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MGG: 'Trouble free' MCA in big trouble
By M.G.G. Pillai

27/12/2001 3:22 am Thu

21 December 2001


'Trouble free' MCA in big trouble

M.G.G. Pillai

The MCA president, Ling Liong Sik, has might -- but not right -- on his side. In the view of Malaysian political leaders, when might and right clash, right must give way. If it does not, it is time for the night of the long knives.

But it is not the defenders of right but of might who are mortally wounded. And so this self-inflicting crisis in the MCA leads not to political Valhalla but to the cemetry. And licking the wounds include the National Front of which the MCA is a founding member.

The MCA is split as it tends to when its presidents insist on staying on long after the community has rejected them. Every MCA president, since the first, was chased out of office in a palace coup.

What holds the MCA together is its still considerable cache of branch leaders who are respected in the rural areas of Malaysia, whose record of proven but unreported service that brings out the votes. The DAP, hard as it has tried, could not break through this, and remains the marginal party it was when it began.

So, an MCA in crisis is a necessary blood-letting to cleanse the party. It does not encourage an orderly transition, with untrammelled power in the president's hands. This is no different than in times past: a palace coup he cannot in time prevent, and now unravels in the public eye. As now.

The arrogance of office

What pricks the president's power now is no different: he outlived his time, he offers to resign for effect; when it backfires, pulls it back; and the UMNO president tells him to carry on as usual. He takes that to mean -- wrongly -- that without him as MCA president, the National Front government is doomed. Reason deserts him, as now; and finds he has feet of clay.

The deputy president, Lim Ah Lek, insists Ling should step down as he said he would but would then not. Ling disagreed, and moved to dissipate his critics. But they only grew stronger. What brought it to a head was his buying of the Nanyang Press Holdings and discussing it with his presidential council and central working committee as an afterthought, the one which broke the camel's back.

He rammed it through in a series of decisions, each worse than the one before, amidst a deliberate, understated campaign of civil disobedience by Chinese education and NGO groups that all but ensured it to be an unmitigated political and financial loss.

The MCA now controls more than 90 per cent of the listed company's shares, and it must sell off 51 per cent in six months at a time when shares fall in a listless market. If it cannot, NPH would be delisted; if it can, it would lose heavily in a listless and declining stock market. Either is an albatross around the MCA neck.

Ling diverts attention by attacking his youth leader, Ong Tee Keat, in the camp of his urbane deputy, Lim Ah Lek. He wants to sideline his possible challenger for the MCA presidency next year, Chua Jui Meng, an MCA vice president and the federal health minister. And he reacts, as President Mugabe in Zimbabwe, to hold on to power when few want him there.

Tempers were frayed when the MCA youth held its annual meeting, with delegates throwing chairs at each other and police called in. A video of it forced Ling to appoint a committee of elders to look into it. But he packed it with his cronies, and those allied to him. And rejected the one man who could have resolved the crisis whom the Lim Ah Lek faction had suggested: Wong Mook Leong, a lawyer, so respected within the community as the conscience of the MCA.

So its report, which blamed Ong and his men for the split in MCA youth, backfired. Ling claimed disinterest in the MCA youth as his faction did not. Then, ten days ago, without warning, the prime minister and UMNO president, Dr Mahathir Mohamed, met Ong in Alor Star to discuss the crisis. Ling did not expect it.

It impliedly warned Ling he must henceforth fight his own political battled, with the National Front and UMNO sitting it out on the sidelines. Dr Mahathir, with his own concerns to hold on to power, finds now he could well do without Ling as MCA president.

The crisis worsens

Ong proposed the MCA youth central committee resign in bloc for fresh elections. Ling responded yesterday (20 Dec '01) by suspending it. It accentuated the crisis.

Worse, the MCA strongman in Perlis, Khor Liang Tee, died yesterday of cancer, to force a byelection for the state assembly in two months. Four more are probable, though none from MCA, in Pahang. The National Front is at risk in all, with the rift in the MCA so wide that it could not unite to campaign.

The MCA council is too faction-riven to endorse a common candidate; and whoever is chosen would need the Herculean help of both factions to pull through. Which he could not. The Indera Kayangan state constituency is in a state where UMNO and PAS battle for the hearts and minds of the Malay in which a non-Malay candidate is at odds to retain it. Which the National Front must to retain the Malay ground.

Ling, on the other hand, rams his leadership through by diverting attention yet again to issues far removed from the central problem. It is now the MCA-run university, Utar, which he hopes he would get the legitimacy he desperately needs. It would not.

How he mismanaged the NPH sale sticks in the Chinese communal gullet as a more serious dereliction of the community's cultural mores than any good Utar does to him. He now fights alone, and must stop at nothing to hold on to power. He would be challenged. It is important to him he is returned unopposed. He now cannot.

If the past is any guide, he would suspend or expel the likely one, and others, to force his departure. Ling finds out too late the truth of the aphorism: Those who ignore history are condemned to repeat it.

Ends MGG