Wednesday, March 17, 2010

MCA's desperate cry for leadership

For weeks, the MCA rumour mill had been grinding out half-truths on the possible return of former president Ong Ka Ting to end a leadership tussle that has left the party wounded.

He has confirmed the speculation, but some observers maintained that Ka Ting's return was a plan hatched months ago. Wags have been quick to liken it to 'Star Wars - the return of Jedi'.

All eyes are now on whether Dr Chua Soi Lek will make it a three-cornered fight. Ong Tee Keat has already said that he will defend the post.

Former MCA Research and Planning head Stanley Koh shares his views on the most recent turn of events.

Malaysiakini: There was speculation right up to Ong Ka Ting's announcement on his comeback. What was going on?

stanley koh interview 150108 seriousStanley Koh (right): Even up to a fortnight ago, rumours were surfacing on the possibility - I repeat, possibility - of Ka Ting playing an influential role in the upcoming party elections. But the probability of Ka Ting's comeback was furthest from most minds.
I think those within Tee Keat's and Chua's camps didn't quite believe Ka Ting would want to re-contest the presidency.

Why not?

That's the pattern of complacent thinking. First, it would have been unprecedented. Never in MCA's history, or even in that of BN component parties, have we seen a former president making a comeback or re-contesting a top post, particularly the No. 1 position. Am I correct?

Second, it has only been slightly more than a year since Ka Ting retired and the grouses, grievances or unhappiness about his leadership are still fresh in the minds of many. Fears about the emergence of an 'Ong dynasty' are not exactly forgotten and buried in time, either.

Third, many were confident that Ka Ting would only be involved in a proxy fight by influencing voting support, but felt he would not return to active politics.

So basically, you have a mindset of belief reinforced by history.

So what happened instead?

Even party veterans are asking the same question!

lim ah lekWe all know that former deputy president Lim Ah Lek (left) has been openly supportive of Ka Ting's return to active party politics. He has played a big role in convincing Ka Ting to change his mind after the latter's initial reluctance to return to MCA.

I was told that many party veterans and even ordinary MCA members had pestered Lim, telling him that something must be done to stop the rot in the party. One thing led to another, and the pleading was finally reinforced. So Lim must have given Ka Ting the final push to make him seriously reconsider the suggestion.

Why do you think Ka Ting's return has found support?

The reasons given to me were that Ka Ting himself has been disappointed with the present leadership. I think his press statement on his decision to contest clearly indicates that disappointment.

As to why the veterans approached Ka Ting, it is because he has a proven track record in uniting the party and bringing in stability after the earlier leadership crisis involving Dr Ling Liong Sek and Lim Ah Lek.

ong ka ting mca leaders pc 050808 02The other point I want to make is the failure of the party in grooming the second echelon of leaders. The negative impact of perpetual in-fighting has been a shortage of capable and good leaders with integrity.

Feedback indicates that Ka Ting's return was supported because he accepted responsibility and accountability for what he thought was his fault, over the party's poor electoral showing in 2008. He retired of his own accord, which shows he was not greedy for power. Therefore, it was felt that he can be trusted to put the party back on the right path if he is entrusted with the presidency.

During his tenure, too, he had acted on constitutional amendments to limit the term of the presidency, among other far-reaching changes.

The turning point for party veterans - and the cause of their frustrations and loss of confidence in the incumbents - was the recent EGM which failed to resolve the leadership problems. That triggered their insistence that 'something needs to be done'.

In what way will Ka Ting's re-entry affect politicking in the party?

I think there are legitimate claims that his decision will re-open so-called old wounds. That's the flip side of the coin, so to speak.

chua soi lek sex tape scandalHis rivals and detractors will naturally resurrect buried issues like the 'snoop squad' and start a whisper campaign on allegations over the sex tapes on Chua (left). To them, the truth of these issues has never been determined. But this is the price Ka Ting will have to pay in re-contesting.

Another impact will be seen in the realignment of factions. I think the faction most affected will be that aligned to Liow Tiong Lai. It is speculated that most of his supporters will probably merge with Ka Ting's faction. But it would not be too presumptuous to think that some will join Soi Lek's faction. This will result in the disintegration of Liow's camp, really, as far as the voting support is concerned.

Nominations are a few days away (on March 22). I would not discount more surprises.

What surprises?

These will likely be confined to alignment with the respective factions and even last-minute withdrawal by candidates.

Which faction commands the biggest bloc of votes?

Those on the ground, like me, can only make assumptions based on perceptions. But the faction leaders may well do an actual head-count as they have the means and resources to do so. Still, they have no way to ascertain actual numbers. The closest they can get is to do a count by division of delegates' voting support.

The rest of us can only guess. And the guess is that Chua is probably leading now. The underdog will have a formidable fight on his hands.

But with Ka Ting's re-entry, the scenario has changed. For instance, on what issues will voting delegates place priority? Some want party stability, while others will consider the candidate's personality.

I think the campaign will have an influence on all these issues. So campaigning is crucial now, especially since it is short, swift and intense. But most delegates are old-timers, and they already know the issues through and through.

If Ka Ting wins, will it resolve the leadership crisis?

Most will agree with me that the MCA doesn't need a combative general or a self-destructive machine at its head. If a leader cannot be accepted from the rank-and-file - or put another way, if he fails to receive majority support from within - then that person doesn't deserve to lead the party. Appealing to outsiders (non-members) or campaigning from outside in order to win party votes would smack of desperation for political survival.

In this instance, Ka Ting or Chua will, in all likelihood, be able to improve the party in terms of internal stability and unity.

I would like to think that Ka Ting has learnt from his mistakes and that he is aware of the sensitivities surrounding his return. Chua, despite the disadvantage of the controversy dogging him, is still capable of leading of uniting a party. He too has a proven record.

Can MCA win back the popular vote in the next general election?

Whether the new MCA head can win votes in the next general election is a separate matter.

NONETee Keat's supporters, for instance, can claim that the propaganda on the PKFZ scandal has been effectively exploited to win public sympathy.

But can a plant survive when it hangs in mid-air, without being firmly rooted in a pot of earth or in the ground itself? Can a party leader survive without sufficient support from the within his rank-and-file?

Once, the candidates are known, it will be interesting to focus on their campaign issues, as these will sway voting support.

courtesy of Malaysiakini

No comments: