APRIL 14 — It is an old and tired formula of Malaysian politicians, both from Barisan Nasional (BN) and the opposition, to say different things to different audiences.
Chinese political leaders have in the past frequently given interviews to Chinese language newspapers in which they would make certain remarks which could be deemed by their Malay colleagues to be sensitive in nature.
So when Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, the deputy prime minister and Umno No 2, gave an interview to Mingguan Malaysia which was published two days ago, he may have thought he was only addressing a Malay audience.
One of the questions posed to him, reproduced verbatim here was this: “Tetapi bukankah setiap kali pilihan raya kecil, permintaan kaum bukan Melayu dipenuhi, malah di Bukit Gantang walaupun peruntukan RM1juta diberikan tetapi kaum Cina tidak juga menyokong BN?”
His answer, among other things, was this: “Ya, kadang-kadang kita berasa terpedaya juga kerana zahirnya nampak macam ‘ok’, sambutan dengan tepukan gemuruh tetapi mungkin sudah ada tertanam dalam hati iaitu sesuatu tidak mudah hendak berubah, pokoknya masalah isu Perak terutamanya di kalangan masyarakat Cina yang mungkin telah dipengaruhi dengan sentimen simpati kepada Datuk Seri Ir.Mohamad Nizar Jamaluddin, kononnya dia ‘dijatuhkan’, lepas itu kononnya dasar memberi pegangan tanah selama 99 tahun dilihat dasar yang menguntungkan.
“Ini yang mungkin menyebabkan sukar BN mendapat sokongan walaupun kita fikir bila mereka hendak sekolah Cina dibantu, kita bantu, sepatutnya mereka membalas budi.
“Pada waktu itu, kita pun tidak berharap sokongan kaum Cina akan meningkat 40 peratus dan sebagainya cuma kita berharap ada peningkatan sedikit tetapi apa yang berlaku ia mencatatkan penurunan, macam tidak ada penghargaan terhadap apa yang kita lakukan.”
Today, the DPM blamed the Chinese media for wrongly translating his remarks.
The offending remark which appears to have drawn the ire of the Chinese community, including leaders from BN, is this: “Ini yang mungkin menyebabkan sukar BN mendapat sokongan walaupun kita fikir bila mereka hendak sekolah Cina dibantu, kita bantu, sepatutnya mereka membalas budi.
Translated, without being pedantic, the last four words would mean “they should be grateful”.
Muhyiddin is not doing himself or his boss Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Abdul Razak any favours by continuing to defend the remarks.
The prime minister most certainly would not have wanted such a disastrous start to his tenure.
Najib has committed himself to project an image of being a leader of all Malaysians.
His deputy has now succeeded in alienating the Chinese community.
While it is true that Chinese voters have thrown their lot behind Pakatan Rakyat (PR) parties, such remarks will not help BN recapture the votes.
Muhyiddin claimed today that what he meant was the Chinese appeared unappreciative. He denied saying the Chinese were ungrateful. But the damage is already done.
Perhaps all political leaders should learn a lesson from Muhyiddin’s experience.
It is probably safe to say assume that nearly all Malaysians have at least a rudimentary command of the national language. Since the national language was made the medium of instruction in schools in the late 1970s and early 1980s, all Malaysians who have gone to school would have a fair to excellent command of the language.
But the lesson is not just limited to the national language.
Up to 10 per cent of the 600,000 children enrolled in Chinese primary schools, where the medium of instruction is Mandarin, are non-Chinese.
A majority of the non-Chinese pupils are Malay.
This means Chinese leaders also cannot go around making racist remarks in Mandarin.
Jadi Tan Sri sepatutnya tahu bahawa kami pun faham Bahasa Melayu.Leslie Lau is Consultant Editor for The Malaysian Insider