Strong-headed: Ong Tee Keat (left) and Chua Soi Lek
THERE are two heavyweights currently in the MCA ring. But what do party president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat and his sacked deputy Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek represent? And what consequence will the fight between the both of them have?
After all, the split in the party boils down to plain rivalry between two equally strong-headed individuals. And this would not be the first time MCA leaders are bitterly fighting each other. Additionally, with the MCA’s star waning ever since the 2008 general election, what will it mean if one or the other comes out tops in the MCA ring?
Despite both Chua and Ong being strong-willed, dominant and outspoken, Prof Dr Chin Yew Sin, president of the Oriental Strategy Research Centre, describes Chua’s leadership style as “accommodating” whereas Ong is “uncompromising”.
Ong is not known to be the sort of politician who panders to those hoping to use his ministerial powers for business or personal benefit. He is less prone to “giving or saving face”, an important ethos in Chinese culture.
As such, some in the commercial sector feel that Ong’s style has alienated traditional business forces.
Ong Ka Ting
On the other hand, some see him as a Chinese Malaysian leader who is finally able to stand up to Umno. Such feelings of being second-fiddle to Umno were unleashed by outgoing MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting at the 2008 party annual general meeting, where he said power-sharing in the BN was mere lip service.
That leaves Chua as someone more amenable, from Umno’s point of view, at least. That he works well with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak and deputy premier Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin is an open secret given his days in the Johor state government when Muhyiddin was menteri besar. And Najib appointed him BN chief coordinator for the Pakatan Rakyat (PR)-controlled states soon after Chua said he was being courted by PR, and following his marginalisation within MCA.
On Chua’s side
But Chua rebuffs accusations that he is an Umno puppet. “If I am close to Muhyiddin and Najib, it’s because they are friends. Can I not have my own friends? These are lies created by Ong to make me look bad,” he tells The Nut Graph in a phone interview.
He also says he did not expect his appointment as BN chief coordinator to quieten Ong’s attempts to oust him. “On the contrary, it hastened my expulsion because Ong feels threatened.”
Asked again about joining PR, he said: “I will never leave the party. I am in for a fight”.
Indeed, while there may be a shift in preference towards multiracial politics among the younger, Western-educated and urban voters, Chua does not believe the time for mixed race politics has come. In an interview with The Nut Graph in May 2009, he said race-based parties would be here to stay for as long as there are Malay privileges.
Put all of Chua’s statements on his personal morals and political beliefs in context and it’s easy to see why he insists on fighting Ong rather than join PR.
Chua is a BN loyalist. He believes in the practical reality, even necessity, of race-based parties. He feels he has already paid his dues over his sexual indiscretion, caught on video and then distributed by enemies he says, by admitting guilt and immediately resigning from all party and government posts.
Standing up to Umno
The MCA is struggling to
“Whatever MCA says in the cabinet, it is considered the view of the Chinese [Malaysian] community,” says Chin. But with the current crisis, because both Ong and Chua are equally strong party personalities, Chin believes that the party’s strength is already halved no matter who emerges as victor.
“How will a weakened MCA represent Chinese [Malaysian] interests in the government? Umno cannot respect MCA if it is not strong,” Chin tells The Nut Graph over the phone.
Chin may have a point. Since the 2008 general election, the MCA, second largest component party in the Barisan Nasional (BN), has been struggling to reassert itself. Umno has also been quick to blame MCA over the loss of Chinese Malaysian votes for the BN. At the same time, there is what many believe to be “creeping Islamisation” going hand in glove with strident calls of “Bangkit Melayu“.
New political culture?
In the meantime, however, Ong is capitalising on his clean image and plans for party reform, even if it means exposing the misdeeds of former MCA presidents.
He told theSun recently that he did not expect the Port Klang Free Zone scandal to become intertwined with his MCA career. “I mean business and I tried so hard to bring in a new political culture,” he told the daily.
MCA non-governmental organisation liaison bureau chief Datuk Ti Lian Ker describes Ong’s quest as an attempt to create a new political culture that “breaks away from the past where MCA’s leadership is dictated to by external forces, which include influences from Chinese businesses and societies, and Umno“.
It’s an uphill task, considering that Chinese Malaysians at large do not share a set system of values or norms, the way Malay Malaysians adhere to Islam and Malay customs.
MCA’s own think-tank head, Fui K Soong of the Institute of Strategic Analysis and Policy Research, once told The Nut Graph that the MCA is not seen as a pillar of Chinese Malaysian society and competes with thousands of other Chinese-based groups and associations. The disparity in values was reflected in differing reactions to Chua’s videoed affair with a woman who was not his wife.
“There is a need for strong leadership to dictate a common value system. So the outcome of this crisis is about what kind of political culture we are trying to create,” says Ti in a phone interview.
Shi Huang Di (public domain / Wiki Commons)
But Chin feels the impending extraordinary general meeting (EGM), where Chua’s supporters hope to reinstate him and move a motion against Ong, is less about morality or character than plain anger at the double-jeopardy slapped on Chua.
“His supporters feel it is unfair that he is being punished twice,” says Chin.
It says something then about Ong as a politician and his ability to work with others if he willingly makes enemies and deals ruthlessly with detractors. The goal of his “new political culture” may be to make MCA equal partners with Umno and to instil a common value system. But he may be no different from Shi Huang Di, China’s first emperor who subdued the warring states and ruled with an iron fist.
Chua, in contrast, seems to be a pragmatic sort of leader who works within the confines. Perhaps this is what makes him a true politician vis-à-vis managing the different interests within MCA and the BN.
Which style will work better for the MCA as Umno’s partner in the BN, and for Chinese Malaysians in the current context? Whichever it may be, MCA is already bruised by this latest of infighting.
And the majority of Chinese Malaysians will likely remain as disparate as they have always been, posing a continuing challenge for the MCA and the BN to regain their support in the next general election.
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