By Eileen Ng 2008/05/23
SINCE the March 8 general election, MCA has reinvented itself by taking a forceful position through a series of moves seen as populist.
In a departure from past practice, the party is openly championing issues it previously said were best discussed behind closed doors. Its president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting is speaking out on touchy and taboo subjects, such as religious conversions among Chinese Muslims and the establishment of the Independent Police Complaints and Misconduct Commission.
The party also convinced the Education Ministry to reopen the old SJK (C) Damansara premises by allowing Chinese schools with poor enrolment to be relocated there. MCA did all these to win back support from the Chinese community after the party's poor electoral performance. This new tough line is seen as being crucial to the party's relevance as it has been perceived over the years to be weak and "kowtowing" to Umno, a taunt chorused by political rival DAP.
But is this a case of too little too late? Or is it better late than never? MCA vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn denied that this was a knee-jerk reaction."It's not a question of too late, but something that ought to be resolved as Malaysians feel strongly about it. There is no political motive on our part.
"Obviously, people want MCA to be more vocal and we are responding to their demands. "We are resolving issues both ways, within the four walls (of the cabinet) and outside." He added that this was necessary since the people did not know that the party had in the past discussed the issues in the Cabinet.
However, the consensus on the ground among Chinese community leaders and party members suggests MCA needs to walk the talk, rather than pay lip service.
Kuala Lumpur-Selangor Chinese Assembly Hall chief operating officer Tang Ah Chai said the measures taken by MCA were a bit late."MCA is trying to win back the Chinese by saying the right things but the response is lukewarm. So far, it's all talk and no action."
Political analyst Khoo Kay Peng does not think MCA's latest moves will win back the support of the people."Being vocal doesn't change anything. They think it will serve a political purpose and is the answer (to the current political scenario).
"It does not reflect a sincere move on the party if they are making noises but, at the end of the day, the fundamentals have not changed." Khoo said MCA should renegotiate with Umno on subjects that are dear to the people's hearts, like the New Economic Policy and fight against corruption.
"If not, they should get out of BN. That will definitely gain the confidence of the people."
Cheras MCA division deputy chief Lee Boon Kok said the party was saying the right things, but whatever needed to be done had yet to be seen. He said while MCA had expressed its willingness to champion issues cutting across racial lines, clear party policies on this were lacking.
"Take, for example, the call to establish the police commission. What if BN does not agree to it? What is MCA going to do? Are they willing to give an ultimatum to BN?
"By spelling out their policies clearly, the party will be stronger and no longer remain vague in its stand like before."
Like other component parties in BN badly mauled in the last general election, MCA is totally lost. While some leaders have blamed President Ong Ka Ting for its dismay performance, they have not nailed the real reasons behind its poor performance. Ong is being criticized for his poor foresight in choosing the right candidates, replacing some old guards and practicing nepotism.
Even if Ong had done all things right - placed the right candidates, retained old guards and sidelined Ka Chuan - the party would have still performed badly in the last GE.
Since 1959, the party has yet to understand why it was not able to win back major support from the Chinese community. Firstly, self-centered interests amongst party leaders have perpetually divided its leadership.
In March 1958, Dr Lim Chong Eu was elected the president and prior to the 1959 GE, Chong Eu had requested from Tunku that MCA be allocated a third of seats in parliament. His rationale was to ensure that MCA was consulted in constitutional amendments. His request was denied by Tunku and some leaders within MCA even rallied around the PM and went against Chong Eu.
Disappointed by the lack of support from his own party, Chong Eu left MCA in 1959 and returned to active politics in 1962. Only this time he was in the opposition through the United Democratic Party. Eventually, Chong Eu's Parti Gerakan defeated MCA and wrested power in Penang. Ironically, Chong Eu was first offered the CMship by MCA but decided to give way to Wong Pow Nee.
Another leader who dared to defy UMNO was Dr Lee San Choon. His upbeat mood right after the historical electoral victory over DAP strongman Dr Chen Man Hin in Seremban in the 1982 GE was brought down to earth by his inability to get the government to approve permits for lion dance performances during Chinese New Year. Instead, a delegation from the Chinese guilds and associations had to seek a meeting with Dr Mahathir to 'plead' for his leniency. Dr Lee, embarrassed by this event, eventually stood down from his party leadership.
Subsequent leaders were happy enough to endorse whatever Dr M decided and UMNO's dominance. MCA inability to play its role as UMNO's senior partner in BN eventually led to its political impotency. It was seen as a willing accomplice of UMNO for being part of the government which implemented prohibitive and suppressive policies in the country e.g. FIC, NEP, Islamisation, education system, etc.
Almost into the 100 days since the last GE, the party is running in circles. From snoop squad to speaking out, the MCA has demonstrated no real strategy to move forward. Only Ong Tee Keat appeared to understand the magnitude of MCA's dilemma and called for the party to go multiracial. However, he stopped short at telling us how the party intends to review its position in BN, especially if UMNO refused to change its way.