Let's get one thing straight: Nobody owes any political party 'gratitude'. Not the Chinese, not the Malays, not the Indians, and not the lain-lain.
It is every Malaysian's right to vote for whichever party they feel best serves their interests. That is the most basic aspect of democracy and to suggest otherwise is disingenuous.
The rakyat don't owe political parties any allegiance or fealty. If anything, it's the other way round. Political parties should be grateful to the citizens if they are voted into power and should show John Q. Public some loyalty.
That's what makes Prime Minister Najib Razak's conduct of the past few days all the more baffling.
Barely two days after Najib Razak had won his first polls mandate, and after he had called for a national reconciliation, Malaysia is yet again divided along racial lines and blame for this has to be laid squarely at the PM's doorstep.
After all, the recent unsavoury comments made by Malaysian 'ultras' and directed at the Chinese community can all draw their genesis from his comments Barisan's poor elections showing was due to a 'Chinese tsunami'.
The loudest bays so far have come from pro-Umno blogger Papagomo, who penned a nasty anti-Chinese post (for which he has since been arrested), and Umno-owned Utusan Malaysia, which on Tuesday, published an inflammatory front-page article titled 'Apa Lagi Cina Mahu?' (What else do the Chinese want?), taking aim at the community for their apparent 'ingratitude' of the ruling coalition.
The article has been roundly slammed by many sections of the Malaysian public, who've turned it into a subject of widespread mockery in cyberspace.
The article would've been the perfect opportunity for Najib and other Barisan leaders to rise above racially-tinged rhetoric and put into practice what Najib said about reconciliation. Instead, they made the flabbergasting decision to defend the newspaper.
It has done no good for the Prime Minister's credibility, which has already been tainted by accusations of fraud in the recently concluded elections and will no doubt fan racial sentiments further.
This is the last thing Malaysia needs right now, with emotions running high among the Malaysian people. Already, there are threats of a repeat of the May 13 1969 race riots. The Prime Minister could and should have nipped such things in the bud by firmly denouncing the targeting of any particular community.
As things stand right now, GE13 - the accusations of foul play notwithstanding - has been one where the public interest has been well served.
Barisan took back the states of Kedah and retained Perak (which they got last time around by engineering defections in Pakatan Rakyat), while Pakatan managed to win more Parliamentary seats and make further inroads into Umno strongholds like Johor and East Malaysia.
The Parliamentary seats are now split 133-89 in favour of Barisan; this denial of a two-thirds majority is good for the Malaysian people as it ensures robust checks-and-balances in the corridors of power.
Barisan needs to admit to itself that their GE13 performance goes beyond any specific community’s anger or dissatisfaction at them. The rakyat’s anger stems from a range of issues, including corruption, lack of freedoms, economic hardships and increased costs of living. And this anger is largely from the urban communities of the country - urban communities of every race.
If Barisan - and especially its component parties of MCA, Gerakan, PPP and MIC - wants to win back the people's love, they need to:
1) Launch a proper inquest into the elections and honestly investigate and address all the accusations of fraud. Take whatever action is necessary to put the people's fears to rest and their minds at ease.
2) Clean up the Elections Commission. RM400 million was spent on this election, but what was the result? Indelible ink that, in the end, proved all too delible. The EC needs to not just be clean, but seen to be clean. In order to do that, the people's concerns should be addressed satisfactorily.
3) Make a genuine attempt to mend the wounds among the races. Come down hard on those that use racial or religious baiting and send a message that such things will no longer be tolerated. The people have already sent a clear message that such a mindset is unacceptable by kicking the likes of Zulkifli Noordin and Ibrahim Ali out of Parliament. Barisan now needs to heed the message. And they need to start reconciling with the Chinese community, for real. Merely making cow eyes at them during election campaigns is not enough to win their hearts.
4) Address the issue of corruption. One of the main reasons Barisan lost the urban vote is due to the fact that urbanites are unhappy with the current state of affairs. Many of the votes that went to the opposition was not because of any great love for Pakatan, but due to the voters' frustration with Barisan over this issue. Barisan will not regain the urban support until and unless they satisfactorily address this problem.
5) Increase civil liberties. Malaysia is no longer a third-world country or one living in a state of Emergency. It's time to give people the rights they crave and deserve and trust them to not abuse those rights. Barisan can begin by removing the tight shackles it has placed on mainstream media. This is another sore point among urbanites and changing this will go a long way towards restoring the ruling coalition's credibility. Perhaps the time is now right to replace the Official Secrets Act with a Freedom of Information act.
Rumours of Barisan's demise have been greatly exaggerated. There is still a lot of life left in the coalition, but regaining the ground it has lost is not going to be something that happens overnight. Barisan needs to have the bottle for the slog that lies ahead in its attempt to regain the trust of the Malaysian people.