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'JOM MASUK KAMPUNG': Leaders are actively touching base with grassroots
ANECDOTAL evidence suggests that it is a big challenge. As the general election approaches, time is running out for MCA to convince more Chinese to return to Barisan Nasional.
Many Chinese are still unhappy with the ruling coalition. Because the community makes up more than a quarter of Malaysia's 28 million people and is the second most important ethnic group vote bank after the majority Malays, it will have to be persuaded that it is wrong about BN or at the least that the coalition is committed to rectifying any situation.
Questions are regularly raised as to whether MCA, the main Chinese-based party among BN components, can halt the slide in Chinese support before the national polls.
Sceptics aside, MCA has not stopped trying to woo back lost support. The party is also not about to give up despite the widely held view of the community's strong bias for Pakatan Rakyat, especially in urban areas.
The past couple of months have been a busy time for MCA leaders, particularly those in ministerial positions. They have been criss-crossing the country, reaching out to more voters through MCA's Jom Masuk Kampung (Let's enter the villages) roadshow, which kicked off in Taiping and Bukit Gantang, Perak, in March.
It is aimed at giving the community an avenue to meet party leaders and relate problems to government departments and agencies.
During the roadshow, party heavyweights would touch down for a full schedule, often taking them down country roads to reach villages in constituencies where the party thinks it has a fighting chance such as Jawi, the state constituency in mainland Penang that fell to DAP in 2008.
On June 9, MCA secretary-general and Transport Minister Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha mingled with villagers at Jawi's Dewan Besar Cina in Kampung Changkat and handed out 300 new crash helmets to those who traded in old and non-certified ones. Road Transport Department officers were on hand to renew driving licences and accept road tax payments.
A distance away at the Rakan Muda sports complex, Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Senator Gan Ping Sieu showed his skills at futsal while opening the Jawi Futsal Tournament.
Just before noon, MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek checked polls preparations during a meeting with state party leaders at the Nibong Tebal MCA office.
After lunch, Deputy Home Minister Datuk Lee Chee Leong headed to SJK (C) Kampung Jawi, where Immigration Department officers were stationed, to handle queries on citizenship, birth certificates, passports, visa applications and foreign worker registration. Lee, who is also a member of the MCA presidential council, received application forms from 100 Perkampungan Jawi residents, including Rela volunteers, to join MCA.
In Kampung Sanglang, Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen joined more than 800 women from line dancing groups in Nibong Tebal, Bukit Mertajam and Parit Buntar to dance to the Tarian Cuti-Cuti 1Malaysia song list.
Dr Chua rounded the roadshow by visiting SJK (C) Pai Teik, where he met about 1,000 non-governmental organisation leaders and local residents in a lively dinner gathering.
On the morning of June 15, Gan, also known as MCA's most eligible bachelor, was spotted greeting the mostly women patrons at Sungai Chua wet market in Kajang. Women voters are a target of Jom Masuk Kampung as they are considered key decision-makers in households.
Similar touch-base activities are in the offing as MCA continues to shore up support.
The Chinese community turned heavily to the opposition in the last general election, where MCA saw its parliamentary seats halved to 15.
Today, a large number of young, professional, English-speaking and Western-educated Malaysian Chinese is still inclined to the opposition although this does not mean they are in complete agreement with the ideas of Pakatan Rakyat.
Instead, they have lost trust in MCA as the champion of their community's interests. They make up about 20 per cent of the nation's 6.5 million ethnic Chinese aged between 35 and 55, and are reputedly swayed by democratic values, human rights concerns and issues relating to civil society.
According to MCA think tank Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research (Insap), in elections prior to 2008, about 40 per cent of those in this group supported BN, 25 per cent were pro-opposition and the rest categorised as fence-sitters.
In the 2008 general election, the group's support for the opposition grew 40 to 50 per cent. It appears that they are still in no hurry to return to BN, at least not until they are convinced that BN has disproved the opposition's allegations.
A lot of convincing from BN Chinese-based parties and BN-friendly organisations is, therefore, needed.
Nevertheless, MCA and BN also have to look after the majority in the community, whose politics is affected by economic and delivery policies, and by the government's treatment of Chinese schools.
Older Chinese, especially, cling to the three pillars of the community -- Chinese schools, Chinese media and Chinese-based non-governmental organisations like clans, associations, trade guilds and chambers of commerce.
There are clear signs of BN getting back swing votes at the next polls as Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak has shown seriousness in recovering the Chinese ground.
Winning back the trust of the Chinese community is far from a lost cause for MCA and the other Chinese-based BN component parties.