Monday, January 19, 2009

A threat too far

Monday, 19 January 2009

Raja Petra Kamarudin

“I need guys who can drink like a fish and not fall down,” I told Bernard.

“So make sure we get the hardcore drinkers to Kuala Terengganu. The Chinese will never trust anyone who does not drink.”

It was exactly two weeks that we spent in Kuala Terengganu -- from the eve of Nomination Day until the day after Polling Day. It was not a lot of money we spent, though, just about RM25,000 in all. But then that is because we never had to pay for our beer and liquor. Our Chinese hosts would refuse to accept our money and appeared very offended when we insisted we pay.

Okay, not everyone drank. Even some Indians in the group did not drink a drop in spite of them having a reputation of being ‘terror drinkers’. In fact, Bala would not even drink Coke. He only drank plain water or, once in awhile, green tea.

Nevertheless, seeing that we had about 20 rooms, twin-sharing, there were certainly enough in the gang to do us proud and to stand up to the heavy-drinking Chinese loggers and saw-millers without falling down drunk before the witching hour.

“PAS is going to win big,” said my ‘drinking partner’ who was not only pissed drunk but quite pissed that I had a Coke glass in my hand and was refusing his constant ‘harassment’ to ‘drink with me’.

“Hey!” I kept reminding him.

“Just being in this pub is already an offence. I could get arrested. You want me behind bars or what? Imagine how Umno would go to town with the news tomorrow when the newspaper headlines report ‘Blogger RPK caught drinking in a pub in Kuala Terengganu’. They will crucify me.”

“Okay, okay, I understand. You are forgiven. But I still don’t like drinking with someone drinking only Coke.”“Never mind about me. My friends are drinking. They can drink my share.”

In fact, Bernard more than drank my share. He probably drank three people’s share. Anyway, being a Muslim was a convenient ‘excuse’ not to drink. The others were never allowed a half-empty glass. Our Chinese friends from Kuala Terengganu kept topping up the glasses of our Blogging Team until no one knew any longer how much they had drunk.

“You do not need the Chinese votes,” my Chinese friend went on.

“PAS is going to win big without the Chinese votes.”

This statement troubled me and I asked my Chinese friend who was facing great trouble tying to remain standing to explain what he meant.

“PAS is going to win big. The Malays will swing to PAS. You just watch. So you do not need the Chinese votes. The Chinese can vote BN.”

“I don’t think we should look at it that way,” I told my friend with a discouraged sound in my voice.

“Every vote counts. We need the Chinese votes.”

My Chinese friend probably detected that I was perturbed and he downed his glass before explaining further.

“We Chinese know that PAS is going to win. The Malays are going to swing to PAS. So you can win without the Chinese votes. The Malay votes are enough to give PAS the win.”

“Okay,” I replied. “But even if PAS can win with the Malay votes why can’t the Chinese also vote for PAS?”

“PAS is already going to win by at least 2,000 votes even if the Chinese vote BN. So why worry?”

“Okay, I understand. But what’s wrong if the Chinese also vote PAS and make the win 5,000 instead of 2,000?”

“We Chinese don’t want to be blamed for Umno’s loss. Let the Malays vote PAS. PAS then wins on the Malay votes. The Chinese will vote BN. Then Umno can’t blame the Chinese for their defeat. The Chinese voted BN and PAS won with the Malay votes, not the Chinese votes.”

I could see his logic here but I did not like it.

“What if the Chinese vote BN and BN wins, PAS loses.”

“No way man. PAS will win. The Malay swing is big. It is safe for the Chinese to vote BN. PAS will still win.”

“But why?” I asked.

“Why do the Chinese want to vote BN when you support PAS?”

“We support PAS. Look, my friend over there gave PAS RM1 million in the last general election.” He pointed to the chap at the end of the bar and signalled him to come over.

“We have no problems with PAS. We prefer PAS to BN,” his friend added.

“I was the one in the Chinese newspapers who held up the can of beer in front of the PAS markas in Wakaf Tapai. You remember or not?”

Yes, I remembered that episode. I think it was in the 2004 general election. But Umno went to town with the whole thing and distorted the issue. They said that PAS is hypocritical about Islam and is allowing liquor in the state.

“Okay, what if PAS loses and they lose because the Chinese voted BN?”

“No way. PAS will win. If PAS is going to lose then we Chinese will vote PAS. But we know PAS will win. So no need for the Chinese to vote PAS. Let PAS win on the Malay votes. We Chinese can then say we voted BN but BN still lost. And it is because of the Malays and not the Chinese that PAS won.”

I suppose this is Chinese ‘logic’ and I have come to understand how the Chinese mind works. Cari makan is very important to the Chinese and must come first. They can’t risk their cari makan by being seen to be supporting the opposition. This was, after all, a bunch of Chinese towkays that I was taking to. They are flush with money and became rich not by being seen as anti-government.

By the end of the two weeks I realised that PAS would have to depend on the Malay swing, not the Chinese votes. The Chinese would give us enough votes just to keep BN in check. At best we can expect 40% to 45% votes from the Chinese. They will make sure that the majority of the Chinese vote for BN just so that it can be seen that more than half the Chinese support the government. But it will not be more than that.

Rosmah Mansor, the wife of the Deputy Prime Minister, made this very clear to the Kuala Terengganu voters on Saturday, one week before the by-election. “We know who you vote for,” said Rosmah. “If you vote for the opposition we will know.”The message Rosmah was sending to the Kuala Terengganu voters is that your vote is not secret and the government will know if you voted for PAS or BN. That is not true, of course, but who would want to take that risk in case it is?

The Terengganu Menteri Besar, Ahmad Said, was more blunt when he told the Chinese. “If you are nice to me, then I will be nice to you. If you are not nice to me, then I can be ten times more not nice to you.”This was a veiled threat if ever I did see one and the message was simple: if you vote for PAS then expect my wrath. And everyone knows Ahmad Said would not hesitate to engage in fisticuffs, even during a State Assembly meeting, as Wahid Endut, who was once a victim of Ahmad Said, can testify.

The 8,000 Chinese voters in a state with a population of more than one million Malays do not need too many ‘messages’ to understand what lies ahead of them if they vote for PAS. And the 8,000 police personnel positioned all over town, practically laying Kuala Terengganu to siege, makes matters more dicey. Why the need for a police-to-Chinese ratio of one-to-one?

What the Chinese were telling us was not comforting but something we could not quarrel with. The Chinese were being threatened. They were being told that they vote for PAS at their own peril. If they know what is good for them then they must vote BN.The Chinese got the message loud and clear. And they also knew that PAS was going to win just on Malay votes, even if the Chinese voted BN. Okay, if the Chinese vote BN then PAS is going to win by a 2,000-vote majority. And if the Chinese vote PAS then the majority is going to be 5,000. But is it worth the risk just to increase PAS’s majority from 2,000 to 5,000?I had to concede that the Chinese are going to ‘play safe’.

“But just promise me one thing,” I told my Chinese friend.

“If PAS can’t get the Malay swing will the Chinese then vote PAS?”

“If PAS can’t win without Malay votes then we Chinese will vote PAS. But PAS will win, you watch, so no need for the Chinese votes. Let us vote BN and then we can put the blame on the Malays when PAS wins.”

The story does not end here though. On Sunday morning, the Blogging Team did a door-to-door walkabout to personally thank the Chinese voters before we came home to Kuala Lumpur. Some had tears in their eyes. “Kita menang,” many told me. Yes, ‘kita menang’, not ‘you menang’. It was a win for them as well as far as the Chinese were concerned.

Many who were wet with tears while hugging me tightly probably did not vote for PAS. They could not due to fear of retaliation. But it was still ‘we won’ for them. And they will tell their comrades all over Malaysia that they voted for BN mainly because the government threatened them. 8,000 Chinese voters in a state of more than one million and with 8,000 armed police surrounding the town did not offer them too many options.

But the Chinese will remember this. They will remember how Umno threatened them in the Kuala Terengganu by-election on 17 January 2009. And it will be payback time come the next general election. You can threaten 8,000 Chinese when your numbers are more than one million. But try doing this in states where the Malay-Chinese population is almost balanced.

Umno ‘won over’ the Chinese in Kuala Terengganu. But it was with a gun at the head. And the Chinese will never forget this. And neither will we. I was hoping that the Chinese were right. I was hoping that the Chinese can safely vote BN and that PAS will still win just on the Malay votes. On hindsight, the Chinese were right of course. Much to my relief that is exactly what happened, though I would have loved a 5,000 majority instead of just 2,631.In the short-term, Umno ‘won’ the Chinese votes. But the ‘win’ was gained through the barrel of the gun. This is not the best way to win because, in the long-term, the Chinese will want to ‘pay back’ Umno for threatening them in the Kuala Terengganu by-election.

And that will be when Umno discovers they have won the battle of Kuala Terengganu but they are going to lose the war, the bigger battle for Malaysia. And MCA too will suffer. If it was just Umno that threatened the Chinese this can be accepted as ‘normal’. But when MCA joins the gang of thugs to also threaten their own community, this is something the Chinese find hard to stomach. MCA is supposed to serve the Chinese. In the Kuala Terengganu by-election, MCA was the voice of Umno to help threaten the Chinese.

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