Sunday, March 21, 2010

The blinding dazzle of the MCA crown

Is the MCA’s presidential election a battle for power dominance among factions or is it the consequence of a moral crisis and bad leadership? Tan Siew Sin, who became the party’s president in November 1961, once described the office as “a mission with a crown of thorns”.

Now, 49 years later, the thorns have been replaced by jewels, with the party’s assets said to be worth close to RM2 billion.

When Siew Sin accepted the presidency, MCA was at a crossroads and, as his biblical allusion indicated, he was well aware that he was walking into a morass of problems.

But he was a great statesman who, like his father, MCA founder Tan Cheng Lock, regarded the high office of the president as a mission of service to the Chinese community and the nation.

The party president then had to be a warrior, never flinching in the task of protecting the interests of the community and the nation. The office required the highest standard of self-discipline.

To be sure, the contest for the post is as keenly contested as it has been throughout the party’s history. But that’s where ends the similarity with the early years.

The quality of leadership of the 50s and 60s — and even, according to some opinions, up to the 80s— contrasts sharply with that of today.

The principled leaders of the older generations, endowed with the courage of their convictions, had become a rare breed by the 1990s.

Men of principle

During the founding years, MCA’s leaders were the very portrait of statesmanship. They were men consistent in principle and purpose, ordinary people discharging extraordinary tasks in difficult times.

And their leadership instincts, sensibilities, common sense and wisdom served them well in their crusade of selfless service.

They have left a heritage of living words that show that they were men of tolerance, discipline and wisdom.

Fast forward to recent times and one finds, tragically, that the party has become bereft of these symbols of impeccable and exemplary leadership.

Lately, we see in the office of the president only signs of confusion, power abuses and sheer foolishness in the face of clear writings on the wall that the party is heading towards deeper troubled waters.

Siew Sin once emphasised: “It is essential that the MCA should have a clean image at all levels. We simply cannot afford to tolerate corruption wherever it occurs.”

On another occasion, he said: “We are hopelessly disunited and I am prepared to resign if I am a barrier to unity.”

Further, he pleaded for tolerance and integrity in thoughts, words and deeds.

Siew Sin’s own attitudes, words and deeds reflected the type of qualities necessary in a leader at all times.

A different breed today

Today’s MCA leaders, however, belong in a different basket.

Are they in fact facing a moral crisis beneath the veneer of a reform front, as each of the factions claims to be?

The public hears a lot of rhetoric about discipline and ethics, and yet certain leaders claiming the high moral ground are themselves facing allegations of corruptly taking millions of ringgit for themselves.

Within party circles, questions are being asked whether a leadership acting as trustees of the party has the moral right to indulge in high spending that may cost the party millions of ringgit for whatever reason or objective while failing to disclose details of the accounts in compliance with the principles of transparency and accountability.

Some see it as appropriate if approval is sought from the highest decision-making body before the top leadership can carry out such expensive activities.

Is it morally or ethically correct if a candidate spends half-million ringgit to renovate a presidential office twice on two occasions, as claimed, so that the occupant can have an environment with better feng shui?

The alleged renovation came only four years after the previous leadership spent some RM8 million or RM9 million on extensive renovations for the whole building.

And what about unethical election campaigns and factional in-fighting? Instead of fostering comradeship within the party and training guns at external political opponents, internal character assassination and back-stabbing have become the norm.

A leadership clearly lacks wisdom and sensibility when it considers the sacking or removal of comrades as a new definition of unifying a party.

Rudderless and with no positive direction in sight, the leaders in the current generation have suddenly become constitutional experts, disputing constitutional articles and clauses with each other according to their factional interests and questioning the legitimacy of holding democratic assemblies.

As if matters were not bad enough, the highest decision-making body was snubbed in defiance of a no-confidence motion.

Leaders are justifying their refusal to step down for every conceivable reason except moral grounds as the party continues to sink in the eyes of the public.

Coming out of retirement

The fight for the crown of jewels has become so important that even a veteran party leader who was supposed to have retired has suddenly found the inspiration to join in the fray, supposedly awakened by calls from some members of the public or strangers he supposedly met at a jogging site.

More allegations, accusations and controversies have surfaced after former party president Ong Ka Ting announced that he was entering the ring.

“It’s the law of the jungle that rules the party,” a party veteran remarked upon hearing of Ka Ting’s announcement.

In some of the commonly heard objections to his return, Ka Ting’s wisdom and sense of logic have come under question.

A former leader said: “When Lee San Choon prematurely retired, which triggered the leadership crisis between the factions of Neo (Yee Pan) and Tan (Koon Swan), did San Choon return to contest against Neo and Tan?

“And during the Ling and Lim crisis, did Koon Swan return to fight another day?

“Party veterans have a special status in the party — as adviser or fatherly figure. It is in that role that they are often respected and revered.

“MCA presidents from the older generation had decorum and held their special status well. They knew when to hold their horses. They played a strictly advisory role.”

The former leader implied that it was unbecoming of the retired Ka Ting to now decide to contest against his juniors. “As top veteran, you don’t jump into taking a partisan stand and, worse, participate in a contest,” he said.

Furthermore, some party veterans dispute Ka Ting’s claim of having accomplished the task of re-uniting Team A and B after the Ling-Lim crisis. They say Ka Ting became the beneficiary of the top post under controversial circumstances.

“The claim that Ka Ting succeeded in bringing stability and unity in the party is debatable,” said a former deputy minister. “Party unity is a dynamic phenomenon and illusive. It is not a physical piece of furniture or product.”

Another veteran recalled: “Remember that his discriminative method of selecting party candidates for the last general election brought great dissatisfaction and disunity to the party. What do you say to that as a contributing factor to some of the losses of party seats during the March 2008 general election?”

It is doubtful that Ong Ka Ting can unite and stabilise the MCA, especially now that its politics has been so disfigured by ugly sectarianism and factionalism. Indeed, his own integrity and credibility as former president are being critically scrutinised.

comments written by Stanley Koh, who is a keen MCA watcher. Courtesy of FMT

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