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Friday, April 29, 2011

A marriage of inconvenience

The Umno-MCA relationship is on the rocks and the question now is when will they split.

COMMENT

Even rock solid marriages tend to flounder sometimes. But when it comes to marriages of convenience, what can one expect? The key word here is convenience.

The Chinese-based political party MCA is not convenient to Umno anymore. Even though Umno has made some politically correct statements about MCA, it would not hestitate to cut the links with MCA.

Umno would rather shore up its own race-based ideology rather than save the MCA sinking ship.

When MCA and Umno formalised their political marriage in 1953, it was an attempt to help each other before independence.

Marriage councillors are likely to agree that when two political parties gets “married” the inevitable will happen.

English novelist Henry Fielding who wrote “Tom Jones” once said: “There is one fool at least in every married couple.”

Right now the question is, how foolish the MCA must be feeling. In the early days of the Alliance, Umno, MCA and MIC promised to work together. The MCA agreed to accept Malay political dominance but in return sought assurances from Umno over the position and role of the Chinese community.

When Onn Jaafar’s proposal to open up Umno’s membership to non-Malays was rejected by party’s members and he left the party in 1951 to form a multiracial party, the Independence of Malaya Party (IMP), the role of MCA was cast in stone.

Instead of joining forces with IMP and embarking on a multiracial destiny, Tan Cheng Lock, who had initially agreed to join IMP, suddenly decided to place the fate of the Chinese with Umno led by Tunku Abdul Rahman.

In 1955, the Alliance captured 51 of the 52 Federal Legislative Council seats contested.

Anwar’s warning

The May 13 riots rocked their political alliance but the nation continued to see MCA supporting and upholding the Barisan Nasional (BN) concept.

In 1986, MCA had an acriminous relationship with Umno besides facing an internal leadership crisis.

On Nov 5 of the same year, Umno Youth issued a warning to MCA to leave BN over a resolution on the status of the various races in the country, which was passed by Selangor MCA.

Umno Youth leader Anwar Ibrahim said his Youth movement would respond to every statement made by MCA as refraining from doing so would be viewed as a sign of weakness.

“I regret to say that the MCA has stooped so low as to debate on issues that will only call for reactions from the Malays,” he said.

“If they (MCA) want to oppose, they should get out of the Barisan and oppose from outside,” Umno Youth exco member Mohd Nazri Abdul Aziz told a press conference.

Umno Members of Parliament also called for the sacking of Lee Kim Sai from the Cabinet.

Lim was MCA deputy president then, holding the labour Cabinet portfolio and was also the Selangor MCA state chairman .

When the Umno-MCA row over the resolution was finally resolved at the Cabinet level, MCA president Dr Ling Liong Sik, who held the transport portfolio, said, “Husbands and wives also have their fair share of quarrels from time to time. Very often, the relationship gets closer after peaceful resolutions of such conflicts. Of course, such conflicts lead to divorce.”

One-sided marriage

Following the 1986 general election, Ling said: “Let us remind ourselves that the brilliant victory of the BN is the result of the collective efforts and the pooling of resources of all component parties.

“We have pulled our weight together. Our analysis showed that in about 42 of the 83 parliamentary seats won by Umno, the votes of the non-Malays were decisive. I believe, therefore, that the MCA also indirectly contributed to this great victory.”

But the Umno-MCA political marriage has always been one-sided. The MCA was forced to support many repressive laws which were passed by Parliament.

Now the Malaysian Chinese are thinking more clearly – both within and outside the MCA.

Can MCA deliver the Chinese votes to BN at the next general election? Recently messages have been making the rounds that MCA is intending to leave BN following Perkasa’s demand that MCA apologise for calling a public boycott of the Umno-controlled Utusan Malaysia newspaper.

Over the decades, a succession of MCA leaders have said the concept of power sharing is the most effective vehicle to safeguard the legitimate interests of all ethnic communities.

Is this concept relevant now? There is a sense of betrayal within MCA against Umno, and the Chinese community’s distrust of MCA is deepening.

The older Chinese generation is aware of the rapid erosion of the Chinese share in the economy and their effectiveness in mainstream national policy-making despite having MCA representatives in the Cabinet.

Dr Chua Soi Lek in a press interview in 2008 said: “The new president must be able to articulate the frustrations of the Chinese community, its needs and the three core issues that I listed – politics, economics and education.”

“The Chinese know that we (MCA) are not the know-all: we do not have a magical wand that can solve all problems. But if you keep quiet in the name of sensitivity, then people cannot accept MCA anymore,” Chua said when asked whether the new MCA president must be seen to be able to stand up to Umno.

Blaming Abdullah

Shortly after the 2008 general election, a confidential MCA post-mortem report squarely blamed Umno leadership under former prime minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for the poor electoral performance of the party.

MCA managed to garner only 819,924 popular votes in the 40 parliamentary seats it contested or capturing only 15 or 37.5% of the seats. This was even worse off than in 1969 when it won 13 out of 33 seats or 39.4% of the parliamentary seats.

MCA said the Malaysian public, particularly the Chinese community, was angered by Abdullah’s weak leadership, corruption, cronyism, abuses and excesses of the BN administration, rising crimes and safety issues, curbs on religious freedom and a host of other economic issues.

The report acknowledged the 12th general election was a victory for the opposition.

“The victory was not won on multiracialism but on a common platform of social justice, a common thread in socialist ideology (DAP) and Islamism/political Islam (PAS),” it said.

There is a growing consensus that MCA has lost its hold on the Chinese community. It has virtually lost all electoral seats with predominantly Chinese voters.

Now is the era of change. There is a awakening against race-based parties and this is likely to see a divorce in the Umno-MCA relationship.

Stanley Koh is an FMT columnist. He was also the former head of MCA’s research unit.

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