KUALA LUMPUR: While the defeat in the last general elections has yet to recover, MCA is now further plagued by the infighting crisis.
In the face of the current dilemma, party president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat admitted that the impact would result in the party losing the support of the Chinese community.
However, he emphasised that despite all this, some of the problems need to be solved before the next general elections, or the party would be shunned by the voters.
He said if he could stay back to lead the party after the coming emergency general meeting (EGM), MCA must make the best of the time left to complete all the jobs the party had earlier planned, at the same time striving to recoup the faith and support of the Chinese community for the party.
During a recent exclusive interview with Sin Chew Daily, Ong Tee Keat said it was hard to evaluate the degree of impact on the party's image among Chinese Malaysians due to the recent leadership crisis.
But he said the truth was that the leadership had to quickly recoup the public confidence after the EGM to ensure that they would continue to support MCA in the coming general elections.
He admitted that he was under "tremendous pressure" to recoup Chinese support for the party.
On whether MCA's position would be sidelined by UMNO if the party failed again to win the support of Chinese voters, Ong said he couldn't make a prediction, but admitted that anything could happen.
He, however, insisted that the root of the problem needed to be looked into seriously following the ruling coalition's lacklustre performances in recent by-elections, and it would be unfair to point the finger solely at MCA.
"Chinese community has never given up MCA"
Despite the poor showing in the elections and the no-confidence motion against him, Ong Tee Keat believed the Chinese community in this country had never given up MCA, as evidenced by the fact that they remained concerned about the recent developments of the party and had offered constructive suggestions.
He said he was well aware of the positioning and the role played by MCA. He said when certain issues popped up, the public were keen to know where MCA was, as well as the party's stand.
"Whatever motives the critics have, we should appreciate that they value our existence. This has shown that people have not forgotten the role played by MCA."
Ong said he could understand how the public felt of the recent leadership crisis in the party, but he stressed that the party would be instantly put back on the track after the EGM, and would do its best to recoup the lost confidence of the Chinese community.
He lamented that some of the party's plans had to be put on hold because of the infighting.
"We have too much work and too little time..."
MCA must show its sincerity
Q: How do you evaluate the position and integrity of the party in the eyes of Chinese Malaysians?
A: MCA needs to work harder. We must let the people see and believe that we are resolved in severing ourselves from corruption, and that we are sincere in our political involvement and commitment.
Q: After the recent infighting has surfaced, people begin to get disappointed with the party's pledges to reform and reinvent itself. They feel they can only depend on themselves and not MCA.
A: Indeed, it is the Chinese philosophy to depend on our ownself rather than other people when in trouble, but can we always do that? While you can do this on some aspects of life, this philosophy is not absolutely right.
At least on certain issues, we have seen from the public's reaction that they want to know first and foremost where MCA stands, and question why MCA has not instantly responded.
Whatever their motives are, MCA should always appreciate their feedback, and this attests to the fact that the public have not really forgotten about MCA.
Even today, we still receive many SMS messages and e-mails from the public. Many of them are not even known by us, including many non-Chinese. Many of them have voiced up their displeasure with MCA, but this shows that they care!
Q: Does MCA still have the time to stand up again after the current infighting and EGM, before the next general elections? Do you think MCA should take the blame if the party fails to secure the mandate of the Chinese community and becomes BN's stumbling block again?
A: There are many uncertainties ahead of us. We must not evaluate MCA's credibility based on the election performances alone. BN lost in most of the by-elections since last year, and many of these are not MCA constituencies. MCA only played a complementary role to BN.
Is it fair to put all the blame on MCA? Or to obscure the problem and not seriously look into the root of the problem?
Q: MCA suffered humiliating defeat in the last general elections, will the party come under mounting pressure in gaining the support of the Chinese community come next general elections?
A: Of course. And the pressure is tremendous!
Q: If Chinese voters continue to shun BN in the next general elections, will UMNO sideline MCA, resulting in the further erosion of the interests of the Chinese community?
A: In any democracy, the public's views must be accepted. As for how MCA would react, I really can't come up with any prediction. But there is this possibility and we must take it into consideration.
MCA must have its own say
Q: I think this is part of MCA's pressure.
A: Yes, but lest we forget, in any coalition government, component parties must come to the realisation that if they stay united, they will all benefit from the coalition, but if they stay apart, they will all lose. For the coalition government to really stay relevant, the most fundamental thing is we must respect one another.
I used to say, as a 60-year-old political party, MCA needs to have its own say in many things. What I want to emphasise is that we must have the culture of independent thinking while continuously improving our own competitiveness.
Q: Has MCA's relationship with the Chinese associations experienced any changes after March 2008?
A: The relationship has stayed very much the same ever since I was the party's vice president.
Q: Politically, the bipartisan system has brought hope to many. From your observation, do you think the Chinese community has given up MCA at this juncture? Will MCA still play a pivotal role in this country?
A: If you must say the Chinese community has given up hope on MCA, then the Chinese community, especially those outside the party, would not have been so concerned about the party's recent developments and criticise it.
They won't ask: Where is MCA now?
Too much work and too little time
Q: The new leadership might have done a lot or planned to do something, but these things need time. Do you feel that the time is too short for you to convince the public that the party is really doing the work?
A: I think it is impractical to demand that the reforms we implement will produce immediate results. So I choose to start with the system. Perhaps my choice may not be recognised by the people, or the results may not be shown in the near future, but I still think this is the most funamental and important approach.
Q: In the face of personnel problems arising in recent months that require an EGM to get the issue solved, do you have any time to implement your reform agendas without having to worry about anything?
A: Not really. The new leadership began to face the impact ever since it just assumed office. It has been in a battle formation all the time. Much of the crisis has been hidden crisis that needs to be resolved quietly without we divulging it to the press.
Such crisis includes the move to unseat me since the very beginning, which is not just what you heard, but what has actually been taking place.
But we cannot afford to put the work aside, such as overseeing the policies on public services, as well as our relationship with BN. Should MCA choose to follow the rest of the pack, or seek to have its own thinking? The inclinations of MCA leaders will add to the uncertainties in the relationship between MCA and other BN component parties.
Fighting to break monopolies
Other than corruption, MCA also strives to break monopolies. In the existing system, monopolies exist in some of the government contracts, especially those involved public services.
As the MCA president, I must start from my transport ministry, and have been sued for terminating the health screening measures for commercial vehicle drivers.
Other than the electronic health screening, the transport ministry has also advised franchisees who have earlier provided regular driving traning for commercial vehicle drivers to liberalise the market, as well as shortening Puspakom's 15-year franchise agreement to five years.
I keep emphasising competitiveness because we cannot afford to talk only about reforms while leaving behind the qualities of our people.
We used to focus too much on closing the economic gap, but what we are most concerned about today is the competitiveness of our people.
That said, we must not look at only the most outstanding of the pack when talking about competitiveness, and overlook the majority of people who still need our assistance to sustain even the most fundamental living.
Q: Where have most of the monopolies come from? Are they more of monopolies by certain political parties or specific ethnic groups?
A: This happens mostly in government contracts, and generally not come under political parties. Also, we do not have a company that claims to represent only the interests of a specific ethnic group. The monopolies existed because during the 1990s, the first persons to come up with the proposals would usually enjoy the privileges. And this is what happened back then.
Monopolies will only increase the burden of the public, allowing a small group of people with vested interests to enjoy most of the benefits. Although we may incur lawsuits terminating some of the signed contracts, upon evaluating the interests of all parties, I feel it is still necessary for us to take into consideration the hidden burden taxpayers have to shoulder over the years.
"What wrong have I done?"
Q: The upcoming EGM gives people an impression that it has come into being because the two top leaders have not been able to work together. Do you think you have not done enough for the party, making the grassroots unhappy with you?
A: Unhappy? Do you mean only a small group of people are unhappy or majority of people are unhappy?
I do not visit the grassroots only now. I used to do that in the past, but people felt it was what a party president would normally do and there's nothing great about it. However, with the EGM just around the corner, everyone seems to see that I am busily visiting the grassroots!
When I visit them, I also hear their voices. Generally speaking, we understand what they want. The agony and setback after March 2008 is absolutely understandable. Only a very small group of people give up because of frustration.
Q: What do you think about the development of a collective decision by the presidential council into an EGM, as well as the no-confidence motion against you?
A: Should the EGM be held to discuss important matters pertaining to the nation, or just to satisfy the political agendas and interests of a small group of people?
The political agendas behind their move are obvious!
Members of the MCA central committee have been elected by party delegates. According to party constitution, there are only eight CC members who have been appointed by the president. It used to be like this, and will remain the same today. However, I feel reassured that 80% of CC members are consistent in their viewpoints on most party and political issues. This does not mean they can't think indepenently. (By HWN YAUL LEN, YAN PEISHAN/Translated by DOMINIC LOH/Sin Chew Daily)