Malaysia: MCA and Chinese Representation


James Chin

Come 20 August, there will be a contest of sorts in the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the second biggest party in the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition. Unlike UMNO where 'no contest' for the top two posts has become almost a tradition, all the top 6 positions (president, deputy president, and four vice-president positions) will be hotly contested. Leading the challenge is Jimmy Chua Jui Meng, former Health Minister and a Christian evangelist, who will take on Ong Ka Ting, the incumbent president. Another former Minister, Ting Chew Peh, will take on Chan Kong Choy, the incumbent deputy president. Nine candidates will vie for the four vice-presidency posts.

This coming contest has attracted much more attention because back in 2003, party elections were scrapped when Dr. Mahathir, then Prime Minister, imposed a 'peace deal' between Team A (led by Ling Leong Sik) and Team B (led by Lim Ah Lek). Under the deal, both Ling and Lim retired prematurely and they were replaced by their protégés, Ong and Chan, as president and deputy president of the MCA, respectively. The bitterness generated during the 'cold war' between Team A and B has not evaporated although many of the combatants have realigned themselves. Observers say Chan Kong Choy has left Team B and has now firmed behind Ong, while former president Ling Leong Sik is said to be unhappy with Ong, his hand picked successor and protégé. Many Team B members have been sidelined in the past two years and are gearing up for political payback.

While the contest gives the impression that MCA is much more democratic than UMNO, intellectuals in the Chinese community do not see the MCA contests in a positive light. Many of them see MCA as mere apologists for UMNO policies, which are often seen as detrimental to the Chinese community, especially on issues concerning Chinese culture, schools and language. In many public forums, the MCA is often berated for 'leaving' politics and concentrating on 'welfare' issues. Given UMNO's omnipresence in the government, one should not seriously expect the MCA to challenge UMNO openly. This 'toothless' tiger image has meant that for most Malaysian Chinese, the coming MCA contests is really about payback, personalities, personal gain and factional politics.

Perhaps the ones most keenly observing the coming contests will be UMNO itself. UMNO wants to know that Ong and Chan, the beneficiaries of the UMNO peace plan, can unite the party and, more importantly, can claim to be the legitimate leaders of MCA. This will make it easier for UMNO to deal with the Chinese community.

WATCHPOINT: Ong Ka Ting will win the MCA polls. But Jimmy Chua Jui Meng is likely to get at least 20 per cent of the votes. If Chua gets more than 35 per cent, it will seriously damage Ong Ka Ting's credibility and show that MCA is far from united.


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