MCA Unity Crisis – Do You Really Know MCA?

If you are a Malaysian, coffee drinking, have a small mortgage and not a member of the MCA, there is a high chance you might not know a lot about the 60-year-old party–other than what M, C and A stands for. There is a high chance, however, you know something about caffeine addiction and refinancing.

Because the flurry of information coming from the various MCA leaders are so cryptic you would think it is some form of advanced Esperanto.

So for the benefit of the non-news junkie, here is the “MCA: A guide for dummies (circa 2009).” An abridged overview of the MCA and prognosis.

MCA is officially the first lieutenant to UMNO in the BN. There is no other way to begin describing the party. There is no other way to explain the future of the party.

This patronising definition is a badge the party willingly wears today.

In the early days they gave in to UMNO’s hegemony since the Alliance was funded by the MCA anyway.

The party was set up to support commerce and procure citizenship in a time of Communist insurgency of the early 1950s. They were happy being second in politics.

However, they underplayed the effects of leaving power to UMNO–carte blanche assimilation of regional migrants as constitutional Malays, high birth-rate in rural regions, religious conversion-cum-ethnic conversion, Islamisation of the civil service and high-barriers to citizenship for the Chinese–resulting in a dominant demographical shift–ethnic Chinese in a steady decline.

That is why the party will continue to wither in influence, irrespective of who will come out tops in the current power-play. That’s a major factor in the prognosis.

Still, as a matter of hubris MCA loves being number two in the 14-party BN.

Crises points–the formation of Gerakan by ex-MCA leaders, 1969 General Election and riots, mid-80s Tan Koon Swan-Neo Yee Pan power struggle and the fixed term limits as a knee-jerk to the Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik years and 2008 General Election–have had UMNO unwilling to reconsider the place of MCA in its national government.

MCA kept its four ministers in the slightly reduced Cabinet of 29 after last year’s election–even if less impressive than the three out of 12 they had in 1960, losing permanently the Finance Ministry along the way.

Summary: MCA as a non-ideological party with ethnic exclusivity has gravitas in 10 states in the peninsula, while competing internally with Gerakan (and maybe a little with PPP) for the BN base. It is losing more than gaining younger literate eligible citizens. And it worries and sulks in equal measure about DAP and PKR.

Which brings us to the present “leadership musical chairs.” It can be said since the tail-end of the Ling administration there has been clear-cut factionalism in the party.

The convergence of the information age–freer media, blogs, SMS battles–and young leaders with less sedentary disposition to authority has forced the situation. The potential for a long open bitter feud was always there, only modern democratic tools were missing.

The players then.

Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat emerged from relative obscurity as the man who beat former Selangor mentri besar Datuk Harun Idris in Ampang Jaya in a famous 1989 by-election. Despite being a giant-killer he has never been known to be dynamic. He just rose through the ranks and kept going and now is president. Kept his nose clean and avoided scandal.

On the other side of the track, it was only natural after Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek worked his way back into reckoning after the videotape debacle in 2008–setting him back from the MCA elite–he would be gun for the presidency.

So after a series of subterfuges and clandestine activities, Ong won the mandate to lead the party and Chua as deputy. If only Ong left it as is, talked the prime minister to reinstate Chua to the Cabinet and allowed for a period of calm.

The ensuing open dispute between them forced members to choose sides and the mayhem has gone on for more than a year.

Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak would have felt the worse was over, getting both Ong and Chua to agree to peace, even if it was relative peace.

But since, the third force–actually there are various permutations of this group, some have hinted to yet more sides to join the fray–has come in asking for party process to bring a conclusion to the dispute, not UMNO peacekeeping.

They have a point. There have been Teams A and B in MCA for decades, just the faces change, and perhaps getting an external arbitrator only puts off the fight and retains frostiness inside the party, therefore weakening in even further.

You could have said pre-1990s the leadership core of MCA were English-educated, but since then the party has been overrun by the Chinese-educated.

UMNO and MCA leaders before that were both English-educated. Ling, Tan Sri Lee San Choon, HS Lee and Tun Omar Ong Yoke Lin are just some prominent examples.

UMNO leaders, who are still largely English-educated, can’t begin to understand the workings of the MCA in its present shape now.

Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai leads the clique seeking an internal solution to the party and is seen as a major hiccup to the Najib Ong-Chua compromise, therefore keeping things fiery.

Najib then cleverly retracted his hand in the quagmire by passing the duty to his deputy Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin–who is buying time so that he does not get dragged down by the problems of UMNO’s “main” partner.

MCA has to be wary of its apologist attitude to UMNO. A party depending on the determination of another party undermines its own ability and, more importantly, purpose. If UMNO can decide the leadership problems of the MCA, then there is no reason they can’t provide the leadership for all MCA members too.

Plus, every MCA leader thereafter will serve two masters, the party president and, more importantly, the UMNO president.

The cynic is likelier to point out that that is the case already. MCA lives by the coat-tails of UMNO, and may be dispensed of when UMNO is done with it.

But there are bigger issues once the leadership crisis is resolved. If MCA is not keen on democratic principles to resolve its in-house problems, what is its commitment to democratic principles generally in the country they govern as the “second in command” party?

If the party is ever shrinking, how does it continue to matter nationally. No business entity has a shrinking market model as a basis to become a better business interest. How does MCA escape that inevitability?

The tale of past president Tun Tan Siew Sin is often recounted, on how by staying loyal to UMNO for years he was harbouring hopes of becoming deputy prime minister since he was already the finance minister and increasingly the most senior member of the Cabinet.

That never materialised because UMNO likes MCA as its number two, and nothing more than that. No MCA leader is to see himself above that glass ceiling.

Maybe that is what MCA should be thinking about these days, its own future in Malaysian politics, not the petty differences in a party in decline–that is the prognosis.

For now they are a nowhere party with attractive assets, waiting for the exit door. (By Praba Ganesan/The Malaysian Insider)

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