PETALING JAYA, 30 April 2009: MCA deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek has publicly admitted for the first time that he is being courted by Pakatan Rakyat parties.
He has been turning the idea of defecting over and over in his mind ever since it was proposed following the sex video scandal that resulted in his resignation from all party and government posts in January 2008.
Blogs have been speculating about the possibility of Chua leaving the MCA and Barisan Nasional (BN), but the former health minister has yet to make up his mind. He has, however, no qualms speaking openly about it.
“There are approaches made to me to jump ship. I should not deny it, because sooner or later this thing will come out in the open,” he told The Nut Graph in an exclusive interview yesterday.
He said he has also received suggestions that his son, Labis Member of Parliament (MP) Chua Tee Yong, should quit the party as well.
“[Leaving the party was one of the] many options being tossed around. That’s true. A lot of people have seen me quietly. A lot of people also want me to persuade my son to resign as an MP, thereby forcing a by-election.
“And since Johor has always been regarded as the fortress of the BN, that would be a good testing ground,” he said.
Chua said he has not yet considered which party he would join if he left the MCA. He declined to reveal which parties had approached him.
“The options are very limited,” he noted.
Despite the sex video scandal, Chua is more tenacious than his opponents may have bargained for. He has definitely not faded into political oblivion. Indeed, he was returned uncontested as the MCA Batu Pahat division chief in the divisional polls last July.
Ong Tee Keat In the October party polls, his popularity was again proven when he beat then secretary-general Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan in the deputy president’s contest. Despite his political comeback within the MCA, the offers for him to join another party have continued as the rift between him and president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat remains open.
Despite Ong’s denials that he was isolating Chua, the deputy president now feels his role in the MCA is diminished. Chua said his position as head of the bureau required him to be critical, but his comments were not accepted.
“I’m willing to resign [from the bureau]. My character is such that if I cannot function in a role that I’m given, I’m willing, and I’m seriously considering resigning,” he said.
Noncommittal about when he would decide to leave the MCA, Chua said the recent spate of by-elections has kept him with the party because of his loyalties to the BN.
“This is the party where I’ve spent over 20 years. As a party man, when it’s time to contribute to the party, I should do it. During the recent by-elections, I played a role. It’s not good for me to jump ship just like that; people will say you are just an opportunist.”
But the writing appears to be on the wall, and Chua admitted that he is at a crossroads.
“I don’t jump ship because I’m disgruntled and unhappy. I don’t think I will do that. I will jump ship only when I find I have no meaningful role to play,” he said.
TNG: Tell us about your role as head of your party’s government policy-monitoring bureau.
Chua: You can say my role is very limited despite being the second man in the second largest component party. Limited in the sense that I do not hold any government post.
As for being chairman of the monitoring bureau, I used to be very active the first three months. After that I found that by being critical of other people, somehow or other people don’t take kindly to me. They think I have a very personal agenda. So I thought, if society is like that, they don’t want others to be critical, then I come to accept the fact that I should be more toned down.
So, how is the bureau functioning now?
I must admit that it’s not been functioning in the last four months.
You’re saying this in public?
Oh, it’s okay, I’m even willing to resign. My character is such that if I cannot function in a role that I’m given, I’m willing, and I’m seriously considering resigning.
You aside, the bureau has an important function?
It has a role to play if people can take it in an open-minded manner. But the problem is when I open my mouth, people say I have a personal agenda.
So the problem is how you’re still perceived in the party.
Ya, and I don’t want to fight against this perception all my life lah. Why should I want to?
Other than that, what has it been like since you were elected deputy president?
Very free. I only attend presidential council and central committee meetings. Nobody refers anything to me nowadays.
Ultimately how does that make you feel?
I don’t feel upset. I feel that the time has come when people assign you that role which is a no-role, then I play the no-role business lah.
Are there restrictions placed on you?
There are no restrictions, but everything is very subtle. I give you an example: when the government imposed double the levy on foreign workers in certain sectors of the economy, don’t you think this matter comes under the party’s government policy-monitoring bureau? And yet the presidential council makes a decision to leave it to the Public Complaints Bureau. So I’m not going to fight with people to work.
Another example is how my son (Tee Yong) and [I] worked together on a proposal for the government to take over PLUS. My son was also invited to make a presentation to the presidential council. After that I thought the party would say, that as the head of the bureau, I should be heading the task force. But I’m not; the party appointed a different person.
So the gist of it [is], I’m not going to fight with people to work. If people want to put up obstacles in a very subtle and clever way so that I cannot function properly, then let it be.
Journalists surrounding Chua after he was elected MCA deputy president.
Behind him, in glasses, is his son Tee Yong
In the light of all this, there were internet rumours that you might leave the party.
There are many options being tossed around, and one of the options is to leave the party. That’s true. A lot of people have seen me quietly. A lot of people also want me to persuade my son to resign as an MP, thereby forcing a by-election. And since Johor has always been regarded as the fortress of the BN, that would be a good testing ground.
And your reaction to these suggestions?
I’ve been a party man for nearly 25 years. I have to give deep thoughts to these suggestions before making any final decision. As for my son, I always leave it to him to decide. Because there are people telling my son that however hard you work, chances are you might not even be the candidate the next round.
If you leave, which party would you join?
I’ve not given serious consideration to it. But the options are very limited also.
Which is the most attractive party?
I think they’re all almost the same, nowadays. It’s either PKR or the DAP.
If you leave, how many would go along with you?
There are also different schools of thought. That you should not go with a big hoo-ha. There are people who believe that some will want to leave, and some will want to stay back so as to sabotage the party machinery.
You understand how party politics is played out? Once you leave you got no more influence in the party already. So you should leave some people behind, so that when you go there is still a link in between.
How long ago were these suggestions made?
Oh, a long time. People have been approaching me. After the video scandal, and after I won the deputy presidency also, and then it became more of late.
Why is it heating up again of late?
Well, they feel that maybe I’m one of those disgruntled candidates who can jump ship. But I don’t jump ship because I’m disgruntled and not happy. I don’t think I will do that. I will jump ship only when I find I have no meaningful role to play.
That’s already happening?
I can see that it is slowly happening.
So you will wait till it reaches a certain point?
There’s a limit to everyone’s tolerance.
Where is your level now?
I don’t know, there is no level like the World Health Organisation pandemic type of level, level one to level six.
You’re saying you’ve been approached by the opposition?
Oh yes, it’s true.
Can you be specific?
No, I will not mention names. It was all done in the confidence of trust. And people know that I’m trustworthy and I don’t reveal people.
You’re being very open about this, are you trying to send a message?
I’ve always been open, even about my personal life.
Even the president knows you might want to leave?
I don’t know that.
How is your relationship with him?
We have a meeting relationship. A working relationship. That’s all. There’s discussion on a needs basis, whenever there is a meeting. I will only speak when I need to. I’m not good at apple-polishing people. It’s not my character to initiate and talk and curry favour. No, I’m not good at that.
When will you come to a decision about leaving?
When the time is right.
What factors must happen?
Oh, so many factors. One is if I feel I cannot contribute meaningfully to the party anymore, then why should I warm the seat?
But it’s already like that, you’re just warming the seat.
It’s because during the by-election I played some role. As a party man, when it’s time to contribute to the party, I should do it. There are so many by-elections, if I jump ship, people think I’m just being an opportunist.
So you’ll help the BN in Penanti…
It’s like this, if there is a by-election, I should not do anything to destabilise the BN, at least.
You sound caught, still loyal to the BN, but torn about going over to the other side.
There are approaches made to me to jump ship. I should not deny it, because sooner or later this thing will come out in the open.
So you’re weighing…
This is the party where I spent 20 over years. It’s just like a marriage. Some marriages don’t last 25 years. I’ve been ketua bahagian of Batu Pahat since 1985 till now.
You would leave the MCA and the BN just because you don’t have a role in the party?
When you reach a junction, you have to decide whether you want to turn left, turn right or go straight.
Your decision to leave, would it be about you yourself or the BN?
It’s not about me alone, how much weight do I have? Maybe within the party and the BN there are some who will say “good riddance to bad rubbish”. They may think that I’m a liability, as what some MCA people think I am. After the election, the MCA integrity watch group said I should step down, after I had won.
If you leave, would it be because you feel you could serve society in a better capacity elsewhere?
I’ve always been a politician from the 1980s to now, and I’m still keen to serve. If I cannot find a meaningful role to play, then I may have to seek a different platform. Simple as that.
It’s not that you are being sidelined?
No. When I came back and I won, I never said I want to be a minister. It’s only the Chinese press who played it up. I only said whether I’m in or not, I want my president to be very frank with me. Because I’m frank with others.
On Monday: Soi Lek on balancing the politics of race