Loh Seng Kok

Parlimen Malaysia

Barisan Nasional MCA

Loh Seng Kok 卢诚国
Member of Parliament for Kelana Jaya
(2004 - Feb 2008)

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MCA on road to recovery or oblivion?

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MCA on road to recovery or oblivion?
Khoo Kay Peng | Mar 2, 09 12:03pm
MCA, the second biggest party in BN, has been struggling to make a political comeback since its abysmal performance in the general election last March.

The party lost more than half of all the seats it contested. Its parliamentary representation fell from 41 seats to a meagre 15. It lost in almost all Chinese-majority constituencies. Chinese support for the BN was at a low of 25-38 percent in mostly urban seats.

Technically, the party represents the Chinese community only in name. Current leaders are less revered and respected compared to predecessors such as Tan Cheng Lock, Tan Siew Sin, Lee San Choon and Lim Ah Lek..

barisan nasionalYears of racial politics have taken a toll of all parties representing the minorities in Barisan Nasional (BN). Most have lost the support of their respective communities because they were seen as conceding too much to the dominant racial party, Umno.

It will be interesting to see what responses the MCA leadership has in store as the party marks its 60th anniversary. They have to face several crucial issues.

First, there is an obvious lack of unity and clarity in the party's struggles. The rift between president Ong Tee Keat and his deputy Dr Chua Soi Lek is affecting the leadership's concentration on its renewal and revival process.

More leaders have offered to mediate their differences. Some, such as Loh Seng Kok, have asked for Chua to be given a second chance as even ex-criminals can serve the community after serving their sentence and turning over a new leaf.

chua soi lek interview 131108This is precisely the problem. The party has given Chua (left) a chance by appointing his son, Tee Yong, to replace him as the MP of Labis. However, Chua wants another slice of the cake and has demanded to be made a minister and a senator. His repeated demands have annoyed Ong.

Chua should have focused his political continuity through his son who is a qualified accountant and a likable person. After all, public perception is clearly not in Chua’s favour. A recent poll by Merdeka Centre said 74 percent of the respondents cannot accept politicians who are morally deficient.

Ong’s folly

Political parties such as MCA, Gerakan and MIC have continued to operate in their own space and are largely ignorant of public perception. Their leaders think that they are still popular as long as they can command the support of delegates. This is a crucial misconception, as was proven in the last general election when dominant leaders were defeated.

Until and unless this tiff is resolved, the MCA will continue to be sidetracked on personal disputes which may actually invite both anti-Ong and anti-Chua factions to join in the fray.

Already sparks can be seen in Selangor and Johor where some members are considering calling an EGM to table a no-confidence motion against Ong. The EGM may also be an end game for Chua. Based on current sentiments, it is remotely possible for the motion to succeed. A defeat of the motion will set the relationship of the two leaders on the course of no return.

ong tee keat interview 230810 04Ong, though, should be more magnanimous. He was too quick in going for the kill, and in replacing many in key positions with his people. Those who are familiar with his political career can understand his reaction.

He was treated like an outsider before the general election. His relationship with the last two presidents were not cordial. Hence, there was mistrust between him and key generals appointed by the previous administration.

Ong, an ardent student of Sun Tzu and classical Chinese history, should have used a softer approach to win the hearts and minds of these generals. A number of them are not hardcore supporters of their ex-bosses, and can help reduce the possibility of faction-building in the party.

It would be better for Ong to keep them competitive for his endorsement and attention. This creates a natural check-and-balance system in the party especially for those who are keen to impress the president.

Unequal relationship

Second, the party has yet to identify which political path it should take. A number of leaders have argued that it is likely MCA will stay communal as long as Umno exists. There is a critical flaw in this statement.

While Umno has obviously benefitted from this racial arrangement and is able to utilise a number of race-affirmative policy tools to strengthen its position, MCA and other minority parties have to beg for small concessions. It is obvious that their partnership is not between equals.

As a result, the influence of MCA and other minority parties is contained and constrained by Umno and its behaviour in the coalition. The power-sharing and consensus-driven relationship has been eroded after the general election, after MCA and other minority parties lost badly.

Most of the key policy decisions - such as the ban on the use of 'Allah', arbitrary use of the Internal Security Act against civilians, and price hikes - are made solely by Umno without proper consultation with its partners. MCA, like opposition parties, is reduced to merely voicing dissatisfaction via the party-controlled media.

Hence, it is not wise for the party to hinge its political direction on Umno. The latter is not going to change its direction and policy in the near future. Politically, Umno is still the most dominant party.

It has created an impressive patronage system which includes the public institutions, monarchy, elites and legal coercive forces. This patronage system is not easily dismantled or defeated.

anwar ibrahim special briefing 280209Ironically, many Malaysians were naive enough to believe that Opposition Leader Anwar Ibrahim was on the verge of bringing this whole system down through his grand defection plan. If the plan had been anywhere close to fruition, Umno would have reacted beyond just plotting the downfall of the Perak government.

The whole point is that Umno can afford to remain communal. The MCA will continue to pay a huge price for not being a competent communal player. It does not have any visible leverage against Umno. The party can only play second fiddle at best in the coalition.

MCA will be reminded that it was a beneficiary of Umno's support in the 15 parliamentary seats that it won. Despite losing more than half its parliamentary seats, it was still given the same number of cabinet positions. This is another area for which Umno will claim credit.

Lead reform of BN

Here is where the dilemma lies. As long as MCA is seen to be supportive and protective of Umno, it will not be able to regain lost ground. All the opposition parties need to do is avoid shooting themselves in the foot to win the next general election and act totally the opposite of Umno.

najib deneis allegations of buying state assembly person 260209 01In this regard, the MCA should be bold in overhauling the coalition instead of waiting for Umno to do so. Its leaders should stop placing all hope in Najib Abdul Razak's leadership, as this has not created any positive public reaction. The only ones who are euphoric are BN leaders. Najib's low popularity among the Chinese and Indian is not helpful to either MCA or MIC.

If MCA cannot persuade Umno to be more reasonable, to allow the public institutions to be independent, to restore public confidence, to respect the rule of law, to address corruption, to embrace all minorities as equals and to respect the status of all religions, then it should leave the coalition, rebrand the party as a multiracial party or become strictly a business organisation.

The last option of leaving competitive politics may not be a bad choice. The party can use its business clout and connections to influence any government.. It does not have to fear losing the support of the community or allow its fate to be dictated by another competitive communal party.

After 60 years, MCA should wake up to the fact that Umno is not its natural partner.. If PAS and DAP are odd bedfellows, both MCA and Umno are competitors in a race-based coalition.

History has proven that race-based political parties will come to a head-on clash if each is committed to protecting the interests of its own race. MCA and Umno’s relationship is sustained only because the former was willing to accept a dominant partner and is willing to concede key concessions to the latter.

MCA is celebrating its 60th anniversary as a political party. It should reorient itself with the changing facets of  politics and undertake soul searching, including a sincere and open assessment of the party's direction, sense of purpose and place in the political milieu.

It can redeem itself only by being truthful. Not even a Ong-Chua strong partnership can help the party although it might keep everyone focused on the challenging tasks at hand.
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