(This post was originally published at The Malaysian Insider)
The latest round of MCA elections is producing a huge yawn, especially from the non-Chinese public. Is the Malaysian public being fair or is it doing a disservice to the party and the leaders offering themselves for national leadership?
Should the Chinese electorate be more charitable to Ong Tee Keat, Liow Tiong Lai and Gan Ping Sieu who are campaigning for the right to represent the party and the Chinese community in the government of the day?
Should we take them seriously and believe in their promises on how they intend to turn the party’s fortunes around and help the MCA regain a position of strength and respect in Malaysian politics?
Assessing the presidential candidates
Firstly, it must be noted that none of those standing in the presidential or vice-presidential race are exactly political newbies.
They are far from being the new faces or new blood required to provide the party with fresh ideas to ensure a new lease of life. Instead, they are political veterans who have been in the party all their political lives.
In the process, they have fought their way to the top in a party which many have condemned on account of the venality of its leaders. They are also part of a BN leadership that has maintained power through a combination of dirty tricks and ruthless application of divide and rule tactics.
Secondly, it has been in the party’s DNA to look out only for itself and for its leaders to use the party as a means of self aggrandizement and self glorification.
Since Tan Koon Swan’s time (even this is arguable since Tan was quickly neutralised by the powers that be, and was not really tested on his promise to stand up to Umno bullying), no MCA leader has had the stomach to take a contrary position against the biased and discriminatory national policies drafted by civil servants, let along take on Umno in its “ketuanan Melayu” and “ketuanan Islam” ideology.
It is clear that whoever wins will continue in the quest to have the MCA stay in the BN at all cost even when the evidence is that the Chinese and the larger Malaysian electorate have given up on them and want the party to break away from the BN for failing to live up to the original spirit of Merdeka and democratic norms agreed to by the first leaders of our country.
Umno’s position on the MCA
It is also necessary to note that Umno – for all the talk about its disappointment with MCA’s poor elections performance – prefers to have a weak and even broken Chinese party within the BN.
This way, Umno can share fewer ministerial positions and other goodies as well as still afford to throw out crumbs to a smaller group. This means it can thump its breast about how ungrateful the Chinese are, and how generous and loyal Umno is, despite the impotency of its Chinese partner.
In private political circles, most analysts see the MCA as part of the walking dead. But it is still useful to Umno which wants MCA to remain afloat – even if only as a mosquito party.
As others have pointed out, should the party’s supporters dwindle to a few thousand, there will always be opportunistic individuals ever ready to make the claim that they can speak up for Chinese Malaysians.
The reality is that even if the MCA is rejected decisively at the polls and comprises an insignificant electoral force, this small handful of individuals will still want to share in the spoils of the BN power monopoly especially the GLC directorships; favoured access to lucrative government contracts; datukships and tan sriships; and other perks and privileges available to BN leaders and their camp followers.
MCA’s position on fighting corruption
If this negative assumption is contested, there are simple ways to test the current batch of aspiring leaders and their sincerity and commitment to change.
One put forward by vice-presidential hopeful and MCA assemblyman for Gurun, Leong Yong Kong, calls for his party colleagues to support a parliamentary motion that would cut across party lines on the issue of corruption.
The motion would require candidates for party posts to make a vow to make the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission and the Attorney General answerable directly to Parliament.
This idea is not a new or earth-shattering one. The opposition political parties, independent analysts and NGOs have been making this demand for many years – in fact, several decades.
Not surprisingly, although invitations were sent out to nearly all of the 72 MCA leaders contesting in the December 21 party elections, not a single representative attended the pledge ceremony.
According to reports, when confronted by an empty hall, Leong lamented: “If we cannot come here personally, can’t we send a representative? Perhaps they are giving utmost importance to their personal glory, above the interest of the country. Please be reminded that the perception is going to affect how we fare in the 14th general election.”
Leong must be living in cuckoo land if he thinks MCA leaders are able to take the lead on any major issue without Umno’s permission! He is also obviously blind to the public perception that the party’s chiefs – past and present – are corrupt and should be among the first to face independent investigation.
If corruption is too difficult a subject for the MCA leadership hopefuls to do anything about, what about issues such as a meritocratic society (contained in Ong’s manifesto) or inclusiveness and equality (dirty words in certain political circles but they are found in Gan’s manifesto)?
Even Liow’s wishy-washy manifesto with its meaningless reaffirmation on upholding MCA’s political standing and power, and institutionalising Chinese education and Chinese culture can be expected to evaporate when it comes up against a resurgent and arrogant Umno that is in reverse gear on racial and religious equality.
Best for the MCA presidential aspirants to confine their vision to doing the social welfare and community work done by Michael Chong or the Social Welfare Department. At least they will not then be accused of false promises.
What the public wants
Members of the public do not expect MCA leaders to work wonders or miracles. All they want is for the party to stand up to Umno and fight for the rights – socio-economic and political – of minority voter Malaysians that have been sacrificed on the altar of political opportunism during the last 40 years of the New Economic Policy (NEP).