MALAYSIA STUDIES PROGRAMME
Malaysia in Transition Seminar Series
Tuesday, 16 July 2019 – Dr Lee Kam Hing, Deputy Vice-Chancellor of New Era University College (Kajang) spoke to a crowd of 60 people about his thoughts on the General Election (GE) 14 on Tuesday. This is a topic that hits home for some: 90 percent of Malaysian Chinese voted for Pakatan Harapan (PH) in the 2018 General Election, and, for the first time, a ruling coalition has the support of the vast Chinese majority - such an outcome is expected to bring significant changes to the political system. Dr Lee coined his talk “new hope, new anxieties” for post-election Malaysia, but also pointed out that some new anxieties are in fact old anxieties that have already existed for some time.
Dr Francis Hutchinson (left) chaired the lecture by Dr Lee Kam Hing. (Credit: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute)
He first gave an outline of the GE14, and explained the changes since the election. There is, firstly, a switch in Government and Opposition roles for the Democratic Action Party (DAP) and the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA). Secondly, each of the two major coalitions now has only one Chinese-based party. Thirdly, there are moves towards more consultation among component members in the governing and opposition coalitions. He argued that a plethora of factors led to the win by Mahathir in GE14, and his win in turn ensued an uncharted journey for both the winning and the losing sides. As such, Dr Lee said that this experience is disruptive to the two coalitions, and while there is a regime change, it is not as simple as one regime replacing another. He also asserted that the votes casted were not against the coalition, but against the system.
Dr Lee further examined the implications of the declining Chinese population on electoral politics, as well as the role of traditional Chinese associations in the country. He pointed out that it was the Chinese association that originally provided the political leadership for the community, and over the years, Chinese associations have taken a non-participation stance towards politics. One interesting observation, however, was that members of these Chinese associations have come out on occasions when they have doubts about the effectiveness of the Malaysian Chinese Association to represent their interests. Many Chinese associations have submitted memorandums and came out with petitions defending Chinese culture, education and equal rights.
The last major segment of the seminar focused on the change and continuity in Chinese politics in Malaysia. Dr Lee opined that the characterisations of the Chinese in Malaysia made by Professor Wang Gungwu are still very valid, and they can mainly be divided into 3 groups: one group being Chinese still sentimentally attached to China and homeland politics; one group which sees Malaysia as their home but prefers to keep a low profile; and the last group being a small group of Chinese who are certain about their identity and committed to Malaysia. He also said that the Chinese in Malaysia have changed and it is difficult to find many Chinese people still attached to China: China as a global power is admired for their business opportunities, but not for sentimental purposes. Among the Chinese associations are people who have established links with clans in China, and these associations, though seen as increasingly irrelevant, have reenergised members of the associations due to the rise of China and globalisation in recent years. There are also less low profile Chinese now, and many of them are increasingly taking part in mass rallies and expressing their opinions on political issues.
Dr Lee concluded by saying that he is still trying to put in order the changes within Chinese society, and a discussion of post-GE14 Malaysia provides an opportunity to reflect on changing political and leadership roles of the Chinese community. In this new political landscape, it is difficult to see the MCA as an opposition party able to significantly improve its support among Chinese voters in the near term. More immediately, the Chinese-based parties have to cope with a situation where their more dominant Malay partners in Government and Opposition are distracted by internal divisions and succession issues.
The talk attracted more than 60 participants. (Credit: ISEAS - Yusof Ishak Institute)