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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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.