Wednesday, March 17, 2010

It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s Ong Ka Ting

A former teacher-turned-politician, Ong Ka Ting, 54, may not be able to do what Superman can, but he has nevertheless taken on the job we associate with the comic strip hero: being a saviour.

Ong, a former cabinet minister and MCA president, recently announced his willingness to return to active party politics by contesting in the MCA election on March 28.

This is the first time in MCA’s history that a retired president is seeking election to return to the post, although speculation has been swirling for weeks.

Ong retired two years ago, after being with the party for nearly 30 years and reaching his political peak as its president. He served the government in various roles and capacities.

Will his impending return further divide an already divided party?

One thing is certain: both Ong Tee Keat and Chua Soi Lek are expected to go back to their drawing boards to re-strategise their election campaigns.

The latest turn of events will also trigger political re-alignments within the camp led by Liow Tiong Lai and Wee Ka Siong. In short, the camps within Liow-Wee’s camp will seek their own re-alignments toward Ka Ting and Chua’s camps.

Ka Ting's decision was an extraordinary one, but then the endangered 61-year-old creature called the Malaysian Chinese Association has been gravely ill for more than a year and probably needs extraordinary treatment.

The party is stricken by an erratic leadership and deeply divided by protracted squabbling and dissension, and Ka Ting's role can be executed only if he captures the presidency again in a probable three-cornered contest on March 28.

Ironically, it was Ka Ting who morally supported Tee Keat as his successor, but the latter's leadership role has rendered the party seriously divided and its image has been tarnished. To continue with our medical metaphor, the party has been in the ICU for more than a year.

Tee Keat’s working relationship with his deputy, Soi Lek, has turned out to be a disaster. Despite apparent recovery under the so-called Greater Unity Plan, matters got worse when Tee Keat decided to remove many of his detractors from the central committee.

In a paradoxical statement, Tee Keat maintained that the “reshuffle” was necessary for unity. “It was grossly unfair for my detractors to portray me in a bad light just because I reshuffled the council,” he told the press in November.

This was a turning point. Party veterans, like former deputy president Lim Ah Lek, began to do some re-thinking over the party leadership's capabilities or deficiencies under Tee Keat’s command.

Tee Keat was in Ah Lek's camp during an earlier crisis that pitted Lim against then party president Lim Liong Sik.

Can Ka Ting bring about a turnaround in the leadership-crisis-ridden party by forging unity and injecting political strength in time for the next general election?

Three warring kingdoms

Political analysts aptly compare the MCA factions to the three warring kingdoms of classical Chinese history. However, Ka Ting's entry into the fray will cause a further re-alignment of Liow’s camp.

Ka Ting's detractors were quick to point out that the former president’s decision to re-enter active party politics will bring back his own “old political baggage” into the party again.

Chua’s supporters, particularly, have blamed Ka Ting for causing the party’s worst electoral performance in its history.

Under Ka Ting’s leadership in 2008, the 308 political tsunami swept the party aside. It suffered huge electoral losses, winning only 15 out of 40 parliamentary seats, or 37.5 percent of the seats contested. In 1969, it won 13 out of 33 seats.

The party was also battered in state contests.

Ka Ting's announcement has not inspired any rousing clapping or rolling out of the red carpet.

To some, his decision has re-opened old wounds, and there are fears within the party rank-and-file of the emergence of an “Ong Dynasty” since his brother, Ka Chuan, is also a prominent party member. Tee Keat did not recommend Ka Chuan to a Cabinet post following the 2008 MCA election.

Many of Ka Ting's critics said his leadership failed to give convincing answers or to satisfactorily resolve crises brought about by internal rivalry in the party during his tenure. They mentioned the controversy over a "snoop squad" allegedly set up to spy on his enemies and the failure to expose the culprits responsible for the Chua Soi Lek sex tapes.

However, to the larger population of party members and veterans, those incidents are past and buried and their top priority is to restore peace, unity and strength to the MCA to enable it to face the next general election.

Ah Lek told FMT in a phone interview: “Many party veterans, members and Chinese businessmen have approached or told me to find a way to resolve the party’s leadership problems.”

Asked why Ka Ting and not some other party veteran was chosen to be the party's saviour, he said: "Ka Ting has a proven track record, a five-year record of uniting and stabilising the party (after the Ling-Lim crisis ended in 2003).

“He is the best person. He has proven to be a president for the whole party and not just Team A (led by Liong Sik and which Ka Ting was aligned to).

“We all know he brought changes to the party, limiting the terms of the presidency as well as of the leaders of the Youth and women’s wings.”

Brushing aside comments that Ka Ting also caused the party to lose many election seats, Ah Lek said Ka Ting had taken personal responsibility for those losses although they had “nothing to do with him personally”.

Indeed, Ka Ting’s announcement has caused ripples within the party’s consciousness.

Can he mount a credible challenge against Tee Keat in the numbers game of the party election? If Liow lends his support to Ka Ting, can the final tally overcome Soi Lek’s firm grip in a three-cornered contest?

Given the constantly changing party dynamics and permutations of loyalty and political alignment, will there be further surprises, such as an unexpected scenario of Soi Lek pulling out of the race to enable a straight fight between Ka Ting and Tee Keat?

Tee Keat has been quoted as saying that he would go ahead with the challenge in a do-or-die fight.

And which top post will former deputy president Soi Lek contest? Will he join in the fray for the president's post? These questions will probably be answered this Friday.

The party may be irrelevant in the eyes of many Malaysian Chinese, but one has to admit that the election will provide some temporary excitement -like a TV serial - for the next two weeks.

courtesy of FreeMalaysiaToday

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