Commentary by The Malaysian Insider
Can Datuk Ahmad Ismail’s alleged racist remarks against the Chinese community in Malaysia be the trigger for the MCA, Gerakan and other Barisan Nasional component parties to leave the coalition?
Or will they continue to grin and bear it, as they have always done for many years, despite the Bukit Bendera Umno division chief calling the Chinese “squatters” and “as the Chinese were only immigrants it was impossible to achieve equal rights amongst races” at a ceramah during the Permatang Pauh by-election recently?
MCA and Gerakan leaders have made tough calls for Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi to take stern action against Ahmad for his alleged racist remarks.
But the best answer they got from Abdullah was: “I will tell him (Ahmad) not to do it again. You know in a campaign all sorts of things can come up. I don’t think he meant it. I’ll make sure to tell him not to use it again.”
Veteran opposition leader Lim Kit Siang said the Prime Minister had caused great dismay and distress as he chose to demonstrate solidarity with Ahmad.
“Why is the Prime Minister not prepared to show ‘solidarity’ with right-thinking Malaysians who deplore Ahmad Ismail’s insensitive, offensive, derogatory and racist remarks about the Malaysian Chinese?
“I will declare my solidarity with what is right, just and true — including deploring insensitive, offensive, derogatory and racist remarks whether referring to the Malays, Indians, Kadazans or Ibans, whether it is made by a Chinese or non-Chinese leader. Why is Abdullah not prepared to take a similar stand?” he said in a statement today.
Abdullah’s stand is a disappointment as if he was going against his own 51st Merdeka message urging Malaysians of all races to work together, discard differences and prejudices and to rise as citizens with strength to face all challenges.
“No one citizen is recognised as being of a higher position than another in this nation. This nation belongs to all of us. Whether we rise or fall depends on all of us,” said the Prime Minister on the eve of the Merdeka anniversary, hoping for all Malaysians to give importance to solidarity.
His defence of Ahmad is making BN component parties uneasy. Despite tough calls, it looks like nothing is going to happen much within the federal ruling coalition. Gerakan vice-president Datuk Dr Teng Hock Nan said Abdullah’s light and non-deterrent comments would do nothing to prevent similar occurrences.
“The fact that Ahmad has refused to apologise when facing the wrath of the Chinese community showed how recalcitrant, arrogant and insensitive he is to a multiracial society like Malaysia,” he said in urging the police to investigate the police reports lodged against Ahmad’s remarks.
Even Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, as reported by the Chinese-language press, criticised Ahmad as a low-class politician who had no concern for the feelings of fellow Malaysians.
This latest blow is expected to give another boost to the Parti Keadilan Rakyat de facto leader’s plan to persuade BN MPs to cross over to his side in his attempt to take over the government.
The BN is already facing a tough problem in convincing the non-Malays to support the coalition, with many non-Malay politicians describing the situation as a reaction against Umno’s racial and discriminatory practices over the last few years.
It began to escalate with Umno Youth chief Datuk Seri Hishammuddin Hussein’s brandishing his keris at the Youth wing’s assembly a few years ago which prompted delegates to come out openly against the Chinese and other non-Malays. The attitude hasn’t changed.
A couple of months ago, Perak Umno state assemblywoman Hamidah Osman made a racist remark against the Indian community to the chagrin of the Pakatan Rakyat representatives in the state assembly.
Although she refused to budge, top Umno leaders later directed her to apologise to the Indians in country. As the battle for the top positions in the MCA and Gerakan has begun and would be decided next month, politicians in both parties are taking advantage of the situation to put the blame on Umno.
With Ahmad’s remarks, it will be added ammunition for the aspiring candidates. But are they serious about the future of their parties in the BN?
DAP veteran Lim had provoked them earlier. “Why didn’t the MCA and Gerakan ministers and leaders take a strong stand (on the eve of the Permatang Pauh by-election) to issue an ultimatum that Ahmad apologise and withdraw the racist remark, failing which they would pull out of the Barisan Nasional by-election campaign in Permatang Pauh?
“Wouldn’t this be more effective and fruitful than just making protests ‘after the event’ — when it would still get them into the newspapers — although they are being ignored not only by Umno, the Barisan Nasional supreme council but also the Cabinet?”
Even Gerakan acting president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon made one of the “after the event” arguments, claiming that Ahmad’s alleged racist remarks were a key contributing factor to the BN’s defeat in the by-election.
Koh’s lame remark about Ahmad’s racist slur that it had made it extremely hard for BN component parties such as Gerakan to win back the people’s support is an indication that the anger within the BN against Umno is just hot air.
But top leaders of BN component parties, trying their best to remain in the federal ruling coalition, are worried that their MPs may have different ideas.
Already voices of discontent have been heard in several states among BN component members about the bleak future of remaining within the coalition. It is perhaps giving Anwar the advantage to convince some BN MPs and possibly state assemblymen too to think twice about remaining in the Umno-controlled BN — the fear of Umno hegemony.
The DAP has given its full support for Anwar as the alternative prime minister and while Pas top leaders are still reluctant about it, many of its other leaders and grassroots members have no qualms about the former deputy prime minister taking over the country's leadership.