome, and the polls could still be very far away, possibly in mid-2012.

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