Just this week, the ruling BN coalition hosted a much-publicised Chinese New Year event, with Korean YouTube sensation PSY performing 'Gangnam-Style' in a concert in opposition-controlled Penang state.
Gerakan is a party within Malaysia's ruling Barisan Nasional coalition, and it too, is working hard to win back Chinese and Indian voters, disillusioned by the government's slow pace of democratic reform.
So were taxpayers' dollars used in the Penang PSY concert?
Presenter: Sen Lam
Speaker: Tan Keng Liang, youth chief (Kedah), Gerakan Party, a component of Malaysia's ruling Barisan Nasional coalition
TAN: It was sponsored by a third-party and our prime minister has confirmed that no public funds were used. So, we were happy he was there, and everyone enjoyed the event. We hold alot of 'open house' in every state in Malaysia. The Penang (chapter of) Barisan Nasional wanted something better, and they chose PSY because of his popularity and alot of Penangites would like to see him there.
LAM: Is it not also because the BN is desperate to win back the Chinese vote?
TAN: We want to win back the Chinese vote, but that event for Chinese New Year is a norm, that we have it in every state.
LAM: The upcoming general election in Malaysia is by accounts expected to be very close, and the youth vote is crucial, for not just Gerakan but also the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. A recent study found that young Malaysians are more questioning of the status quo - what is BN offering first-time voters in Malaysia?
TAN: Barisan Nasional has all the while paid attention to the needs of the youth. Although the Opposition is trying to create a perception as if the 'youth side' is serving them, but that doesn't represent the actual scene. We have organised a few events in Kedah (state) recently, 50-thousand people attended the event - it was a youth gathering, we had a BN Youth Job Fair, to assist young people look for jobs. They were given 250 (Malaysian) dollars to help them buy books, there're programmes to assist people to look for new jobs - there're even scholarships now, given out to assist them to pursue their higher education. What Barisan Nasional is looking at, is to be given more time, because many things need time to implement.
LAM: It might be argued that the Barisan Nasional has had fifty years - surely that's time enough to implement these reforms? And indeed, it's been said that many young Malaysians are disillusioned with the BN government, particularly PM Najib's (unfulfilled) promise of reform?
TAN: It's fifty years that we have done alot. If we talk about fifty years ago, there weren't schools around, of the same standard as now - we can see that we have almost all areas, primary schools, secondary schools - we have alot of universities and we have done alot in the past fifty years. And I believe that Datuk Seri Najib, our prime minister is aware of that. Therefore, he's introduced the concept of 'One Malaysia', he's made certain initiatives to ensure that youth welfare is take care of. In fact, we had a meeting with our prime minister two weeks ago, when he was in Kedah (state). He gave us advice to approach all communities irrespective of race. So to say that, just to focus on the Malay votes, I believe that is not true. It's just a perception that the (opposition) Pakatan wants people to believe, as if BN is not going to focus on the Chinese vote. That is clearly not true.
LAM: And yet, at the same time, people like the extremist Malay nationalist Ibrahim Ali has been allowed to make threatening noises about burning the Malay-language Bible because it contains the word 'Allah'. Why is the government not acting on people make such seditious statements?
TAN: I believe that Ibrahim Ali has been called up by the police for investigation over his remarks. He's the leader of Perkasa, being an NGO and it's not part of Barisan Nasional. They may support Barisan Nasional, but we have no control over NGOs - in a democratic country, we leave it to the NGOs - as long as they abide by the law.
LAM: But in multi-racial Malaysia, don't you think such statements are pretty dangerous, and possibly highly volatile?
TAN: It is. I fully agree with you that it's a dangerous statement to make. Therefore, the government has actually looked into the matter. The police has called in Ibrahim Ali to help with investigations on the matter. It believe it's a serious thing to be looked into.
LAM: But isn't part of Gerakan's image, to be the kind of 'voice of reason' and 'voice of reform' within the ruling BN?
TAN: We don't agree with all things that might be said in Barisan Nasional. I once said in 2008, that Gerakan may need to consider leaving the coalition, if Barisan Nasional is unable to protect the rights of all Malaysians. But to me now, looking at the changes that have been done under PM Najib, he's introduced the concept of 'One-Malaysia', which I believe will encompass the needs of all Malaysians. So, a lot of transformation plans have been made. It needs time to complete the journey, so I think Gerakan needs to support the 'One Malaysia' concept. We do not think the opposition can do anything (positive) to the country - it might even cause the downfall of Malaysia.
Certainly, I don't think it's a good move to join (the opposition) Pakatan Rakyat, because PAS (the Islamic party) is in the (Pakatan Rakyat) coalition. There's no way any Gerakan people should sacrifice their principles to join PAS. PAS clearly has an ideology that's totally different from Gerakan - we only wonder why (the secular) DAP joins PAS - is it because of power or anything else?
For Gerakan, we have to stick with what's closest to our ideology, and we believe the concept of 'One Malaysia' suits our needs.