Can Ong Ka Ting or any other ex this or that save MCA?

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Bringing back the former MCA president might actually resolve the three-cornered leadership struggle in the party – but for how long, wonders Francis Loh. And can it actually save the MCA?

Former MCA president Ong Ka Ting’s possible comeback is generally viewed as a welcome solution to the party’s acrimonious leadership crisis. Bringing back the former president might actually resolve the three-cornered leadership struggle – but for how long? And can it actually save the MCA over the medium and long term?

In discussing the current leadership crisis, an important question that has to be considered is: what are the issues that separate former president Ong Ka Ting from serving president Ong Tee Keat? from former deputy president Chua Soi Lek? from former vice president Liow Tiong Lai? What are the differences among them over important issues that confront Malaysians today? Over the critical issue of separation of powers between the Executive, the legislative, and the judiciary? Do they differ over cutting down the powers of the PM and his cabinet? Isn’t it time to have a makeover of the judiciary? Do they remember the recommendation to establish an IPCMC? Do they agree or differ over reforming the centralised federal system and granting the states more autonomy over finances and decision making? And what about restoring local government elections?

And as far as the economy is concerned, how do we make Malaysia more regionally and globally competitive? Do we go CAT over the awarding of contracts and tenders? And what about human resource development and reforming our educational system at all levels? Or do they all agree that the KPIs and the KPAs under the charge of their nemesis, Koh Tsu Koon, former Penang chief minister and now senator, will do the job? And what about the GST and minimum-wage legislation?

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What about the Allah controversy? How do they propose we build bridges across the ethnoreligious divide? By 1Malaysia???  More open houses?

The fact is the on-going leadership crisis has almost nothing to do with these critical issues. At best, the only issue that the MCA has taken up seriously over the years is with regard to its relationship with Umno. Some critical stances were taken immediately following the March 2008 general election, when the MCA was wiped out in many Chinese-majority seats. But with Najib replacing Pak Lah, the critical edge has turned blunt.

We need to locate the current leadership crisis within the context of the MCA’s own fractious past, which used to be caused by disagreements over seeking more concessions from Umno in the early days. But it later descended into fierce personal contests for top positions as a result of the MCA’s venture into business via KSM and MPH initially, and now Huaren Holdings, resulting in control of a media empire, the running of a university and college with several campuses, Kojadi, etc, not to mention the Jalan Ampang headquarters in downtown KL.

In the late 1950s, a group of Young Turks led by Dr Lim Chong Eu, Too Joon Hing, Yong Pung How, Tan Suan Kok  and Ng Ek Teong allied themselves with H S Lee and challenged the party stalwarts comprising Ong Yoke Lin, Tan Siew Sin and the towkay leaders gathered around Tun Tan Cheng Lock, who was in his waning years. The issue was about getting more seats to contest in the 1959 election. By 1959, the party was badly divided and the conflict was only overcome when Lim and his allies departed from the party (to form the United Democratic Party, and subsequently with others, the Parti Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia).

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In the mid-1960s, one of the founders of the Youth wing, Sim Mou Yew, also head of the Chinese Schools Teachers Association, led a group of radicals out of the party.

From 1971-73, yet another group led by Lim Keng Yaik, Alex Lee, Paul Leong, Tan Tiong Hong and T C Choong, were also branded as the Young Turks for calling for reforms and the democratisation of the party, in order to achieve Chinese unity so as to gain more concessions from Umno.  But they were outwitted by the old guard led by Tan Siew Sin, Lee Siok Yew, Kam Woon Wah and Lee San Choon, who controlled the party machinery and maintained close ties with Umno. These Young Turks then left the party to join Gerakan. One of them, Michael Chen, who remained behind in the MCA later challenged Lee San Choon for the presidency in 1979. Chen lost but took the matter to court. Chen too left the party and joined Gerakan.

Between 1983-1985, after Lee had resigned as president, a protracted struggle between acting president Neo Yee Pan and Federal Territory chief Tan Koon Swan split the party right down the centre. Neo resorted to expulsions and suspensions of members and even entire branches. Tan filed legal suits and court injunctions. Allegations of phantom members and phantom voters came from both sides and an extraordinary general meeting was called in 1984 wherein Tan’s faction emerged victorious. But Tan did not last long as he was prosecuted and jailed over the Pan-El affair. In the wake of this crisis, Ling Liong Sik and Lee Kim Sai, who had allied with Tan, emerged as the new president and deputy president respectively in 1986.

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In 1990, Lee mounted a challenge against Ling. A no-holds-barred contest was in the offing but it was averted in the eleventh hour. In 1996, Lee was eased out and replaced by Lim Ah Lek as MCA’s new deputy president.

Then there was the party feud that festered between Ling Liong Sik and his deputy, Lim Ah Lek. Ling’s allies include two vice presidents, Ong Ka Ting and Fong Chan Onn, secretary-general Ting Chew Peh, Wanita chief Ng Yen Yen, and Penang MCA leader Sak Cheng Lam. Closely linked to Lim were his protégé, vice-president Chan Kong Choy, and Fu Ah Kiow and others from Pahang. Intially it was a fued regarding succession to the party leadership and who ought to become minister. This carried over and came to the fore in the struggle over taking over the RM250 million Nanyang Press Holdings Bhd. Apart from Lim and his loyal stewards, the ‘Gang of Eight’ included Chua Jui Meng, Yeap Pian Hon and Ong Tee Keat.

And now this!

Apart from accessing the ministerial positions and the MCA’s business and educational assets, the victors will also have access to the MCA party machine. Through the years, the party president has been able to concentrate power. Like in Umno, the MCA president is also empowered to appoint the secretary-general, treasurer-general, national organising secretary and his deputy, five other central committee members, the heads of the national-level bureau, the chairpersons of the 13 state liaison committees, and of course, the key persons in the disciplinary committee.

Are any of the contenders for the MCA presidency calling for the democratisation of the party?

Dr Francis Loh is honorary secretary of Aliran

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