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An impossible dream for the MCA?

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Both MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek and party secretary-general Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha have declared that the party has regained the support of Chinese community, and would do well in the next general election.

They claim that the Barisan Nasional victory in several recent by-elections in constituencies with considerable number of Chinese voters is an indication of the Chinese community support for the MCA.

How substantial is the claim?

An objective look at the roller-coaster history of the MCA will give some clues on whether or not such a claim for the current situation is justifiable, plausible and credible.

The MCA was a creation of necessity, for the survival and preservation of the Chinese community in Malaysia. The original impetus for its formation on 27 February 1949 was the civil war known as the Emergency in post-World War II Malaya, which was the catalyst that caused the mobilization of the Chinese community under the protective socio-political umbrella of the MCA as their indigenized political and civil rights platform in the country.

The founding fathers and early leaders of the MCA came from various social backgrounds with an assortment of miscellaneous political ideologies.

Contrary to current perception, it was not the Chinese-educated segment that initiated and established the MCA. The founding leaders and early members were generally drawn mainly from the elite English-educated business and professional leaders of the community.

The inaugural president was Tun Tan Cheng Lock, a wealthy Baba Chinese rubber tycoon who was a member of the Malayan Anti-Japanese League. Secretary-general Leong Yew Koh, a prominent lawyer and tin mine operator, was a Kuomintang (KMT) general who was appointed to the nation's first cabinet and later became the first governor of Malacca. Tin miner, banker and newspaper owner Tun Henry H.S. Lee (Lee Hau Shik) was a KMT colonel, who had the distinction of being Malaysia's first minister of finance. Then, there was Penang Baba community leader Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, the leader of the Radical Party, who joined the MCA later in 1952, He was a medical officer in the KMT with the rank of colonel. Chong Eu succeeded Cheng Lock as the MCA president in March 1958, after the founding president stepped down due to poor health.

Since those early stormy days, the party has gone through several major critical adverse political upheavals, at times bringing the party to the brink of disaster and disintegration.

The first major crisis that hit the MCA involved its second president Chong Eu, who fell out with the then powerful and popular Umno and Alliance coalition chief Tunku Abdul Rahman, the first prime minister of independent Malaya, following the Alliance crisis of July 1959.

The MCA was split almost equally between two major blocks, with one led by Chong Eu demanding the redressing and rectification of what he had described as the "unequal partnership" in the Alliance coalition set-up, and the powerful pro-Umno fiction headed by Tan Siew Sin who defended the status quo.

Chong Eu's demands that the MCA be accorded equal status as Umno in the Alliance coalition, accompanied by the equal treatment of the Chinese language, education and economic functions, and that the MCA be allowed to contest all parliamentary seats with Chinese majority may not be unreasonable, but was politically expurgatory and explosive.

The Tunku's immediate reaction and response was to announce that Umno was prepared to go it alone, without the involvement of the MCA, in the impending general election, unless Chong Eu dropped his demands.

The MCA leadership met on 12 July 1959 and voted by a slim margin of 89 to 80 votes to adhere to the Tunku's ultimatum. Chong Eu and his fiction were ousted, and Siew Sin took over as the new MCA supremo.

The way this first major crisis in the MCA was resolved has since set the tone and trend for the resolutions of all subsequent critical disputes in the party, where Umno ultimately has the final say in its fate.

The second major crisis faced by the MCA was the result of the almost total desertion of the party by the Chinese community during the 10 May 1969 general election, when out of the 33 parliamentary seats the party contested, it managed only to retain 13. The party also lost control of the Penang state government to the new party Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia headed by former MCA president Chong Eu.

The infamous May 13 racial riots followed the electoral debacle of the Alliance, and when the country slowly returned to normalcy with Tun Abdul Razak as the nation's new chief executive, the MCA was embroiled in another party civil war, this time between what has then be called the Perak-based Young Turks led by the super-duper political maverick Tun Dr Lim Keng Yaik on the one side, and what had then been dubbed as the Presdient's Men, led the equally super-savvy political genius Tun Lee San Choon, who was then the MCA Youth leader and a fast-rising star in the party.

Umno's vital role in resolving this MCA internal crisis is seen in the removal of Keng Yaik from his cabinet post, and the elevation of San Choon in the government administration.

By August 1973, the Young Turks were eliminated from the party, only to become a thorn in the MCA fresh over the next few decades after they joined Gerakan, which by then had become a component party of the Barisan Nasional.

Siew Sin announced his resignation from his party and government posts on 8 April 1974, citing health reasons. As expected, San Choon succeeded him as the MCA president.

The San Choon era from 1974 to 1983 was marked by various advances by the MCA which won back some support from the Chinese community. The launching of a scholarship fund called Kojadi, the massive expansion of TAR College, the building of the impressive multi-purpose complex Wisma MCA to house the party headquaters, the takeover of the fast-growing influential English-language newspaper The Star, and a nationwide membership drive gave the party a public image rejuvenation.

Despite San Choon's attempt to regenerate and reenergize the party by bringing in many young professionals and intellectuals to the party fold, the MCA could not regain the full support of the Chinese clan and community leaders and educationists. Hence, during the 1974 and 1978 general elections, the influential veteran elders of the Chinese community threw their massive support behind the increasing popular opposition party DAP led the plucky charismatic ex-journalist Lim Kit Siang, whose personal integrity and moral character are beyond questioning, even till today.

As a result, the MCA was seen as losing its previously close connection with the Chinese traditional clan and community associations, including the all-powerful Chinese educationist lobby. The vital issues were the New Economic Policy (NEP), Chinese education and the Merdeka University controversy. The MCA was perceived as being impotent in its bargaining with Umno over these matters which are closed to the hearts and minds of the Chinese community.

The San Choon era also saw a leadership crisis when in 1977 he managed to oust his deputy Lee Siok Yew and tried to install his good friend Chong Hon Nyan as his right-hand man and heir-apparent. The move was challenged by the popular senior vice-president Michael Chen, who managed to beat Hon Nyan in the contest for the deputy president post during a stormy party general assembly in 1977, which the police, including the FRU, were called in to restore order.

Despite the party crisis, the MCA did well in the 1982 general election, increasing its parliamentary representation to 24 from 17 previously in the 154-seat Dewan Rakyat at the expense of the DAP which had its representation reduced from 16 to just 9 MPs.

In April 1983, San Choon announced his resignation as party president and cabinet minister, sending shockwaves through the party and stunning those outside it. He was still young and healthy, was riding high in the party, and there seemed to be no legitimate reason for him to step down, unless the hand of the then Umno leader Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad was behind it,

Mahathir had succeeded Tun Hussein Onn as Umno president and was sworn in as prime minister on 17 July 1981. There were rumours then that Mahathir was not happy or satisfied with San Choon, who was perceived to be ineffective and inefficient in delivering the Chinese support to the Barisan Nasional.

San Choon himself was apparently frustrated that he did not have much political clout with the Umno leadership, and felt that it was time to go before things got worse for him.

Following San Choon's departure, Datuk Dr Neo Yee Pan was appointed the acting president in April 1983. Yee Pan was earlier elevated to the deputy president's post following the resignation of Datuk Richard Ho as deputy president after he was not fielded as a candidate in the 1982 general election.

With Yee Pan, the MCA reached its nadir when a major crisis of tsunamic proportion erupted in March 1984 after he sacked his main rival Tan Koon Swan, a popular self-made tycoon who was appointed a vice-president by San Choon when Yee Pan moved up to become deputy president.

Along with Koon Swan, Yee Pan also expelled his rival's team of reformist leaders, including Dr Ling Liong Sik, Lee Kim Sai and Kee Yong Wee.

The immediate cause of the row was the impending challange of Koon Swan for the president's post in the June 1984 party elections and the allegation of phantom members being created to boost delegate representation at the division level. The party election system provides that each division is allowed to send one delegate for every 100 members it has. The more members a division has, the more delegates it could send to the party national general assembly where elections for national leaders are made.

The phantom member issue was sparked off when it was alleged in February 1984 that the party branches in the Petaling division were beefed up with hundreds of fictitious members. It was found that many of the bogus members have Chinese names but identity card numbers of non-Chinese.

The Koon Swan camp was obviously incensed over the matter and demanded that the party headquarters under the control of party secretary-general Chong Hon Nyan investigate the matter and provide them with a master list of the party membership for verification. The request was simply dismissed by the party head office.

During the Yee Pan-Koon Swan struggle for power, the party image was scandalized in the Chinese community, causing it a complete loss of face. There were court cases, smear campaigns, poison-pen letters, fist-fights and chairs throwing. It was an era of shame for the party and, since then, its influence in the Chinese community had started to decline.

The Yee Pan-Koon Swan crisis reached its critical point when on Monday 19th March 1984, Yee Pan sacked Koon Swan and 13 other party leaders, including three MPs, two of them deputy ministers (Kim Sai and Liong Sik), and a senator (Kee Yong Wee). The immediate cause of the expulsion was the direct challenge by the Koon Swan camp to demand a party EGM to resolve the phantom member issue.

San Choon was recalled to be mediator of the dispute. His efforts, however, proved futile as his neutrality was questioned by both sides.

The Yee Pan camp refused to call for an EGM although the Koon Swan side had more than the legally required number of delegates to hold one. The issue finally landed in the court, following several tense confrontations between the two groups, which involved the police stepping in to maintain order. The MCA had then hit the height of folly and shame in the eyes of the Chinese community and others.

Finally, it was the direct intervention of Umno, with Ghafar Baba acting as the MCA supremo, that the crisis was settled with Koon Swan being elected the new MCA president in November 1985, with a stunning majority of 1,906 votes against Yee Pan who managed only to obtain 809 votes. Liong Sik was elected the deputy president.

Koon Swan, however, didn’t last long as president. He was arrested, convicted and jailed for criminal breach of trust involved the Pan-Electric Industries in 1986. Liong Sik was then elevated to the top post and stayed on till May 2003, being the longest serving MCA president.

When Liong Sik took over the helm at the young age of 43, he started to turn things around and brought in many young and well-educated men and women into the party, bringing about cohesion and competence in the party.

Liong Sik took bold measures to divest the party stake in commercial activities, and channeled all its energy towards education. He worked tirelessly to promote and raise funds for the expansion of Tunku Abdul Rahman (TAR) College and helped the college to realize its full potential and become one of the more excellent tertiary institutions in the country.

Liong Sik also enhanced the Kojadi scholarship loan scheme and launched the Langkawi Education Project. But his most ambitious and significant contribution to the country was the establishment of Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman (Utar).

Liong Sik’s reign, however, was not without serious problems, the major one being the challenge to his leadership by his ambitious deputy Lee Kim Sai in 1990. Liong Sik survived the leadership struggle and continued to lead the party till May 2003.

And just prior to his retirement from politics in May 2003, Liong Sik managed to strike a compromise with his deputy Lim Ah Lek with a mutually acceptable succession scheme involving what was then generally referred to as Team A (led by Liong Sik) and Team B (led by Ah Lek).

The formula provided for Liong Sik’s heir apparent Ong Ka Ting to take over as president and Ah Lek’s man Chan Kong Choy to become deputy president.

On 23rd May 2003, after 17 years at the helm, Liong Sik stepped down as MCA president and handed over the party reins to Ong Ka Ting, whom he had personally groomed since 1986 when he appointed him as his political secretary. At the same time Ah Lek also stepped down as deputy president to make way for Kong Choy.

Following the 8th March 2008 general election when the MCA lost heavily, Ka Ting quit to take responsibility for the debacle. Ong Tee Keat was elected as the party chief on 18th October 2008. At the same time, Dr Chua Soi Lek, who had resigned from all party and government posts a year earlier after admitting to being involved in a sex scandal, bounced back into the top party leadership when he was elected the deputy president.

The unequally yoked partnership of president Tee Keat and deputy president Soi Lek was a sure recipe for disaster, and so it was. From day one after their election to the two top party posts, the political time bomb has started to tick, with the incompatible pair scheming, plotting and finally launching a full-scale divorce battle.

The climax of this titanic fight in the MCA was set for Saturday 10th October 2009, a very significant date in the history of the Chinese people, being the anniversary of the Wuchang Uprising of 10th October 1911 which triggered off the Xinhai Revolution, leading to the collapse of the Qing Dynasty and the ushering in of the modern political era in the 5,000-year old Middle Kingdom.

The 2009 double-ten EGM of the MCA resulted in a non-confidence vote being passed by a simple majority against Tee Keat, the reinstatement of Soi Lek as a party member but an endorsement on his sacking as the deputy president.

The headstrong Tee Keat reneged on his pledge prior to the EGM that he would step down as president if he would to lose the non-confidence vote even by a simple majority. Using a provision in the party constitution stating that an elected official could only be removed by the vote of a two-thirds majority, Tee Keat announced that he would stay put as president.

His decision resulted in a revolt by some of his closest comrades in the party central committee and many in the general membership of the party who questioned his integrity and credibility, leading to a clarion call for an EGM to elect a new president.

The MCA was then set for another of its colossal party power struggles that could spell disaster for the second premier component party of the ruling Barisan Nasional.

A gigantesque factional conflict has been festering beneath the surface since Tee Keat took over the party presidency in October 2008, and dropped Soi Lek, his elected deputy, from the MCA cabinet line-up. Tee Keat had said that political leaders should have high personal moral standards, hinting in a veiled reference to the Soi Lek DVD sex scandal. Tee Keat later initiated disciplinary hearing on the scandal.

This triggered of a declaration of war, with the dissenting forces within the party starting to agitate for a special MCA delegates convention aimed at ousting Tee Keat as the party president. They then mobilized around Soi Lek and launched their assault on Tee Keat.

In March 2010, Soi Lek and his supporters together with vice-president Liow Tiong Lai and his supporters resigned en bloc from the central committee. Their combined number of seats in the central committee is more than two-thirds, and their en bloc resignation paved the way for a fresh election as per the MCA consititution.

The subsequent election saw Soi Lek defeating Tee Keat and former president Ong Ka Ting in a three-cornered contest for the party presidency. Tiong Lai, meanwhile, beat Kong Cho Ha in a straight fight for the deputy president post. Cho Ha, however, was appointed the party secretary-general by Soi Lek.

Throughout the 60-plus years of the roller-coaster history of the MCA, the party has thrived on a love-hate relationship with the Chinese community at large. The party’s biggest challenge is to preserve its political relevance in the Chinese community, and retain its support.

The MCA’s worse crisis is perhaps the 8 March 2008 political tsunami when the Chinese community abandoned it in droves, causing it to lose a huge chuck of its electoral territory to its foremost rival DAP. It was completely wiped out in Penang, losing all the parliamentary and state seats it contested.

However, following the titanic power struggle in the early part of 2010, the MCA seems to have regained some stability now, with the morale and motivation among the party ranks and files thriving.

However, the reception of the party at ground zero in the Chinese community remains cool and placid. The March 2008 debacle of the MCA and the emergence of a rejuvenated DAP as a very viable and powerful alternative guidance of the community has given the Chinese a very feasible option to dump the MCA.

Although Soi Lek and company are attempting to regain the middle ground lost en masse by the party in 2008, the party faces two big obstacles – one internal, and the other external.

The internal obstacle is surely its current leadership, which is composed of out-dated and spent political players, some with very weird and bizarre ideas like the one who proposed setting up a “Chinese Perkasa” to challenge the Malay rights group Perkasa, and some whose public comments of vital issues show their height of folly.

I think almost none of the current leaders will be able to do well if they are to contest in the next general election. The ground zero perception of them is generally negative. According to a Merdeka Center survey last year, only 9% of the Chinese voters have any respect for Soi Lek, which is actually much better than that of Gerakan president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon who received only 1%. The survey only listed these two Chinese leaders, but I believe it is a general reflection of the Chinese support for the MCA and Gerakan leaders.

The external obstacle in their way is the rejuvenated, regenerated, and reformed DAP.

Since the March 2008 general election, there has been a taxonomic group of very educated, progressive, professional and youthful politicians in the DAP, led by the relatively young but veteran political maverick Lim Guan Eng. The highly intellectual and articulate young elected representatives of the DAP are making waves in Parliament and at the various state assemblies, as well as in the public arena, where the battle for the hearts and minds of the people is taking place.

The DAP can boast of an army of very bright, well-educated, well-trained, and morally upright young politicians to spearhead the thrust for the transformation of the nation into a new and better Malaysia. Among the young leaders are the likes of Teresa Kok, Chow Koon Yeow, Anthony Loke, Fong Po Kuan, Lim Lip Eng, Teo Nie Ching, Tony Pua, Jenice Lee, Gobind Singh, Boo Cheng Hua, Hannah Yeoh, Violent Yong, Liew Chin Tong, Jeff Ooi, Thomas Su, and many more.

Can the MCA beat off such an impressive formidable challenge from its diehard political opponent DAP?

To regain the trust and confidence of the Chinese community and to remain relevant, the MCA must undergo a total revamp of its leadership, getting rid of those who had overstayed their usefulness, and those who intelligence are found wanting. The practice of croneyism and nepotism must be eliminated.

Otherwise, what Soi Lek and Cho Ha claimed about regaining the confidence and support of the Chinese community is merely an illusion – an impossible dream.

MySinchew 2011-01-02

 

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