13TH MALAYSIA’S GENERAL ELECTION: BATTLE OF THE MINDS.

Posted on May 5, 2013

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English: Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration ...

English: Sultan Iskandar Customs, Immigration and Quarantine Complex in Johor Bahru, Malaysia. Taken on February 8, 2009 from the west side of the complex. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Below is the full extract of Joceline Tan’s insight of what to be the “The Mother of All Battles, come 5 May 2013. It is Election day for the country. And some predicts that it is the frontline political frontier between “The Malays verses the Chinese”. Many bloggers have even mentioned a verdict will never be disputed that the Malays will be closer to their roots and the Chinese to theirs. But majority is still in a daze that the beautiful pragmatic Malaysians have come well all along for the past half a century would be turned into an

appalling disintegrated lots, disgruntled and disillusioned. Who would be blamed if such mood prevails after tonight’s result. Racial factor will be the deciding determinants in years to come. Who would be blamed for such: The past political leaders or the social environments? You, the voters will decide!

GE13: The mother of all battles

INSIGHT
By JOCELINE TAN

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The Larkin Bus terminal in Johor Bahru: Well-balanced communal approach among the ethnics in Ghani Othman’s political moderation “the Johore Way”?

That, and the firm handshake which has not slackened although he must have shaken thousands of hands since the battle for Gelang Patah took off.

On Friday night, he arrived for a dinner held to thank the former MP for Gelang Patah Tan Ah Heng and immediately went from table to table, saying hello to the diners, shaking hands and smiling non-stop.

There were about 500 tables under the giant white tent and by the time he finished, the last course of the evening was about to be served.

Tan is battling brain cancer and Ghani wore a pink batik shirt in keeping with the signature colour of the national cancer campaign. Many among the crowd were people whom Tan had touched in her work as a politician. She was too weak to attend but her husband and their grown-up son and daughter were there.

The children had quit their jobs to care for their mother and her husband told friends: “She was always busy helping other people. Now is our time with her.”

But Tan had recorded a video message where she spoke about how many of the things she was able to do for the constituency was thanks to the support she enjoyed from the outgoing Mentri Besar. The illness had taken its toll and she was barely recognisable from her former attractive and vibrant self.

But she spoke with feeling and asked everyone to “support my successor”. There were very few who were not moved by her words and many of the women and even some men could be seen wiping away tears.

Ghani’s campaign has been premised on appealing to Johoreans to vote for the “Johor way” to defend the values of moderation that Johor is known for.

He is not an orator and his speeches have been short and simple. He has been reminding his audiences of the 18-year friendship they have had with him or, as he put it, “I am your old friend”.

He has stressed that moderation has been “our most powerful asset in Johor”.

Ghani is a gentleman politician. His campaign is classy, to say the least. He has not made any smear or attack against his opponent Lim Kit Siang and he is not into any sort of talk about burying Lim. He prefers to speak of what Barisan Nasional has done for Johor.

Lim, on his part, has also not launched any personal attack on Ghani although he did not hold back against his old nemesis Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad whom he slammed as the “syaitan” (devil). The nightly DAP ceramah speakers have also steered clear of Ghani and directed their barbs at other Barisan leaders.

The bulk of DAP’s resources have been directed to Gelang Patah to save their party advisor. The last time Lim was up against such grave stakes was in 1990 when he took on and defeated the late Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, toppling him as Penang Chief Minister.

On Friday night, they even brought the wife of the late Teoh Beng Hock to the ceramah stage to appeal for votes.

The Gelang Patah contest has become a crucial fight for Lim’s political survival.

Even Lim has gone beyond the usual distance. The veteran politician who is known for his stiff, serious and formal style, actually sang a song during a finale DAP ceramah in Penang. It was the first time that anyone in DAP had ever heard him sing and, well, now they know why he never sang in public.

The DAP’s bid for Johor seats has placed immense pressure on the Chinese who now have to choose between continuing the “Johor way” and saving Lim.

This is uncharted territory for Johoreans and although the state is in no danger of falling, the Lim versus Ghani contest has stirred and shaken the people like never before.

As several of those at the above dinner admitted, the young Chinese are going for change. But the older ones, especially those above 40, appreciate what Ghani has put in place in Johor and will be more prone to supporting his message of moderation and the “Johor way”.

Ghani also has a reputation as a clean politician who leads a moderate lifestyle. He has said during his campaign that he intends to buy a house in Gelang Patah if he wins and he will be there for them even if he is no longer Mentri Besar.

Johor has been a model state in terms of race relations and administration. It has the most prestigious and ambitious regional development scheme in the country. As such, the Gelang Patah contest has been less about issues than a mixed bag of emotions.

The reality on the ground is that the Chinese votes are pitched on one side and the Malay votes on the other side. The Chinese crowds at the nightly DAP ceramah in Gelang Patah have driven many Malays over to Barisan. It is clear by now that if Lim wins, it will be largely on the strength of Chinese support.

DAP’s aim of wiping out MCA will be complete if it wins in the Chinese seats in Johor. Johor is not only the fortress of Umno, but it is also MCA’s last stronghold.

Politics in Johor is not going to be the same again after this.

Ghani’s battle in Gelang Patah is, in a way, a microcosm of the bigger battle that Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak is facing.

Najib, like Ghani, has shown that he is a moderate Muslim and Malay. He has shown his sincerity to bring the different races along on a journey that he promises will spell a better tomorrow for all Malaysians.

He has worked hard to show that he has what it takes to helm the government and he is seeking a credible mandate from the people.

There is no denying that he is a proven entity compared to the two other contenders for the job, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim and Datuk Seri Hadi Awang.

The majority of Malays and Indians have responded well to his leadership and this is what is giving his team the confidence that Barisan will continue to form the government.

Najib has made a tremendous last push in Kelantan and Kedah where the Malay mood has been warm to his coalition. On Friday he was in Selangor which is the epicentre state for both sides in the same way that Gelang Patah is the epicentre seat in Johor.

But his coalition has struggled to persuade the Chinese to come along. Najib has reached out to the Chinese in ways that no other Prime Minister has ever done, be it his overtures to Chinese education or the Chinese concern for development and business.

Hostile tactics

The shock and awe has been coming from the Pakatan side. The DAP hardcore supporters have been aggressive, even hostile, in their tactics, be it on the ground or in cyberspace.

Their cyber troopers have become a very loud and domineering voice on the Internet and they have done a swell job in brow-beating those who do not share their views.

The party’s Taiwan imported campaign tactics have worked quite well on the Chinese ground and there is even talk that an opposition Taiwanese politician was flown in to advise the party.

The DAP ceramah everywhere have two outstanding characteristics – they are predominantly Chinese and attract a large number of young Chinese.

But a Penang-based lawyer pointed out that almost everyone who is voting has decided. The ceramah are more a show of force than about winning over more votes because most of those who attend are already converted.

“This time around, the group that is still undecided could be the smallest in the history of our general elections. The vast majority have made up their minds. The ones who are still willing to listen or to reconsider are negligible,” he said.

He said the non-stop politicking of the last five years has caused election fatigue.

“People are tired of it. They can’t wait to vote and get it over with,” said the lawyer.

The Umno side understands this very well and the campaign period has been spent on door-to-door campaigning in the seats that they need to secure rather than on noise-making.

They have left the crowd-amassing activities to the two top leaders, Najib and Deputy Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, while their grassroots teams concentrated on micro-targeting of voters.

Ghani’s open letter to the voters of Gelang Patah has gone down very well with moderate Malaysians inside and outside of Johor.

“I read it while I was having my breakfast. The words and the tone of the letter touched me. If he is defeated, it will send a wrong message not only to Johoreans but to many Malaysians. It will be the rejection of moderation,” said the lawyer.

In the letter, Ghani pointed out that he has used the principle of moderation, known in Chinese as “zhong yong,” in governing Johor and he said it has helped him to sustain prosperity and harmony among the different communities.

“The voters know that my management style for almost two decades has been to emphasise moderation, never polarisation. Always to seek harmony and never to play each side against the other. If dividing and polarising can win the election, then, to me, the winner is still the loser,” he said.

He is saying that those who want to see his opponent win may think they are the winners but in doing do, it will contribute to the erosion of the values that have helped make Johor a leading state in race relations.

He said it all with these words: “The election will end soon. But harmony must be preserved forever.”

>Joceline Tan can be reached at joceline@star.com.my

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