Latest reports suggest that Umno is worried that the weak link in BN is the component parties. In particular, Umno is worried that parties like MIC and MCA cannot win any non-Malay votes, and these parties will win on Umno votes. If these reports are true, it will mark a major turning point in Malaysian politics.
One of the unspoken rules of BN politics is that a certain number of “safe seats”, i.e. Malay majority, are allocated to key leaders in MIC, Gerakan and MCA to ensure that there will always be “Chinese” and “Indian” leaders in government. That is the reason why DAP often challenges key leaders of MCA to stand in 90-plus per cent Chinese seats to show who really represents the Chinese voters. In other words, Umno provides the basic votes for these key leaders to get elected.
One could look at Umno’s strategy in two ways. The benign way is to see it as Umno showing its commitment to multi-racialism by allowing some safe Malay seats to go to non-Malays. The other way of looking at it is to see it as Umno guaranteeing a façade of a multi-racial government by claiming that it will always have minorities represented in the government.
This strategy worked as long as the component parties can get between 30 and 50 per cent of their ethnic vote. They do not need a majority since they can combine it with the Malay vote. However, this strategy fell apart in the 2008 general election as the component parties struggled to even get 20 per cent of the ethnic vote. It is almost certain that MCA and Gerakan cannot even get 20 per cent of the Chinese vote, while MIC cannot get more than 30 per cent of the Indian vote. This problem would not be serious if Umno thinks the political environment will change by the 13th GE.
Unfortunately there is every indication that things will get worse for MCA, Gerakan and MIC. One can imagine MCA getting 10-15 per cent of the Chinese vote while MIC will end up with less than 10 per cent of the Indian vote.
In such circumstances, Umno will be doing the right thing by taking back these “loan” seats from the MCA, Gerakan and MIC. There is no point in helping a dying party.
The question then is what are Umno’s options? The first thing to bear in mind is that the collapse of the vote for the component parties is largely due to Umno’s own doing. Its ideology and rhetoric before and after 2008 GE confirmed that the Malay Agenda is the only game in Umno. Voters know that under this scenario, there is no point in even voting for the component parties since they will be totally marginalised even if they win. The logical vote will go to the opposition who are in the midst of trying to create a fairer coalition. The second thing to bear in mind is that Umno holds all the cards. MCA, Gerakan and MIC do not hold any cards — in fact they are not even invited to play. You thus have a strange situation like a rat running around in a maze where there is no exit. The game goes like this:
Umno to MIC, MCA and Gerakan: You must work harder to win back the Chinese and Indian votes.
MIC, MCA and Gerakan to Umno: We can only win back the non-Malay votes if you genuinely share power with us and give the non-Malay a place in the Malaysian sun. We feel marginalised.
Umno to MIC, MCA and Gerakan: You already have a place in the Malaysian sun. You are just not doing a good job in explaining the situation to the non-Malay community. You are not marginalised since we appoint you ministers and even loan you some Malay seats. We have 1 Malaysia.
MIC, MCA and Gerakan to Umno: If 1 Malaysia is genuine, then drop the Malay Agenda, NEP and go for meritocracy.
Umno to MIC, MCA and Gerakan: The Malay Agenda is the national agenda. Period. If the Malays are unhappy, there will be political instability. Therefore the Malay Agenda promotes political stability. There is nothing wrong with the NEP, there are still more Chinese and Indian millionaires than Malay millionaires. You have to make the Chinese and Indian community understand and get them to be grateful for a peaceful environment created by BN.
In other words, as long as Umno thinks there is nothing wrong with the current set-up, the component parties will get weaker and weaker.
Since the component parties have no real input into the policy process, they are left with only one option to gain some political legitimacy and “save face”.
This option is to set up “service centres” to solve the day-to-day problems of the working class. They will do anything but make government policies. They will get involved in hawker licence issues, rubbish collection issues, runaways, dirty drains, cannot get Telekom phone lines, etc, you name it, they will do it. But if you ask them to change government policy, they will hide under the desk and pretend you are not there.
Thus the dilemma is simple; since they have no power they cannot bring about reforms and change in government. All they can do is talk about reforms and change. Real reforms and change can only take place if Umno takes the lead, and on Umno’s terms. They have to work within the parameters established by Umno. Umno knows this and all the BN component parties know this. That’s the bottom line.
[Source: The Malaysian Insider. The passage in brown are my comments. Geronimo]