Something amazing happened three weeks ago. For the first time in my life, someone rang the doorbell and yelled out my full Chinese name.
My father instantly thought I was in trouble. I walked slowly to the two men in long white robes wearing small pins of white and green.
We were greeted courteously, and they handed me an invitation card to a PAS event. I didn’t know how they got hold of my IC number, which was printed on the card, but they knew I was going to be a first-time voter. The “fruits festival” I was invited to was an obvious attempt to persuade me to vote for PAS.
PAS president Hadi Abdul Awang was on a similar mission at a Chinese New Year function in Kuala Terengganu recently. He is starting to realise that a party or coalition cannot govern without the Chinese votes.
The two men who came to my house had the same message to the Chinese as Hadi: Trust PAS.
But ever since PAS left Pakatan Rakyat and Amanah was formed, I haven’t come across a Chinese who would vote for PAS. An Oriental Daily survey that polled 14,602 people found that an overwhelming 71 percent of Chinese would rather spoil their vote than vote for either PAS or Umno (if those were the only choices).
The Sungai Besar and Kuala Kangsar by-elections were early evidence to show that PAS had virtually no Chinese support. In some saluran (streams) in the by-elections, PAS barely garnered more than two votes.
Therefore, it’s very likely that there are only three kinds of Chinese left who would vote for PAS.
First, the mistaken. These are the people who intended to vote for BN or Harapan but ended up validly voting for PAS. The voting system does not count mistaken votes as spoiled votes. A person might have forgotten his or her glasses that day and crossed mistakenly; a person might have been very nervous; a person might have just heard about his wife going into labour that he had to vote quickly and leave. All these circumstances might contribute to the Chinese voting in error for PAS. The mistaken.
Second, the halfway-house. These are the people who are ready to exercise their civic duty to vote but not all the way – they have minimal knowledge about politics. They have not read the papers in the last five years and thus chose PAS entirely at random.
Third, the friend. These are the people who are forced to vote PAS because their friend or neighbour happened to be the PAS candidate running in his area. This Chinese is a loyal friend who is risk-averse. This is a person who invests in bonds and not shares, hides money under the bed, and keeps away clothes before it rains. He or she prefers to stay out of politics and only voted this time to maintain the friendship with the PAS friend.
These are the only three kinds of Chinese who would vote for PAS in GE14.
It’s not because the Chinese are racist and would only vote for DAP or MCA. After all, the Chinese had voted for PAS without hesitation in GE13. Instead, there are three reasons why the Chinese would be unlikely to vote for PAS in GE14.
One, it’s simply not strategic to do so. Most voters want to vote for a party they think is best positioned to govern the country. Initially, PAS stated that it was only interested in contesting 40 parliamentary seats. When they realised this showed that PAS was not interested in governing, they modified their mission statement and said that they would contest in 130 seats.
This is still a long shot. To govern, you would need 112 seats. And to win 112 seats, PAS would need a miraculous winning rate of 86%. This seems hardly achievable compared to BN and Harapan, which are contesting all 222 seats.
Also, why would a voter vote for an opposition party which is likely to join forces with the government?
PAS’ numerous attempts to become friendly with Umno puts them in a position where they’re extremely likely to form the government with the enemy. They hardly spoke ill of GST and 1MDB-related issues; Hadi had proposed becoming advisers to Umno government; former PAS vice-president Husam Musa had even revealed Hadi’s alleged involvement in the plot to form a united government with Umno in Selangor.
The Chinese will not vote for PAS since they are unlikely to win on their own, and since they’re likely to form a coalition with Umno.
Two, PAS no longer represents the multiracial and multireligious country the Chinese wants. PAS made a strategic mistake after GE13. They assumed that DAP was their main stumbling block to power, without which they would have garnered more votes. They didn’t see what everyone else saw: Without DAP and PKR, PAS would never have gotten the votes they received in GE13.
So PAS’s strategy was to amplify its conservative tone to show that they are the true party for the Malays. And when they realise the Chinese votes are essential to gain power, it was already too late.
PAS had spent most of their time since 2017 targeting DAP and the Chinese. Hadi proposed that there ought to be a two-tier cabinet structure whereby the important policy-making tier must be solely reserved for Muslims. PAS also reiterated numerous times that Malaysia is an Islamic country and has warned against installing non-Muslim leaders.
At the height of the RUU355 debate in Parliament, PAS warned non-Muslims to stay out of the matter since they have no standing. The Chinese were treated as not having a stake in the country’s decisions, and the line drawn between Malays and non-Malays, and Muslims and non-Muslims were clear.
Moderate no more
The biggest reason why Chinese voted for PAS in GE13 was because of its moderate leaders then, like Khalid Abdul Samad, Mat Sabu, Mujahid Yusof Rawa, and Dzulkefly Ahmad. But the progressive and moderate bunch has since left PAS to form Amanah. Even Mahfuz Omar had done so.
There is no more reason to vote for PAS if they do not represent the moderate position that provides a fair share to the Chinese in this country. It’s only common sense.
Three, PAS is just no longer credible. Voters are ultimately humans who respond to trust. How sincere is Abdul Hadi Awang when he talks about a multiracial Malaysia at the Chinese New Year function? Wouldn’t PAS just abandon the Chinese after the election and go back to preaching bigotry and hate against non-Malays and non-Muslims?
The Chinese cannot help but look at what PAS says with suspicion. To vote for someone, the bare minimum the Chinese need is to trust him or her. They will not choose someone who reeks of noxious hypocrisy.
JAMES CHAI works at a law firm. His voyage in life is made less lonely with a family of deep love, friends of good humour and teachers of selfless giving. This affirms his conviction in the common goodness of people: the better angels of our nature. He tweets at @JamesJSChai.