By Kee Thuan Chye
Post-GE13 (13th general election), the MCA is looking more lost than ever before. It is like the partygoer who is all dressed up with nowhere to go. Except that in its case, its dress is somewhat tattered and its face rather bruised after the beating it took at the polls. From the 15 parliamentary seats it held prior to GE13, it now has only seven – and for this poor showing, it has had to heed the call of its president, Chua Soi Lek, to refrain from taking positions in government, including the Cabinet.
Way before GE13, Chua had taken the ill-advised stand that if the MCA did not get enough voter support, it would play no part in government. He had expected then that the Chinese community the party claims to represent would largely abandon it, and in order to win them back sought to make them fear that a government without MCA representation would be disastrous.
Too bad for him and the party, the strategy didn’t work. Simply because fear-mongering and threats don’t go down well with Malaysian voters any more, especially if they can think for themselves and opt to do the right thing. Besides, the Chinese already knew that MCA participation in the government was little more than endorsing whatever big brother Umno decided, rather than fighting for the community. So they dealt the MCA its biggest blow.
Now, because of Chua’s hubris, all and sundry among the MCA leaders have to abide by his foolish stand. And, naturally, this is bound to cause disgruntlement among its ranks. And likely mutiny.
Already, in Johor, Tee Siew Keong has defied the order by accepting an executive councillor position. In response, the party’s presidential council has suspended him for three years. It did not go so far as to sack him, but its action is enough to cause uneasiness.
Last week, vice-president Donald Lim Siang Chai reportedly said Chua should admit he was wrong about his stand and call for an extraordinary general meeting to review the order. But this drew Chua’s ire – apart from insisting that the decision was a collective one made by the party’s central committee, he lashed out at Lim for having been one of those who endorsed it.
Lim, however, maintained that Chua was the “key figure” behind the decision, and that no one in the central committee had dared to object.
Since then, only a few days ago, a high-ranking party leader who declined to be named has publicly acknowledged agreement with Chua that the decision was made collectively, but he also said it was a “collective mistake”.
“And we must collectively correct that mistake,” he added.
Chua must be a poor student of human nature not to have seen this coming. No one who has experienced being in a position of some power before would want to give it up without rancour. Not if they feel they are entitled to it as leaders of a senior component party of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition.
Even though in the past Cabinets, the MCA had been holding ministerial portfolios of lesser significance than those of Umno, its ministers had nonetheless benefitted in numerous ways, not least of which was acquiring prominence, if not riches as well. (Let’s not go to the extent of the Port Klang Free Zone scandal, though.) Now, however, they have become virtual nobodies. It takes getting used to. Or maybe never.
Chua may not understand the loss his colleagues are now experiencing because although he was once a minister himself, he was not eventually deprived of it because of some unpopular party ruling. In his case, he was compelled to step down – even if the decision were his own – by his own carelessness and indiscretion, in carrying on a sexual assignation in the same premises over a period of time and therefore facilitating discovery. As such, he had no one to blame for losing his office.
This is, however, not the case with, for example, his current deputy, Liow Tiong Lai, who was health minister before GE13. If not for the ruling, he would have easily been made minister again. In fact, Prime Minister Najib Razak has left the transport minister position open; if the MCA changes its stand, Liow could be the man to fill it. If not Ong Tee Keat.
Understandably, then, Liow is showing signs of defiance too by defending Lim and telling off Chua for censuring the latter. Beneath that defiance must lurk a sense of frustration and perhaps unhappiness over a missed opportunity.
These personal issues aside, it must be understood that the MCA is a party that has been used to being in government since even before independence. Now that it’s not, it would naturally feel lost and disconnected. Indeed, one of the fundamental dilemmas it now faces is, what is the role it should play?
It is still part of the ruling coalition, but it has no governing role. Does this make it any better off than an Opposition party? How should it address public issues?
Of course, it could now prove itself to truly represent the Chinese by being more vocal about matters that disfavour the community, such as racially discriminatory policies and practices, cronyism and rent-seeking. It could also speak up on issues that affect the nation as a whole, and even criticise wrong measures taken by the Government. That would indeed be serving the people. But would it dare to do so?
On the other hand, if it doesn’t, what is it functioning for?
Did Chua foresee this central dilemma before he pushed through the motion concerning no government positions? Did he anticipate the state the MCA would find itself in?
Clearly, the MCA needs to redefine itself. Whereas the Chinese electorate, especially in the last five to six years, has moved ahead of the political game, the party is still caught in a time warp. Only a minority of Chinese Malaysians still see the need for a Chinese-based party; most others welcome multi-racialism.
In any case, they don’t expect much more from a government than fair treatment, respect for their rights as citizens, good governance, corrupt-free leadership. They don’t even dream of having a Chinese prime minister, despite what some Umno provocateurs would have us believe. To them, a party of any race, or a combination of races, would win their vote as long as it provided the necessities.
In this regard, even if the MCA ceased to be, it wouldn’t matter. GE13 proved that to be so.
As such, the big challenge for the MCA now is to face the new paradigm and decide what it needs to do to be relevant not only for now but also for the future. If it continues to deny that things have changed and that the electorate has moved on, it will be doomed.
It will become a party that is all messed up with nowhere to go.
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the bestselling books No More Bullshit, Please, We’re All Malaysians and Ask for No Bullshit, Get Some More!