KUALA SELANGOR • Two top Umno leaders reached out to Chinese Malaysians over the weekend, with Deputy Prime Minister Ahmad Zahid Hamidi saying the community should "avoid being manipulated" by the opposition parties which had not achieved much despite winning control of several states in the last two elections.
Speaking at a separate function, Agriculture Minister Ahmad Shabery Cheek said it was the Chinese who had helped the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition retain power in the 1999 General Election when Malay voters turned away due to anger over the 1998 sacking of then Deputy Prime Minister Anwar Ibrahim.
With BN expecting strong support from the Malays at the upcoming nationwide polls, Umno's leaders have been trying to shore up support for its coalition partner, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA). MCA lost many parliamentary and state seats in the last two elections with the rise of its main rival, the opposition Democratic Action Party (DAP).
"I call on MCA Women's wing to tell the Chinese community to stop and avoid being manipulated by the opposition," Datuk Seri Zahid said at an award ceremony for Chinese women with top MCA leaders in attendance on Saturday.
"The opposition has had opportunity to form the government in several states, but the situation in those states is not exactly better than before.
"Come back to BN, the party that serves all," he said, as quoted by The Malaysian Insight news site.
Data revealed over the weekend by DAP strategist Ong Kian Ming showed only 14 per cent of the Chinese voted for BN in the last general election. This was a sharp drop from 35 per cent in 2008, and 75 per cent in 2004 when BN surged to a strong win in Tun Abdullah Badawi's first electoral outing as prime minister.
With BN expecting strong support from the Malays at the upcoming nationwide polls, Umno leaders have been trying to shore up support for its coalition partner, the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA). MCA has lost many parliamentary and state seats in the last two polls with the rise of its main rival, the opposition Democratic Action Party.
Malay support for BN, on the other hand, was steady in the last three polls at around the 60 per cent mark.
The opposition is trying to woo Malay voters with former premier Mahathir Mohamad campaigning hard in the rural Malay heartland in the last few months.
To undercut him, government leaders have painted his 22-year prime ministership as a dark era of scandals.
Datuk Seri Shabery, who is also an Umno Supreme Council member, said many Malays turned away from voting for BN in 1999 due to Anwar's "black eye" episode, when he was assaulted by a former police chief in prison during the Mahathir era.
Mr Ong said the Malay vote for BN shrank to 54 per cent in 1999 from 81 per cent in 1995. The number of Chinese who backed BN rose by 10 percentage points to 65 per cent in the two elections.
Mr Shabery, speaking at the opening of an Umno divisional meeting on Saturday, was quoted by The Star as saying: "Do not forget there was a time when they (Chinese voters) were the ones who delivered. This should be the time for us to return the favour."
Such positive tones are in contrast to just after the 2013 polls, when Prime Minister Najib Razak likened the community's support for the opposition to a "Chinese tsunami". The 13-party BN retained federal power that year, but lost the popular vote for the first time.