KUALA LUMPUR, March 4 — Malaysia’s Chinese and other minority ethnic groups have grown more disillusioned with Putrajaya over recent years, analysts said, owing to a general belief that the country’s leaders have alienated them in their quest to stay ahead in the political game.
This was reflected in the public opinion survey by independent pollster Merdeka Center released last week, which showed a dip in happiness felt by the Chinese towards the government in January this year.
But according to observers, the results from the polls were far from surprising as Chinese support, they pointed out, has been on a steady decline for at least the past decade.
“Minorities, including those in Sabah, are very concerned at how the Malay ruling elite has been behaving,” Merdeka Center’s director Ibrahim Suffian said.
Ibrahim said the growing influence of the federal opposition in recent years has created greater competitive fervour in the political game, forcing leaders in the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) to resort to “all sorts of things” to shore up support, including embarking on measures that have driven a wedge between the races.
“But bringing up race and religion is a foil to distract people from economic problems. Most Malays abhor such statements but don’t really speak out against them because they don’t feel directly targeted by them,” he added.
“One should ask: why should the Chinese be satisfied with the government? Chinese generally reward the government with electoral support for two matters: economic growth, and fairer treatment as citizens,” political analyst Dr Wong Chin Huat told Malay Mail Online.
Wong said in its attempt to shore up support from the Malays, who form the majority of the multi-racial electorate, the present administration has painted the ethnic Chinese as the dreaded bogeyman, adding salt to a wound opened up by economic uncertainty.
“Ethnic Malaysian-Chinese sentiment has been below 50 per cent for nearly a decade, if not longer. The roots of this go back to the feelings of alienation from race-based politics,” claimed Yin Shao Loong, the executive director of PKR-backed think-tank Institut Rakyat.
“While some people could accept affirmative action measures in the interest of long-term social justice and harmony, the Umno-led Barisan Nasional (BN) has engaged in emotionally-charged blame-gaming, often targeted at the Malaysian-Chinese community.”
The so-called alienation felt by the Chinese community came to a boil in 2013 after Utusan Malaysia, a Malay language newspaper owned by ruling party Umno, splashed the controversial headline “Apa Lagi Cina Mahu?” (What more do the Chinese want?) on its front page, two days after BN was returned with a diminished majority in the general election.
It was also after the same tumultuous polls that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak blamed BN’s dismal election performance on what he described as a “Chinese tsunami”, claiming that the opposition Pakatan Rakyat (PR) had played on racial sentiments to woo support from the country’s second largest ethnic group.
That same month saw the Chinese community lose even more confidence in their government, with only nine per cent saying they were happy, according to the Merdeka Center survey.
After that, the percentage of happy ethnic Chinese reached a peak of just 15 per cent on two occasions, including in December last year, before it dipped again to 11 per cent in January this year.
“I’m quite surprised that the number is so low … Before (the) last election, everything was 1Malaysia, but this has slowed down a lot,” conceded Liang Teck Meng, the secretary-general of Gerakan, a component party of the ruling coalition BN.
Liang said the statistics must be “treated seriously” and cited the falling global oil price, the impending Goods and Services Tax (GST), and the controversies surrounding strategic fund 1 Malaysia Development Bhd (1MDB) as several potential grouses felt by the Chinese.
DAP’s Dr Ong Kian Ming claimed that recent gloomy economic outlook has affected the ethnic Chinese like no other community, as they are more “sensitive” towards economic changes.
“Many of them have their own businesses, they are small and medium enterprise owners. Whenever the economy weakens, they’re the ones who are feeling the cost, they’re among the first ones to feel it,” said the Serdang MP.
Last Saturday, Najib told a glitzy 6,000-strong “Malay Unity Gathering” that the Bumiputera agenda of empowering the Malay race and defending their rights will always be his government’s priority.
His Cabinet minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob had last month urged Malays to boycott Chinese traders to prevent profiteering, triggering a firestorm of criticism from both friend and foe alike, who have accused him of racism and sedition for his racially-specific suggestion.
“That a minister could make these baseless remarks and escape accountability further undermines confidence in Najib’s fairness,” Yin alleged.
“The free hand given to groups such as Perkasa and Ikatan Muslimin Malaysia who engage in racially-charged accusations further erodes a sense that Malaysia is for all Malaysians,” added Yin, naming two incendiary Malay rights and Islamist groups.
In response, Liang downplayed the community’s sense of alienation: “Some small issues have been magnified, and some big things are not publicised.”
The Malays and Bumiputera make up the majority of Malaysia’s population at an estimated 67.4 per cent of the 28.3 million population, followed by the Chinese at 24.6 per cent, according to the most recent census at 2010.