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Sunday, April 29, 2018

BN’s biggest mistake in GE14 - playing the race card


Everything is pointing to a BN campaign strategy of “one vote for Pakatan Harapan is one vote for DAP”. BN’s campaign videos on social media are primarily targeted against DAP. The caretaker prime minister Najib Abdul Razak had even tweeted recently:
Saya perhati Dr Mahathir sebenarnya diperkudakan saja oleh DAP untuk pecah belah undi Melayu, seolah-olah DAP baik kepada orang Melayu. Hakikatnya, mana ada? DAP ini baik ke kepada Melayu, kepada Islam? Dr Mahathir sendiri cakap DAP Anti-Melayu dan Anti-Islam #CakapTakSerupaBikin
(I notice Dr Mahathir is actually only being used by DAP to divide the Malay votes, as if DAP is good to the Malays. The truth is, when has DAP ever been good to the Malays, to Islam? Dr Mahathir himself said DAP is anti-Malay and anti-Islam #notwalkingthetalk)
It is official. The race card is out.
BN is stuck between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, Najib wants to retain some semblance of a “pahlawan” (warrior) fighting Pakatan Harapan chairperson Dr Mahathir Mohamad head-on. On the other hand, BN knows that a straight fight with Mahathir will not end in their favour.
BN currently has too much baggage in the form of GST and 1MDB compared to Mahathir’s track record as prime minister. While some may suggest that Mahathir had an equally heavy baggage from his time as prime minister, a distant past is always more palatable than an impending doom. Most people in Malaysia revere Mahathir and would gladly pronounce that he was the best prime minister Malaysia ever had.
There are of course those who don’t agree with this. But even this group of people had softened their views on him, as his old age of 92 now appears more benevolent compared to his supposedly “dictatorial” past. The iron fist is now but a grandfather’s grip.
Race card as campaign strategy
The more BN tries to attack Mahathir, the more it invites public resentment. BN had been testing this propaganda for a few months, and they paid the price of a drastically declining Malay support in the entire Peninsula, especially Johor and Kedah. The wave had even started to hit the east coast.
So it is without choice that BN had to choose the last card in their war manual: The race card.
They started thinking about this tactic seriously since 2013 when Najib dubbed the election result a “Chinese Tsunami.” Since then, BN had been testing this new formula of focusing only on the Malay votes to retain power. To enlarge this portion of Malay votes, they pandered to the more conservative sections of society, particularly evident in a series of cooperation with PAS.
A side-effect of this is that non-Malay votes are no longer the primary consideration of BN. All attempts to win the non-Malay votes are half-hearted and mostly based on fearmongering. BN had warned the Chinese against voting for the opposition lest they lose all Chinese representation in government. They could afford to do this because they know they could do without the Chinese votes to win government.
In fact, BN would prefer all the Chinese to vote for Harapan so that they could scare all the Malays to “return” to BN instead. That is the glory of the race card.
Except that this time BN is mistaken.
No more racial isolation
This is no longer the 1960s where people lived in their separate racial ghettos. While there are certainly still racial prejudices between races today, they are no where as intense as they were in the 1960s.
Back then, people lived in racially isolated communities. They often have unsubstantiated prejudices for other races because they had never really met other races before. Their knowledge of other races was based only on false rumours and stereotypes. It is easy to call a Malay “lazy”, a Chinese “greedy”, an Indian “cunning” when you never had a friend outside your race before.
But this is not the 1960s. This is 2018. Over the decades, urbanisation brought many people into the city. Many people are forced to meet and work with people of other races. Granted, there are fear and friction at the start, but over time, most Malaysians had started to accept other races as partners of a common destiny. We realise that we have more in common with each other.
This progression in society is inevitable. As years go by, more and more people will start to realise that racial differences are just a baseless human invention that serves as a tool of manipulation for those in power. They are not inherent differences destined to break us apart. As you have more and more friends of other races, you become their brothers' and sisters' keeper. You stand up for them, and they stand up for you.
That is why this strategy by BN is doomed to fail.
Harapan’s race card
Of course, some may suggest that Harapan plays the race card as well. It is fair to point to Bersatu as an example of this, as they appeal primarily to bumiputera voters only. But I argue that there is a clear difference between using race as a backdrop to bring forth a multiracial agenda, and using race as a fear tactic to divide the country to retain power.
The former is that of Harapan’s agenda, which is to assure bumiputera voters that their rights will not be taken away by their non-bumiputera counterparts - to show that other races are on their side so that we get closer to being a truly multiracial country. This is based on allaying fears.
On the other hand, BN’s agenda is to drive fear into the hearts of Malays by painting the Chinese as the demons out to take power away from them. This is based on amplifyingfear.
Therefore, even when both sides have race in their core message, their intentions and desired outcomes are vastly different.
BN’s campaign has repeatedly emphasised that if Harapan wins, the prime minister will be the DAP supremo Lim Kit Siang. This is despite the fact that the official prime ministerial candidate for Harapan is Mahathir, and the deputy prime minister candidate is Dr Wan Azizah Ismail, and the prime-minister-in-waiting is Anwar Ibrahim.
Once again, this is not the 1960s, this is 2018. People are able to discriminate fact from fiction, truth from lies. The vast information online today is something that was unavailable in the 1960s. It is much harder now to generate support by demonising a race, as the wisdom of the masses is more in line with tolerance and acceptance, rather than hatred.
Moral problems
Even if you were to presume that I am wrong, that indeed the race card will turn out to be an effective tool in winning elections, what will happen after such a victory is what truly unsettles me. What will become of this country if the winning election tactic is to treat other races as enemies?
Is it morally responsible to divide races when the purpose of elections is to determine who could best bring the country together? Is it morally right to strike fear in the hearts of the people who are most afraid?
I really hope the race card is ineffective so we would never have to confront these morally devastating questions. We must prove them wrong.

JAMES CHAI works at a law firm. His voyage in life is made less lonely with a family of deep love, friends of good humour and teachers of selfless giving. This affirms his conviction in the common goodness of people: the better angels of our nature. He tweets at @JamesJSChai. -Mkini

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