Friday, November 20, 2009

MALAYSIA Politics of self-interest puts MCA in jeopardy

As the Malaysian Chinese Association plunges deeper into crisis, critics challenge if its Greater Unity Plan has any hope of salvaging the party’s battered image

KEEPING tabs on the goings-on in Barisan Nasional's second-largest component party is getting ever more strenuous as its internal crisis becomes more severe.

Many of MCA's million-plus members are very confused by these turns of events and disappointed with the antics of their leaders. The soap opera is also causing uneasiness among other BN components.

One headache for many of the MCA central delegates is deciding whether they should attend the second extraordinary general meeting, called for Nov 28.

MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat yesterday announced that the party central committee had rejected the EGM to be held by the faction led by vice-president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, after 23 of the 35 central committee (CC) members present voted against the EGM, with two abstaining.

Ong also appointed new members to the presidential council after dropping Liow's two sidekicks, Youth chief Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong and Wanita head Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun. (Chew is an invited member of the presidential council as she is in charge of women's issues, but does not have voting rights.)

MCA vice-president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai (centre) holding a press conference at party headquarters on Wednesday after his sidekicks, Youth chief Datuk Dr Wee Ka Siong and Wanita head Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun, were dropped from the party’s presidential council.
The pro-EGM group is trying to convince delegates that the EGM is necessary; Wee and Chew yesterday made tearful appeals for delegates to turn up at the EGM to press for fresh party polls.

It is a matter of restoring the party's integrity, they say, for which Liow et al consider the EGM to be the most effective way.

The group had called for the EGM to seek delegates' permission for fresh polls for top office-bearers, in a bid to reinstate the Oct 10 EGM's vote of no-confidence against Ong.

The MCA's inability to check further turmoil is not only damaging the party, it is threatening to reduce support for the ruling coalition as well. Hence, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak's concern over the latest turn of events. "It is going to hamper our efforts to revive the position of BN in the eyes of the people," Najib said last Thursday.

"The people now see Umno as being very stable, having gone through the process of reforming itself and presenting a new image to the rakyat."

Not so with the MCA. Najib's deputy, Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, also expressed fears of a greater rejection of MCA and BN should the party continue to be embroiled in crisis.

"Let's face the facts," he said on the reshuffle of the MCA presidential council, which further deepened the party's internal crisis. "If I were Chinese, I, too, would not support the MCA."

Muhyiddin feared MCA's continuous political crisis would further erode the Chinese community's support for the party. As the coalition could not afford to lose its link with the Chinese, he said, Umno may be compelled to take over the role of helping the Chinese community.

"If MCA is in such a state, obviously the Chinese community would not be happy, and we don't want them to abandon the BN," Muhyiddin said during a working visit to Rome on Wednesday.

"Maybe there is no other recourse but for Umno to play that role for the time being, to assist them."

Chinese voters who deserted the coalition en masse in the general election in March last year have not returned to its fold, leaving many wondering if MCA is still relevant in BN.

Chinese support for the ruling coalition -- which the MCA is supposed to deliver -- now stands at only about 20 per cent, similar to the situation during the general election.

This is worrying for BN. It suggests that Najib's economic liberalisation measures are not working effectively enough for the community, whose support is often dictated by the state of the country's economy.

"BN can be further weakened by MCA's internal bickering," says Universiti Sains Malaysia analyst Dr Sivamurugan Pandian. "Let's hope it's not too late."

Umno information chief Datuk Ahmad Maslan says MCA leaders, as champions of the people, should not prolong the internal conflict. "People will be wondering why there is no solution," he observes.

"Surely there is a win-win solution, one that is in accordance with the MCA constitution. Axing leaders only has negative implications on both MCA and BN's image."

Sivamurugan does not see a win-win solution unless the rival parties are willing to sacrifice and compromise.

"As it is, people are fed up with a party leadership that is putting personal feelings first, rather than the common good of the party," he says.

"Leaders are supposed to lead by example."

It's ironic that despite attempts by Ong to reach out to Liow to be part of the Greater Unity Plan hatched when Ong and Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek patched up, Liow seems adamant that they go separate ways.

Najib has not given up on the MCA, despite some quarters dismissing the party as dead. He hopes to help overcome the party's knotty problems by meeting the rival factions separately before the proposed Nov 28 EGM. But political watchers think MCA in its present condition may be just too weak to repair itself.

"The Chinese public sees the current crisis as nothing more than the politics of self-interest," says Prof James Chin of Monash University Malaysia.

"MCA will not recover in time for the next general election."

Chin shares the view of Liow's group, that the only way to resolve the crisis is to hold fresh party elections.

Many are hopeful that MCA's leaders can be more cautious in resolving the party's problems, so that the situation doesn't get even worse. ZUBAIDAH ABU BAKAR New Straits Times

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