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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

GE13: Are Chinese Malaysians mostly rooting for the opposition?

(Bernama) - Many have been quick to generalise that almost all Chinese voters in the country will root for opposition candidates. But an in-depth look into the issue indicates that this is not entirely the true picture. 
In the 2008 general election, BN lost its two-third majority in the Dewan Rakyat, and one of the main arguments for this was that a sizeable number of Chinese voters supported the opposition coalition of PKR-DAP-PAS.     
Political observers say this trend had started five years earlier in Kedah, Penang, Selangor and the Federal Territory of Kuala Lumpur and spread to Sarawak in the 2011 state election where BN lost 13 state seats, all Chinese-majority seats, to DAP.  
There are now arguments that this trend may even spread to Johor, so far the bastion of support for the BN, because urban Chinese have turned out in large numbers at opposition political gatherings. The DAP is making a major onslaught there this time.   
In view of these developments, many have been quick to generalise that almost all Chinese voters in the country will root for opposition candidates. But an in-depth look into the issue indicates that this is not entirely the true picture. 
Rita Sim, co-founder of the Centre for Strategic Engagement, said most urbanites – Chinese, Malays and Indians included – appeared to be yearning for change and tend to look at the Opposition.  
She discerned that even middle-class Malays in the urban areas have shifted their attention away from BN. 
In view of the trend towards change and perception held by most urban residents, Sim said, the Chinese, being mostly urbanites, had also been lumped as opposition sympathisers.  
Sim explained that the opposition parties were harping on issues that connected well with the urban voters. 
"There are also urban Chinese voters who support the BN. But, these people don't openly state their support," she said. 
Political observers say that not many have the gumption like actress Datuk Michelle Yeoh who had openly pledged her support for BN and even called on Malaysians to give caretaker Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak a strong mandate. 
Chinese support for BN still reasonable
Political party workers explained that three main factors could influence the decision of the voters. One is the type of constituency, whether urban, semi-urban or rural; the other is the ethnic composition of voters in the constituency; and the third, the choice of candidates.  
Political analysts say that Chinese support for BN is still at a reasonable level even though they only form between 20% and 30% of the voters in most constituencies, like Bagan Datoh, Sungai Siput, Sembrong and Tambun.  
"For example, in the predominantly Malay parliamentary constituency of Tambun located in Ipoh, a DAP stronghold, incumbent Datuk Seri Ahmad Husni Hanadzlah is extremely popular with the Chinese voters," said a party insider.  
Another example is the Sungai Siput parliamentary seat where former MIC president Datuk Seri S. Samy Vellu enjoyed good support from the Chinese. 
Samy Vellu's defeat there in 2008 was due to the fact that he lost a quarter of the Malay votes and almost 70% of the Indian votes while the level of support from the Chinese voters remained almost the same as in 2004.  
Similarly, in the Kuala Terengganu by-election in early 2009, the first by-election after the political tsunami of 2008, Chinese voters support for BN increased although the party lost the parliamentary seat. 
"In Terengganu, we still rely on the strong Chinese support. We do have PKR and DAP contesting there but their effect (on the Chinese) is not that good. Our local support is still strong, (it is) different from some other states on the west coast, northern Peninsular Malaysia and in the Klang Valley," said state MCA chairman Datuk Toh Chin Yaw.  
Candidates' personal touch
He explained that the choice of candidates and their personal touch played a critical role in deciding the winner.  
Toh stressed that as such one could not simply generalise the so-called general sentiment said to be running through the Chinese community.  
Toh's reasoning may perhaps explain BN's ability to retain the Kampar parliamentary seat in Perak in 2008 despite the fact that 60% of the voters there were Chinese and there was strong sentiment against BN then.  
Kampar is located in the Kinta Valley, an area known as DAP's stronghold. But BN's candidate from MCA, Datuk Lee Chee Leong, managed to win with a majority of 2,697 votes even though 60% of the voters were Chinese. 
"He won mainly due to his personal touch and humble approach. He served the constituency well. That's why the voters still gave him their support," said MCA Youth deputy chief Datuk Mah Hang Soon, who was also the sole BN candidate from MCA to have won the state seat of Chenderiang in Perak in 2008.   
A mistaken notion that Chinese are mostly pro-opposition
MCA's strategist and Central Committee member Datuk Ti Lian Ker believes that the mistaken notion that the Chinese are mostly for the opposition is merely spread by the DAP to influence the Chinese voters.  
"Basically, they (DAP) talk about change in the hope to convince the Chinese voters that they can make a big difference with their votes when in fact the Malay and Indian votes are still with the BN.  
"In any democratic country, there is always a 20% to 30% of core voter support for either side. So, in this case, there is still a core of 20%-30% Chinese support from MCA members for the BN," he said. 
Ti therefore believed that the trick is to zero in on the estimated 30 plus to 40% of the undecided or "fence-sitters".  
With polling in the GE13 set for Sunday, the notion that the Chinese electorate is pro-opposition may prove to be not true at all. 

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