The question on the lips of Kelana Jaya voters is why has their MP Loh Seng Kok been replaced just after one term?
With no replacement seat, the 46-year-old’s political life has been cut short in its prime.
According to them, Loh's exit was a surprise as the full-time MP was at the beck-and-call of his constituents, even praised by Barisan Nasional chairman Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi for having a 100% attendance record in parliament.
But party observers and those in the know will tell you that in politics, patronage and the aspirations of the leadership trumps a good track record of serving the people.
“Loh was a pawn in the larger scheme of things,” said a party member, saying that there are those behind the scenes playing a game of chess to chart the next course of the party leadership.
It is common knowledge within MCA circles that party vice-president Datuk Donald Lim Siang Chai is charting his course to the pinnacle of the party leadership.
Lim is said to be aligned to former MCA vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek, the former Health Minister who quit over a video tape sex scandal.
With Chua out of the picture, deputy president Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy also making an exit, and party president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting declaring this is his last elections, the tussle is now on for MCA’s top positions.
Lim is just behind vice-presidents Datuk Seri Dr Fong Chan Onn and Datuk Ong Tee Keat in the leadership hierarchy.
In fact, Fong had to put his retirement plans on hold following Chan and Chua’s departure.
"As you can see, the MCA leadership is disintegrating and now people are wondering who is poised to take over,” said an observer.
"The strategy now seems to be weakening Donald’s influence, especially in Selangor and sidelining him in favour of (Datuk Lee) Hwa Beng (who replaces Loh in Kelana Jaya),” he said.
"So, how do you do it? You kill off Donald’s men. That’s why Seng Kok and (Kampung Tunku assemblyman Datuk) Dr Wong Sai Hou were dropped,” he said.
With Selangor deputy chairman Datuk Tang See Hang retiring (he is not defending his Rawang state seat), Lim becomes the de facto state No. 2 behind Datuk Ch'ng Toh Eng, allowing Lim to further expand his influence in this key MCA state.
Party insiders say the leadership has big plans for accountant Hwa Beng. A state MCA vice-chairman now, Lee is poised to be appointed deputy and there are even plans to elevate him to the federal administration in the near future.
"But that does not explain why shut Loh out completely,” said a party member.
"He is a brave parliamentarian who raised unconventional issues,” he said, alluding to the numerous occasions when Loh departed from party lines dwelling on topics such as freedom of worship, racial equality and school history books that downplay the contributions of non-Malays.
Loh’s consistency in raising touchy topics earned him the flattering but politically lethal label of the BN's “opposition MP".
"Even his party leadership had told him to pipe down in bringing up sensitive issues,” said a party observer.
Loh's face-off with Umno Youth following his proposal for a Non-Muslim Affairs Department is well documented, with talk that Ka Ting had been requested to drop him from the 2008 election line-up.
"This is bull$#!+!" said another senior party member.
"Loh does not have any political base. Even his own division in Rembau does not support him. That’s why he was dropped."
"He was chosen for Kelana Jaya (in 2004) based on his position as Youth secretary-general,” he said.
Loh, meanwhile, insists that there are no "camps".
"I am a victim of circumstance, nothing else. I am a loyal party member and will support Lee,” he said.
He was however upset at the defacing of his image on three billboards which he put up around in Kelana Jaya before being informed that he would be dropped.
"I don’t know who will go to all that trouble. Maybe some political rival. But who? I am nobody now,” said the Arts graduate, who served as political and later private secretary to then Transport Minister (and MCA president) Datuk Seri (now Tun) Dr. Ling Liong Sik.
Lee, 54 is not about to be pulled into a controversy during his crucial time.
"It is not for me to say why Loh was dropped. He has a track record, and so do I," said the three-term Subang Jaya assemblyman who is confident of improving on Loh's 2004 achievement where he beat Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR)’s Syed Shahrir Syed Mohamed by 21,571 votes.
Lee is expected to trump PKR’s Gwo Burne Loh and independent Billi Lim Peng Soon.