By Clara Chooi
KUALA LUMPUR, June 3 — Malaysians have grown more racial since the 2008 general election, Penang Barisan Nasional (BN) chief Teng Chang Yeow has said, refuting claims that the electorate is now ready to accept non race-based politics.
The Gerakan secretary-general pointed out that as a multiracial party, it had found it tougher to speak on non-racial topics over the past few years, pointing to the slew of racially-charged incidents in the country after the last polls.
He added that after the polls, more race-based bodies like Malay right-wing group Perkasa had mushroomed, adding to the already heightened state of racial tension in the country.
“I don’t think Malaysians have moved away from race-based politics. After 308 (Election 2008), we found that it was tougher to talk about non-racial issues.
“Look at the issues brought forward today — it is more racial today than it was in the past.
“You see, there is even the establishment of groups like Perkasa... this is not healthy for the politics of Malaysia, for the country’s nation-building,” he said during a recent interview with The Malaysian Insider.
Teng pointed out that he was even finding it hard to spread the sentiment of multiracialism within Gerakan, even though the party is not race-based.
He explained that members often raise a hue and cry when there are suggestions to appoint non-Chinese leaders to top posts, rendering the party’s claim to be multiracial as mere rhetoric.
He said only some 15 per cent of the party’s about 400,000 members are non-Malays, which is a far cry from Gerakan’s key objective to be a “Malaysian party”.
“Gerakan has to do so much more than what it is today. There have been rhetorics (sic)... but it won’t get us anywhere.
“Gerakan leaders and members must accept the fact that we need to recruit more non-Chinese members to strengthen the party’s ideology,” he said.
“Every now and then, when we want to put up candidates of other races than the Chinese, there are bound to be leaders questioning why we should give this or that to a particular race — it is not healthy.
“They cannot run away from the reality that we are not a Chinese or Malay party... we are a Malaysian party. Many fail to look at that,” he said.
Teng added that Gerakan should no longer use the excuse that it needs time to morph into a more multiracial party, pointing out that the party has had well over 40 years to do this.
“This is no longer a time to discuss but a time to implement,” he said.
Reports of racial and religious conflicts in the country had increased significantly after the landmark Election 2008 — the stiffest contest in Malaysian history.
With the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) losing its customary two-thirds hold on Parliament and four state governments, many political leaders appeared to have retreated into racial silos to drum up support.
This has been attributed to the rise in ethnic tension here, leading to numerous cases of racially motivated incidents that have hit media headlines over the past few years, including the 2010 bombings at several houses of worship, the Shah Alam cowhead protest, the controversial raid at the Damansara Utama Methodist Church (DUMC) here, claims of Christians proselytising to Muslims and the government’s confiscation of Malay language bibles.
In one recent incident earlier this year, even Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak found himself at the centre of a religiously-motivated controversy when Muslim clerics expressed their disdain over his decision to attend Thaipusam celebrations at Batu Caves.
A Merdeka Center poll in June last year found that only 66 per cent of respondents said ethnic relations were “good” — a 15 per cent decline from the 78 per cent who said the same five years ago.
The opinion researchers also found that just over a third believed that there was “sincere and friendly ethnic unity,” down from 54 per cent five years ago.