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Malaysian polls: A red card for the race card

Here’s out and out race-based politics: What more do the Chinese want? That’s what UMNO-owned newspaper Utusan Malaysia screamed out yesterday. They were probably taking the line set by Prime Minister Najib who said that a Chinese tsunami had swept seats from BN to the opposition. He’s still sticking to the line although analysts have suggested that it might be an urban/rural divide or a digital divide. Racial polarisation? Or a class one?

Even if he was right, one wonders if it was prudent for a head of government to pick on a minority community. Does he believe he is merely uttering unwelcome truths which will not have serious consequences? Or should it be swept under the carpet or disguised in more pleasing words? Police are investigating the paper for sedition and have hauled up two bloggers. Don’t suppose they can haul up the Prime Minister too for starting the wave…

According to TODAY, Malaysians themselves are reacting strongly against Mr Najib’s use of a Chinese target and Utusan’s pronouncements. Good on them! Not that Mr Najib is helping anything by saying that the Chinese newspapers are similarly racist…

Nobody likes being singled out as a community, not even in Singapore where education results and drug statistics are still race based and the existence of the Group Representation Constituency is a reminder that people tend to vote for their “own kind”. (Recently, however, that reasoning has been put to the test with single-seat wards electing non-Chinese representatives, even if it was Michael Palmer. Sigh)

Many general elections ago, the late Ong Teng Cheong came up with a similar analysis for the People’s Action Party’s loss of votes: He said the Chinese-speaking heartlanders were unhappy. Singapore was strong enough to weather his words but perhaps this was because the Chinese are in the majority here. Now what if a leading politician here had accused the Malays of being a swing vote?

How should those on this side of the Causeway react to what’s happening next door? There’s plenty of discussion on the supposedly more unsavoury side of the Malaysian GE with allegations of vote-rigging flying. There’s plenty of sympathy as well for the opposition; a kind of rooting for the underdog attempting to overturn the political order. Although, really, having a BN government in place is probably much more in the interest of this country. Better the devil you know than the devil you don’t, you know?

What’s funny is that BN seems to think that anyone who doesn’t vote for BN is racist, even though the vote went to another Malay. The Democratic Action Party which was the biggest winner in the GE is being demonised for playing the race card and luring Chinese votes to its side. Already, we’re hearing about how DAP is like a clone of the People’s Action Party here which is mighty ridiculous given the G’s heavy hand against those it thinks are stirring up racist sentiments.

With all that turmoil in Malaysia, let’s hope that the finger doesn’t get pointed to Singapore, that convenient whipping boy. No matter how much sympathy or fellow feeling for the opposition, it might be best to sit back and shut up before allegations of interference in Malaysia’s domestic politics start flying from up north. This little red dot needs a shield…

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In the run-up to Singapore’s own GE due in 2016, it’s worth pondering whether race is still a card that can be played by political opportunists. There’s been little evidence of that since the days of Tang Liang Hong. Is it simmering below the surface though waiting for a firebrand to stoke the flames? Or have we matured enough as a society to start thinking as one nation? The ongoing discussion on what it means to be a Singaporean and who comprises the Singapore core bodes well for us, even though it is sometimes framed as an “us-versus-foreigners” issue.

What we can be thankful for: even if it lost the popular vote, the G here is not likely to make those sort of statements that Mr Najib has made. In fact, it is more likely to thump those who do.

This article first appeared on – where there plenty more things…

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An ex-journalist who can't get enough of the news after being in the business for 26 years

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