Tanjung Piai: A silly race in the south

OCTOBER 31 — Shock and horror this Halloween, as the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) and Gerakan get to square off finally after 50 years at the Tanjung Piai by-election on November 16.

High-noon in the last seat, numerically speaking for the peninsular, P165.

Tongues were wagging when Gerakan named Wendy Subramaniam to oppose the two dominant coalitions, Pakatan Harapan and Barisan Nasional (BN).

MCA probably remains sore losing Penang to Gerakan in 1969 — I’m half-kidding here, not about the loss but about the relevance of Penang to either party or better framed, the relevance of either party to the island today. 

Since 2008, neither party has won a seat in Penang, a far cry from either one running the Pearl of the Orient before that — for 53 years. The fall is astonishing.

So, they’re taking the contest south through the PLUS Highway. In a Malay majority seat (57 per cent) with a large Chinese presence (42 per cent).

But how things have changed even down there.

In the old days, as BN’s Fortress Johor, it was relied on to protect the coalition’s minority parties — MCA, Gerakan and Malaysian Indian Congress (MIC) — from potential electoral defeats to the Democratic Action Party (DAP).  

Labis, Kluang and Segamat among others as protected seats under the generous umbrella of big brother Umno. 

The assured Malay votes assuaged any type of erosion of non-Malay votes for the little brothers. It was benevolence personified.

But this is a Brave New Malaysia.

Now BN as a three-party coalition — they can convene around a pub high-table rather than needing a meeting room — hands MCA’s Wee Jeck Seng a chance to avenge his 524-vote loss to Bersatu Pribumi — represented then by the late Md Farid Md Rafik.

Wee has been MP in the area, but will his party become a has-been with this by-election?

BMF, Now!

The Buy Malay First campaign remains, as are other initiatives like the Malay Dignity Congress and Defend Zakir Naik, as incendiary measures which sow discord in society. 

While all Malay politicians attempt a level of placation and qualification when it comes to Malay entitlement, the Umno and PAS boys have the bridge, hitting the race card harder than ever.

The moan boat has gone on for more than a year, with much of the vitriol directed at DAP. 

The duo up the ante by demanding a Unity government — them replacing DAP as partners in a new race coalition — incessantly on grounds the Rocket party might steer Malaysia into socialism, Christianity, liberalism, westernism, paganism or any other kind of ism known to man.

On the stroke of nomination day, they intend to temporarily change.

Tanjung Piai is at the western end of the Johor southern coast dependent on agriculture and tourism. It would be hilarity personified to see Umno asking Muslims to buy Wee as a candidate but not Chinese Malaysian products. 

Though Umno is no stranger to incredulity and its leaders would explain how a product ban is not the same as a political ban.

Perhaps slip a standard note like this to Umno campaigners:

“Don’t eat at Wee’s shop, if he has one, or buy a phone from a Wee phone shop, just show a wee bit of trust in Wee, that he can represent all voters regardless of race. Remember, products are different from politicians. Politicians are people, not products. Buy Wee.”

PAS would have to perform a massive U-turn of sorts. They have ridiculed non-Malays as if the doorway to hell begins at the back of your typical kopitiam.

For the next fortnight they’d pretend the last two years did not occur. There’ll be mandarin oranges, halal Chinese dinners and friendship tours, with the convenient chants on Islam’s universality and the minor misunderstandings, like their putrid hatred for equality of races.

Oh, PAS, what would Malaysian politics be without you!

'State' it in a 'Federal' way

Bersatu Pribumi has two trump cards, prime minister and mentri besar.

The quiet district is trained to expect help from Putrajaya and Johor Bahru. So, while the contest was close in 2018, voters entered polling booths without knowledge of present realities. They will on November 16, and it’s ominous for opponents.

Mindful to note, the whole Bersatu Pribumi organisation in the area is ex-Umno. Further, the south-west Umno operation probably shrunk since 2018, as leaders make a beeline for the newer Umno under Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad. 

Bersatu Pribumi candidate Karmaine Sardini is division chief and would have been plugged into government arteries supporting the area. He’s been made more valuable in the past calendar year, and that translates to votes.

More so, the previous by-election defeats require rectifications via a whopping victory in Tanjung Piai. Allowing Pakatan to claim the decade’s last contest.

Perhaps explains Umno’s recusal from the race. A MCA defeat can justify a Malay immersion for BN in 2020, or sneakily convince objectors within the party to accept future overtures to Bersatu Pribumi under the guise of Malay unity. 

To offer Umno clarity in a way, probably to abandon any semblance of multiculturism moving forward.

The masters of no universe

While defeat might sting both, the winner in the mini-battle can take solace in being the second best liked ethnic Chinese party in the country after DAP.

Gerakan and MCA relegated to fight for second in the three-horse race, how the mighty have been knocked off their perch. At the present, between the two, there is only one parliamentary seat, MCA President Wee Ka Siong in Ayer Hitam.

But this won’t dampen their enthusiasm to attempt to corner a maximum of the Chinese vote, at 42 per cent.

DAP will ask the questions in the Chinese schools and halls through the campaign, how have MCA and Gerakan stood up to the alleged race bullies Umno and PAS?

The response would decide how both parties fare in the non-Muslim vote bank. As it stands, not so charmingly.

The water does not wash sin away

A predictable three-way fight is afoot and two surreal campaign weeks lay ahead for the area.

Where right wingers pretend to love again, BN at the receiving end of unfair campaigning using a pork-barrel buffet by Pakatan and two relegated ethnic parties seek to carve a path back to significance via an unexpected win.

Either which way the win goes, democracy would not be the winner. It’ll likelier be a battle of attrition involving race baiting, false modesty promotions and wild promises.

Hypocrisy is already an early winner in Tanjung Piai and its majority will only grow by the day.

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

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