Amidst the calls for the MCA to regroup and reform, Stephen Tan Ban Cheng argues that the MCA should just close shop.
The 1948-founded Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) commands no value whatsoever in the changed political scene in Malaysia as the rakyat or citizens square up against the bangsawans or nobles leading the United Malays National Organisation (Umno) for control of more political space.
This picture of an MCA shorn of its credibility is confirmed by repeated self-inflicted escapades from the 1980s. Coming simultaneously with the struggle the rakyat have mounted for control of the levers of power, currently in the hands of the Umno bangsawan, the MCA members must ask themselves whether the continued existence of the ‘7-11 MCA’ will be boon or bane for the country.
By 7-11, I refer to the drastic eclipse in the fortunes of the MCA from being the second largest political party before the 2013 election to one that now has seven Members of Parliament and 11 state assembly members.
Up till the early 1980s when Lee San Choon was party president, the MCA had still put up rear-guard actions, most of which proved effective against the evolving intended hegemony of Umno, which had always controlled the fountain of political power in this country. This was despite the internal struggles between the personalities within the MCA.
Such was the “sound and fury” of the struggle that soon after Lee’s sudden resignation in March 1983, a three-year struggle for the presidency by two factions led by then Cabinet Minister Dr Neo Yee Pan and businessman Tan Koon Swan ensued.
When the dust had settled, Dr Ling Liong Sik took the helm of this ostensibly grand old party, but it had to sell its sole asset in the form of Multi-Purpose Holdings Berhad after first rationalising the extensive operations of the conglomerate with the help of sugar tycoon Robert Kuok.
In the ensuing years, the land bank, banks, finance companies, plantation companies and cooperative that were in the stable of Multi-Purpose Holdings Berhad were stripped by the new owners.
What remains today are its reduced holdings in The Star, a daily English language newspaper which is now facing daunting challenges in the form of reduced circulation as Malaysian English-language readers increasingly desert the paper and opt for the cyber media. What looms as a formidable threat is the spectre of advertisers deserting The Star, whose share market price has dropped.
As a vehicle, the MCA has crowned the careers of more opportunists that I care to name. Of course, up till the 1980s, it has produced several good leaders. Among them was Tan Cheng Lock, who was outmanoeuvred by Selangor MCA chief H S Lee working in league with Omar Ong Yoke Lin when the party was organised along state lines, with leaders operating as warlords in their respective fiefs.
Of note was Tan Cheng Lock whose advocacy of “cultural democracy” a la Switzerland contained in his book, Malayan Problems, was abruptly consigned to the past once his presidency ended in 1958, although he was able to extract concessions in the form of Malayan citizenship for the many Chinese in Malaysia from the then Tunku Abdul Rahman-led Umno, with the departing British colonials acting as honest brokers.
Arguably, this of course followed the tone and tenor set by the then Chinese Premier Zhou Enlai of the People’s Republic of China at the Non-Aligned Nations Conference in Bandung in 1955 whenhe dropped Beijing’s insistence on Chinese citizenship for Overseas Chinese. This Zhou move punctured the same claim by the Nationalist-led Taiwanese Government, which had by then retreated to its island enclave and styled itself as the Republic of China.
Also of note was his son, technocrat Tan Siew Sin, who in his tenure as Finance Minister until April 1974, ensured that the Malaysian dollar (as it was then called) held its own against all comers. Indeed, it was a currency to be reckoned with. Given the momentum of Tan’s disciplined fiscal measures, the strength of the ringgit was such that it held its own until 1978, when it lost its parity against the Singapore dollar. Today, if I am right, it stands at about RM2.50 to S$1 from the previous RM1 to S$1.02!
Throughout its existence since Independence in August 1957, the MCA can claim that it had been able to ensure that vernacular schools exist alongside the national language stream, although such vernacular schools provide education for only up to the primary school level.
As a party purportedly dedicated to safeguarding and maintaining the interests of the Chinese in Malaysia, the MCA has almost always provided more sizzle than steak and more style than substance. The cross it has had to bear has perhaps only been understood by Bapa Malaysia Tengku Abdul Rahman Putra and Tun Hussein Onn.
Given the new politics of issues to be resolved by the application of appropriate principles rather than through the outdated prism of race, the MCA, which is purely race-based, should just cut its losses by eschewing the sure-lose prism of race and ride into the sunset.
The Chinese in Malaysia, already reduced to around 24 per cent of the population from the initial 45 per cent at Merdeka, must lead in this new politics. They have already been marginalised in policy-making, in the councils of government, in the bureaucracy of government and even in so many crucial sectors of the economy, chief among which is finance and banking.
The Chinese in Malaysia must throw the ceremonial sands onto the coffin before the MCA is finally buried in the cemetery of history after appropriate tribute is paid in eulogies by all Malaysians to the sacrifices and contributions indefatigably made by Tan Cheng Lock and Tan Siew Sin.
Few other countries have seen the Chinese more and more marginalised than in Malaysia – despite the MCA being a senior member of the Barisan Nasional, founded in 1975.
To each and every MCA member, I pose this question: Will the continued existence of the MCA be a boon or bane for them and their descendants? With the race-based politics of the MCA, will the party be caught in the struggle between the rakyat and the Umno bangsawan for political space, between modern concepts of political justice, equality and liberty and traditional concepts of bangsawan and feudalism and all that these entail?
If the answer is positive, then let those who provide such answers tell the world how they can regain their position as partners in government instead of the party’s present position of being mere coolies in that noble enterprise.