Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Umno's waning influence over MCA

How important will Umno's support be for the new MCA president? Not as crucial as it once was, said political observers.

MCA used to rally the support of Umno for its top leadership. As 'Big Brother' in BN, Umno could make or break a politician's career in the ruling coalition.

ooi kee beng new book launch 240409 ooi kee bengHowever, Ooi Kee Beng (right), the coordinator and fellow of the Malaysian Study Programme at the Singapore-based Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, the crisis in MCA is no longer about which leader will be appointed minister or deputy minister.

(There are currently four ministers from MCA in the cabinet: Transport Minister Ong Tee Keat, Housing and Local Government Minister Kong Cho Ha, Health Minister Liow Tiong Lai and Tourism Minister Ng Yen Yen.)

“It is an existential crisis and radical measures are needed, and these cannot consider Umno's consent or lack of it at this stage,” said Ooi, who has done extensive research on Chinese politics.

“The days of racial contestations through parties are passing in the sense that those parties will remain defensive. They cannot hope to represent the future image of Malaysia. That future belongs to parties who manage to project themselves as progressive, cosmopolitan, and pluralistic.”

Political strategist James Wong Wing Onn concurred, saying that in the past, it was quite crucial for MCA to woo Umno's support for its leaders.

Tan Siew Sin became MCA president after Lim Chong Eu fell out with first prime minister Tunku Abdul Rahman over the allocation of seats in Alliance (predecessor of Barisan Nasional) and other issues.

umno agm forum 071206 james wong“Now, Umno support is seen as a liability rather than an asset because MCA has learnt a bitter lesson in past elections that even those segment of the Chinese community which are traditionally pro-establishment want MCA to be only an ally of Umno - not its 'Chinese Affairs Department',” said Wong (left), who is a publications consultant.

Centre for Policy Initiatives chief executive director Lim Teck Ghee said he believes that Umno holds many cards, especially through its control of the Home Ministry and other strategic agencies and ministries that have inside intelligence on MCA and its leaders.

“Frankly, in the system of unequal partners in the BN, Umno can make or break whoever is the president (of MCA),” said Lim, the former director of think-tank Asli.

Leadership qualities

As to who would be the best leader for MCA, the consensus is that it must be a person who can project himself as not only multi-racial, but is honest and able to communicate well in the Chinese language.

“If the personnel and members within MCA wish to be of consequence in the near future, they have to force the party out of its racial discourse,” suggested Ooi.

“That will take some doing. Otherwise, the ground will slowly break away.”

y4c ethnic forum 280307 lim teck ghee 2Lim (right) said MCA needs leaders who are honest, have unquestionable integrity and can stand up for the legitimate rights of their members and all Malaysians.

“I have asked that the contending leaders provide a report card on where they stand on these and related criteria so the voting members have an opportunity to assess what is their real worth,” he said.

“This is where an independent media can come in and provide its own assessment.”

Wong, however, is confident that the Chinese community wants at least top leaders who know the Chinese language and culture and are also able to communicate well with fellow Malaysians of other ethnic backgrounds.

“They want top MCA leaders to set a personal example of family honour and integrity because, in the Chinese articulation of social order, those who cannot uphold family honour and integrity are not fit to be leaders of the larger community and country,” he said.

He said the MCA has never been expected to fight tooth and nail for the rights of the Chinese community, but its top leaders should be seen as trying their best to do so.

“The Chinese community does not put all its eggs in one basket, as they can vote for DAP, PKR or even PAS,” he added.

courtesy of Malaysiakini

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