The anti-Lynas one-man 300-kilometre journey initiated by Himpunan Hijau chairman Wong Tack from Kuantan to Kuala Lumpur had attracted thousands of ordinary Malaysians, mostly Chinese, to join in his cause to protect the environment.
The overwhelming support at stop-overs along the way in towns and new villages in Pahang had generated numerous “touching” human stories on the rapport and silent support towards the protection of the environment, which had been abused and grossly neglected by the Barisan Nasional government.
It is therefore not surprising that worrying murmurs of deep concerns are haunting the MCA’s rank and file in Pahang, which is also the home state of Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak.
MCA has distanced itself from the opposition against the Lynas rare earth operations located at Gebeng, Kuantan, and quietly banned all party rank and file leaders from actively supporting the protest walk.
By abandoning and isolating the party’s dutiful role, the leadership had chosen to be in a self-denial mode, underestimating the impact it can cause in the upcoming general election.
However, many MCA veterans are not so sure of the party leadership’s reassurances and confidence anymore.
The Pahang MCA’s electoral performance in 2008 embodied tale-tell signs that nothing should be taken for granted.
A disconnected party
In 2008, MCA garnered only some 59,784 popular votes in Pahang, winning two out of three parliamentary seats contested. Out of the eight state seats, the party won six, namely Cheka, Damak, Teruntum, Bilut, Mentakab and Semambu.
The opposition DAP won Tras and an Independent candidate Ho Yip Kap claimed Tanah Rata and had since since declared himself pro-BN.
But the electoral fortunes of the party’s performance in Pahang are changing.
The Green Walk is more than just a simple human endeavour. What emerged out of it is a strong political will by a conscientious few.
It also reflected how disconnected the BN coalition is from the aspirations of ordinary Malaysians on environmental issues.
The public resentment in Pahang against MCA’s impotent role on environmental protection will deepen and is expected to cause a bigger electoral backlash.
Aggravating matters, the MCA top leadership, including its Pahang state leadership, had shown a disappointing response towards public grievances on controversial environmental issues since the 2008 election.
However, the MCA leadership has been quietly undertaking moves to strengthen its electoral performance in the state.
According to 2008 figures, only 46% of the 29,086 valid MCA members had registered themselves as voters although there were some 62,593 Chinese voters in Pahang.
There are onging efforts to enlarge the base of electoral support by actively registering party members as voters, including shifting pro-MCA voters to safeguard future party candidates in winnable seats.
The party wants to be able to retain its two parliamentary seats that has given it two ministerial positions – Tourism Minister Dr Ng Yen Yen in Raub and Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai in Bentong.
The party is also constantly reminded of its defeat in Kuantan in 2008 – to PKR’s Fuziah Salleh – that no seat is safe.
Two other MCA state seats are also in danger of falling, namely the Damak and Teruntum seats which the party had won with narrow margins of 509 and 293 votes respectively.
Party factionalism in Pahang
MCA’s biggest liability in Pahang is the lack of credible leaders, according to public perception. There is a commonly accepted notion that MCA leaders are lacking in respect and trust.
Despite the rhetoric that MCA is truly united and stable, the realities on the ground give ample evidence that such claims are hollow.
Opportunists and self-interested warlords are still very much alive within the party. This is not helping the party in gaining voter support in the state.
The voters’ swing against MCA in Pahang for parliamentary seats in 2008 was the second lowest among other states at 11.2%, while for the state seats, it stood at 17.6%.
Little appears to have changed for the better four years on.
Environmental concerns and disconnected chords between local party leaders and the ordinary rakyat will backfire on the party’s performance in the state.
Party veterans are of the view that things could only get worse in the state as long as the party continues to worship Umno feudalism while paying lip-service to the people.
The Green March may well be the last straw that broke the camel’s back – denying Pahang MCA any chance of a better performance in the next general election. – Stanley Koh is a FMT columnist. He was a former head of MCA’s think tank.-fmt