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Tuesday, August 30, 2011

‘Hardly any reform in MCA’

'In the eyes of many MCA members, Chua is a liability to the party'.

PETALING JAYA: In the second part of this interview, Stanley Koh talks about the relevance of MCA to the Chinese community and on other issues that may have an impact on the election performance of MCA, the second largest BN component party.

Koh is a seasoned observer of MCA politics, having been the party’s head of research unit.

FMT: Why does MCA find it so difficult to convince the public that it is still relevant to the Chinese community? Is the rank and file still in a fighting spirit?

Koh: You know, there is a Chinese saying: ‘Bu dao Huang He xin bu si’. This is derived from the old Chinese belief that when a person dies, the spirit will have to cross the Yellow River (Huang He), and when the person discovers that the nails on his finger and toes have dropped off, the final reality of death is imminent. This is not the first time that MCA has come so close to political death.

To many observers, Chua seems to be flogging a dead horse. There is also a Chinese saying about trying to save a dead horse as if it is alive.

Politics has never been an exact science. You cannot push Chua into a test tube in order to delineate the shades of his honesty and integrity.

Nevertheless, in the eyes of many MCA members, he is a liability to the party. They are saying in private that he has not lived up to his own pledges but is instead repeating the follies of Ong Ka Ting.

Chua’s “humble ant” manifesto promised, for instance, professional management of the party’s key assets, including editorial independence at The Star. However, the board of The Star recently chose Fong Chan Onn, a party leader, as its chairman.

Chua once accused Ong Tee Keat of abusing his tenure as president by surrounding himself with “yes men” and rewarding them with cars and chauffeurs. But isn’t he doing the same thing?

A party veteran took pains to explain to me that a political leader must think of himself as a public trustee and must carry himself accordingly. In other words, integrity and honesty are essential qualities in party leadership.

When Ong Ka Ting stepped down, there was an almost audible sigh of relief among MCA supporters. There was probably no one who expected another leadership crisis.

To understand MCA’s present predicament, we need to step back into the recent past. The result of the 2008 general election turned on the political heat for MCA. It was the worst electoral setback that the party had suffered since it was rocked to the core in 1969. Its then president Ong Ka Ting basically took the blame and stepped down soon after.

There was a changing of the guards, but a leadership crisis soon followed, and this led to the extraordinary party election last year.

The destiny of MCA is now in the hands of Chua who, after being sacked, made an extraordinary political climb to the top despite his sex scandal.

If I may digress a bit, I have described Chua’s political comeback as extraordinary. We know the party made possible for him what had seemed impossible. But many members of the public, with the sex scandal in mind, could not understand why the party had chosen him as president.

We also know that Chua’s success is not due to his popularity.

Here is the only way I can explain it: there was a quietly orchestrated campaign to save the party, which inadvertently undermined both Ka Ting and Tee Keat. Of course, we can’t ignore the fact that Tee Keat’s own leadership weaknesses also speeded up his political demise.

Chua is currently facing the litmus test of his leadership. He must steer his party towards an expected early national election. Many are asking the inevitable question: Will MCA survive after the next polls? Only time will tell.

I tend to agree with some political pundits who see Chua’s problems as multi-dimensional. Firstly, his personal image has probably been irreparably damaged by the sex scandal. Secondly, it has been business as usual within the party. There has hardly been any reform. Thirdly, the party continues to experience a depletion of public confidence. No doubt, party leaders will vigorously deny this. But there is no smoke without fire.

There is a lesson to be learnt here. What is morally wrong cannot be politically correct.

MCA, like Umno, is losing its grip on its traditional supporters. Both parties have to realise that the race card does not work anymore. The re-awakening of the urban electorate to the tainted system of governance will eventually spread to the rural areas.

Some leaders in the party will gradually realise that for the party to move forward – if it survives the next general election – a new generation of leaders have to emerge. Chua’s leadership style belongs to an era that has passed, a time when street politicians and warlords held sway. There must be a generational change in leadership to keep abreast with the aspirations of the people.

Perhaps, even, a review of MCA’s role in BN may be timely.

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