Datuk Seri Chua Soi Lek after winning the post of MCA deputy president
MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek was at his lowest ebb at the start of 2008 when his affair with a woman friend was videotaped and circulated, ostensibly to bring him down.
Despite the scandal of having his private life videotaped, Chua’s assertive leadership and his strong grassroots network ensured a resounding comeback in the MCA’s politics during the party’s October 2008 annual general assembly. Less than a year after he had to resign from all government and party posts, the medical doctor was voted by MCA delegates to be the party’s new deputy president.
However, the new line-up of MCA central committee members is widely perceived as an attempt by party president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat to sideline Chua, who was formerly health minister.
Chua’s response thus far has been to assert that he has neither asked to be a cabinet minister nor a candidate in the general election. The MCA’s reform, he stressed, was more important than having a cabinet post.
In an interview with The Nut Graph at the MCA headquarters on 17 Nov 2008, Chua talks about the obstacles to reforms post-March general election.
TNG: Both the MCA and the Barisan Nasional (BN) have talked about reforms after the March 2008 general election. But the controversies from the “squatters” remarks by a state Umno leader and the September 2008 detentions under the Internal Security Act (ISA) showed that reforms are rhetorical.
Chua: I agree that after March 2008, the BN and MCA are still the same and have hardly changed, to a certain degree.
So how are the MCA and BN going to push for reforms?
Our biggest problem is the two major component parties, Umno and the MCA. [Both were meant to have] their party elections this year (Umno’s elections have been postponed to March 2009).
Umno is also undergoing transition for the top leadership. This has an impact on the MCA and Umno’s reforms.
So I hope that after the MCA party elections, central committee leaders who have the delegates’ mandate can sit down and think seriously about how to close ranks, unite the party, and move forward in reforming the party.
But it seems that the war of words has become more frequent between you and party president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat after the party polls?
People have different opinions in a party. You can agree to disagree, and find consensus from differences in opinion.
What is the first step for the MCA’s reform?
The first step should be the reduction of racist remarks [from politicians]. [The MCA] should focus on issue-oriented matters.
Second, apart from defending [Chinese Malaysian] interests, we should fight for the rights of all citizens on education, religion, using a multiethnic approach. We need to admit that this country is multiethnic in composition. We do not need to have confrontation, or be emotional about issues. We should be more accommodating and have tolerance for the different opinions of other ethnic groups.
The MCA has publicly protested against the ISA in the last few months. But lately, MCA parliamentarians refused to sign an opposition-initiated petition to discuss the ISA in parliament.
If the MCA wants to protest against the ISA, they do not need to protest via the opposition. As a component party of the government with ministerial positions, the MCA has a direct channel to make known their stand [against the ISA].
When MCA parliamentarians do not take part in activities by the opposition, it does not mean that the MCA does not support or disagrees with the issues highlighted by the opposition. It is only that [we] use different ways to achieve the same objective.
Some Umno politicians feel that it is unfair to pass the blame to them for the BN’s dismal performance in the last general election. What do you think?
I agree with their opinion. And I never said that [Umno is responsible]. The party (MCA) has to take responsibility, especially when we are a Chinese-based political party. We always claim that we lead Chinese Malaysians, and we are the bridge between Chinese Malaysians and the government, right? So, we need to understand Chinese Malaysians’ voices, their demands, and ideals. If the MCA and the government cannot play their roles effectively, it is natural that Chinese Malaysians feel upset with the MCA.
And we do not need to refute the fact that Umno is the backbone of the BN because Umno has the highest number of parliamentarians and state assemblypersons.
The Chinese Malaysian community are very unhappy with MCA leaders who have not stood up and spoken out.
The MCA was not able to sense the sentiment for change, and the anti-government mood of Chinese Malaysians (before the 8 March elections).
Was that because the MCA has been in power for far too long?
Yes. Any political party, which is in power for too long, would normally become complacent. Leaders would take for granted the people’s support. We are not the only ones who have faced this. It has happened in many democratic countries.
“If MCA and the government cannot play their roles effec-
tively, it is natural that Chinese Malaysians feel upset with
the MCA“Do you think that the MCA is ready to face the challenge of change?
I think that we are not ready yet, especially when the party elections have just concluded.
What if a general election is called by next year, can the MCA gain back lost ground?
I don’t want to talk about a general election. It is too early to talk about it.
So you think that MCA is not ready yet to fulfil the demands of Chinese Malaysians?
Yes. But as long as we are serious and sincere in our reforms, and transform ourselves, we still have enough time [to regain the support].
Do you think that the sex scandal will block your re-appointment as a cabinet minister?
People who dislike me will always use this excuse. They will continue to use it. A renowned scholar once said morality is an attitude you adopt against people you don’t like. It is as simple as that. I never said that [the sex scandal] is not an obstruction, and those who dislike me will always use this to attack me.
For instance, if you have been jailed, even after you are freed people who dislike you will keep talking about it to attack you. But if they like you, they will say even if the person was a prisoner before, we should assist him to find the right path, and that society should accept the person. If you don’t like (Datuk Seri) Anwar (Ibrahim), you will always mention that he was jailed, and talk about his sodomy case. But if you like him, all these are not issues at all. Anwar has a much bigger obstacle [than I do], right?
Are you confident you will be re-appointed as cabinet minister?
I have to have confidence in order to survive [in politics].
Do you feel that you have been sidelined?
Yes. But it is not merely sidelined. I leave it to the public and MCA members to judge for themselves.
Would it be harder for you to work as you have limited space in the party now?
Not really. Since being active at the division level, I have always been suppressed. I am not someone who likes to please people. I am a person who calls a spade a spade.
And this is not easy for you in politics?
I don’t like to say something that is insincere to gain people’s support. I have always been like that. I don’t think I can change. It is too late. (smiles)
Will you contest the MCA presidency in three years?
I have not stabilised my post as deputy, and you ask me about the presidency? The media moves faster than me.
Tan Sri Pandikar Amin Mulia resigned as Kota Marudu Umno division chief after he was appointed as Dewan Rakyat Speaker to avoid any conflict of interest. Do you think that the newly-appointed MCA secretary-general Datuk Wong Foon Meng should quit as well as Senate deputy president?
[For] this, you have to ask [the party] president. I believe that the president should have considered this [when he appointed Wong].
How do you see the relationship between MCA and Umno?
I don’t think there is any big problem between the MCA and Umno. Race-based parties have their own worth. I never said they don’t have any problems, but they need to change. [They should] work based on issues, not on race.
Do you think that Umno harps on racial issues?
That’s because of their party election.
Just as you have observed, some MCA leaders were vocal before the party election. They have kept silent after that. So, you can observe some of them are “political actors”. Only a handful of leaders are consistent in their stand regardless of party elections.
Soi Lek speaking as deputy president during the MCA
annual general meetingSince your affair was exposed, you have personally experienced how the media has downplayed you. As the newly-elected MCA deputy president, do you think the party is able to make a clear stand of not influencing media coverage?
This is not under my discretion. I can only ask the media to be fair. Only when the [traditional] media is independent will people have confidence in the media. That is why online media is becoming popular.
Some senior journalists [from the traditional media] refused to greet me [after the sex video scandal]. It was not that they did not see me. But they pretended they did not see me. I don’t mind. As a human being, I accept every challenge. For me, it is nothing. Some business people also declined to meet me. Only the leaders of Chinese associations have supported me all this while.
But has that changed after you became deputy?
Not really. But I don’t mind. As long as you speak from the heart, you will always say the same [thing]. No need for [my] secretary to request for amendments [from the media]. I have been a government official since I was an executive councillor [in Johor]. I have never requested to amend my statements, as long as the reports are factual.