A SEGMENT of the Chinese community is still unhappy with Dr Mahathir Mohamad because of his authoritarian rule when he was prime minister and this is expected to reduce support for Pakatan Harapan in the 14th general election, political analysts said.
“In the past two general elections, DAP helped the opposition sweep 80% of Chinese votes. But for GE14, this is no longer a certainty because of Dr Mahathir’s involvement,” said Utar lecturer Liew Wui Chern.
He estimates a loss of between 5% and 10% of Chinese votes for PH, which Dr Mahathir is leading as chairman for the last nine months. Dr Mahathir was prime minister for 22 years and retired in 2003.
But these votes may not necessarily go back to the ruling Barisan Nasional, as those who do not like him would likely spoil their votes, or not vote at all, Liew said.
“The Chinese are divided about him. On the one side, there are those who are able to let bygones be bygones and focus on the bigger picture. On the other side, they believe Dr Mahathir started the rot and will likely revert to his old self if PH wins GE14.”
He, however, said the majority of Chinese voters, who make up 29.68% of the voting population, will still support the opposition, focusing on the bigger picture of regime change and eliminating corruption.
According to Chinese analysts, the community still remember and are sore about are the abuse of security laws to clamp down on freedom, such as the Ops Lalang episode in the late 1980s and the Bank Negara forex scandal in the early 1990s.
Another episode that stands out is Dr Mahathir’s likening of the Chinese to “communists” and “extremists” when rejecting a 17-point memorandum submitted by Chinese civil society umbrella group, Suqiu, before the 1999 general election.
Representing more than 2,000 groups, Suqiu made a number of election demands, which, Dr Mahathir said, would have undone Malaysia’s social contract and constitution that allowed special privileges for Malays.
As far as issues and promises of change are concerned, Liew said, the choice does not appear as clear to the Chinese now, as neither BN nor PH can prove it has effective policies that could solve the people’s problems.
“Even though PH has already unveiled its election manifesto, the policies are too broad and lack details. How will PH manage the country? How will it improve governance?”
Ilham Centre director Hisommudin Bakar said the majority of Chinese voters will still support the opposition in the hope of removing a corrupt regime, despite their misgivings about Dr Mahathir.
“We can see that there is a section of the Chinese community who are adamantly against Dr Mahathir, they cannot simply forgive the wrongs he had committed during his 20-odd years as prime minister.
“But we can also see that there are even more Chinese voters who are willing focus on the bigger picture,” he said.
Another analyst, Phoon Wing Keong, agreed with the assessment, saying about 70% of Chinese voters will support Dr Mahathir and PH. However, he said, this is mostly down to pragmatism.
“Dr Mahathir’s authoritarian image has already been imprinted into the minds of the Chinese, they won’t change their minds just because PH unveiled its manifesto. They are willing to support PH because they want to change the government, not because they have changed their minds about him,” Pan said.