When Mahathir asked the CTA to swing Chinese support from MCA over to DAP he did not expect that would permanently destroy MCA plus Malay political power. He just wanted to give Barisan National a beating in the 2008 general election to embarrass Abdullah into resigning. But it was a snowball that gathered velocity as it spiralled down the mountain and now DAP has a monopoly on Chinese votes. This was a fire that Mahathir started that burned the whole house down.
PAKATAN’S GAME OF THRONES
Raja Petra Kamarudin
In his eagerness to oust Abdullah, Mahathir turned the CTA and DAP into a very powerful political force
In 2008, Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad wanted to use the general election that year to oust Prime Minister Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi. The move to oust Abdullah was launched in June 2006 but by 2008 Abdullah was still in office. The attacks were not working so it had to be something more drastic than the normal attacks. It has to be something serious such as Umno and/or Barisan Nasional doing badly in the 2008 general election.
Mahathir sent Ling Liong Sik and Matthias Chang to speak to the top Chinese Trade Association (CTA) leaders, many who were also life members of MCA. Mahathir wanted the Chinese to vote for DAP and to make sure that Penang falls into the hands of the opposition. Penang was Abdullah’s home-base and if that state falls then Abdullah would be embarrassed and would have to step down.
And all this happened as planned. Barisan Nasional did badly. Penang fell to the opposition. And soon after that Abdullah resigned. However, the act by Mahathir of sabotaging Abdullah during the 2008 general election triggered unintended consequences in the form of the CTA. Mahathir actually gave the CTA the taste of political power. When Liong Sik asked the CTA to swing their support to DAP, without realising it he had signed the death warrant for MCA. Liong Sik was surrendering MCA’s political weapon to DAP in which DAP can then use to kill MCA.
Unwittingly, Mahathir had taught the CTA one thing. And that one thing is they need not confine their activities to just business. They have enough influence to sway votes so now they can also get involved in politics and play the role of power-broker or kingmaker.
Before this, MCA had no working relationship with DAP. DAP was the enemy and MCA does not work with the enemy. Mahathir, however, managed to build that alliance between MCA and DAP through the CTA. Mahathir did what for more than 50 years could never be done. Mahathir united the Chinese from MCA and the Chinese from DAP to fight for a common cause under the umbrella of the CTA.
The CTA was like a sleeping tiger. Then one day you offer the tiger some blood to drink and after it tastes blood it discovers it likes the taste. The CTA now knows it can influence politics and can play both sides of the political divide at the same time. The CTA has tasted power and it likes the taste. It can now control both MCA and DAP at the same time.
DAP has a backdoor into the government through MCA
Lim Kit Siang was quick to realise the potential of the CTA. If DAP could penetrate the CTA then through the CTA they could tell MCA what to do. For example, when it was decided that Lim Kit Siang would contest the Gelang Patah seat in the previous general election, DAP told the CTA to instruct MCA to not field Chua Soi Lek there. Instead Umno’s Abdul Ghani Othman contested that seat against Kit Siang. Soi Lek was a stronger candidate to Ghani seeing that 55% of the voters are Chinese and the Chinese votes would be split. With a Malay candidate it was practically a walkover for Kit Siang.
Soi Lek also said that if MCA does badly in the 2013 general election they will not want any cabinet posts. MCA did do badly but the CTA felt it would not be beneficial for MCA to stay out of the government. That would mean MCA would be of little use to the CTA. The CTA then pushed for Soi Lek to be replaced with Liow Tiong Lai who took over and brought MCA back into the government.
Soi Lek did not really care whether MCA was in the government or not because he had already resigned anyway due to his sex scandal plus he did not contest the election. So for purely selfish reasons it made sense that no one else joined the government and this could be used as leverage to punish the Chinese for not voting MCA. If the Chinese wanted a representative in the government then they have to vote MCA the next time around.
The CTA now realises that it has the best of both worlds. It is now a power-broker and a kingmaker plus it is a bridge between the two Chinese political parties. And that is why the CTA and DAP do not want MCA in Pakatan Harapan. If MCA is in the opposition then they would have no proxy in the government. This way the CTA controls Penang and Selangor plus it has a voice in the federal government.
The CTA has tasted political power so now they want to go for more. In the past it was just business but now it is politics as well and they can use this political power to expand their business interests. The CTA is prepared to finance not only DAP but PKR and PAN as well. And MCA would also be working for them.
The CTA wants MCA to be with Barisan Nasional until the very last moment. In the meantime, the CTA and DAP are closely allied and working in tandem to achieve the bigger political objective. And the MCA President and top leadership will not go against the wishes of the CTA because the CTA decides who becomes the leaders of MCA.
The MCA leadership is decided by the CTA
The Star also takes directive from the CTA. Since the CTA is aligned to DAP, The Star will not attack DAP. The CTA is the one who can decide the advertisers in The Star, which is a major source of revenue for the newspaper. The CTA is like an oligarchy, but in this case representing Chinese interests. And to add icing to the cake, the CTA leaders do not go to meet the Ministers but the Ministers who go to meet the CTA leaders. And that is to demonstrate who is the top dog and who wags the tail.
Anyway, to understand MCA’s political culture, you need to rewind a bit and study the history behind the formation of that party. MCA was originally a union of mainly Straits Chinese, those who spoke Malay, practiced Malay culture and traditions, but worshipped the traditional Chinese way. The Straits Chinese were at times more Malay than Malays and many were not even able to speak Chinese.
When MCA was first formed in February 1949, the Federation of Malaya had just been formed. The many Malay movements and associations had already united under one umbrella body called Umno so the Chinese had to also do the same. MCA, however, was a gathering of Chinese who had been in Malaya long before the time of the British while the ‘new’ Chinese of 1850 onwards supported the various socialist or communist parties.
You could actually sum it up by saying that MCA was a gathering of people with money while the working-class Chinese grouped under the anti-establishment political parties. And that is why from the very beginning MCA was seen as a towkay’s party and a party that is the government’s running dog while all other Chinese were seen as anti-government and in the same spirit anti-Malay.
It was an image that would take a long time to erase until after 1969 when MCA began to play the game of one-upmanship with parties like DAP and so on. MCA’s loss of Penang to Gerakan, at that time an opposition party, woke MCA up to the fact that it can no longer survive as just a towkay’s party but must also be seen to be fighting for the common Chinaman on issue such as Chinese schools, Chinese language and Chinese education (issues that even Singapore’s Lee Kuan Yew would not tolerate).
The Chinese business community are MCA life members and now DAP supporters as well
It is therefore inevitable that the top Chinese businessmen, tycoons and Chinese Trade Association (CTA) leaders were all MCA members. Many, in fact, were life members of MCA. And these people remained strong MCA members since the 1950s till now and served the Chinese community by getting the government to dish out millions for various Chinese causes.
Newspaper licences and permits for colleges and universities plus funding were obtained by the Chinese towkays through MCA. MCA was a good platform for businessmen to reach the government and obtain government favour. The non-MCA members would instead play the role of pressure group, which invariably assisted MCA in getting more concessions from the government.
Many Malays believe that MCA is not really strong. But the other Chinese-based parties helped make MCA strong because MCA was able to use the threat from the other Chinese parties to their own benefit. So in that sense parties like DAP whacked the government while MCA gained from it. MCA was able to tell the Chinese if they did not support MCA then the money would stop flowing because DAP would not be able to get any financial help from the government.
In 2008 Mahathir reversed this. Mahathir made DAP strong and MCA now has to depend on Chinese support through DAP. And the only way MCA can reach DAP would be through the CTA. Hence Mahathir created a powerful Chinese political force in the form of the CTA that DAP uses to control MCA, the voice of the Chinese in the government. Single-handedly, Mahathir destroyed Malay political power and is continuing to destroy it even further by splitting the Malays into five different political groups.