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MGG: MCA and Dr Ling's future is in the past
By M.G.G. Pillai

7/4/2002 11:34 pm Sun

[Nampaknya semakin lama Ling bertahan semakin teruk MCA berbelah bahagi dan dirundung masalah sehingga presiden Umno pun menjadi resah. Apa tidaknya - undi kaum Cina itulah yang menyebabkan BN dapat terus memerintah. Pasukan Ling bukan sahaja dibaling dengan kerusi tetapi dengan bom-bom berbentuk pendedahan yang begitu mengaibkan sekali sehingga ramai sudah mula angkat kaki dan bertempiaran lari kerana mereka pun lebih mementingkan diri sendiri juga. Bukankah itu resmi budaya politik MCA (dan Umno juga) sejak dahulu kala? - Editor]

MCA and Dr Ling's future is in the past

Malaysian police this week questioned an MCA presidential crony, Tan Sri Tan Kok Ping, what he knew of a letter he used to be appointed executive chairman of the listed gambling company, Magnum Corporation Berhad. Some on the company's board thought it forged and lodged police reports early this year. Tan Sri Tan was appointed five months ago. Who wrote the letter, and who forged it, is unmentioned, but if it could ensure a man's elavation to executive chairman, it could be by no more than a handful of men. Two, for all their power, would not dare; The one who would is a fighter who would rather bring his own organisation down than accept defeat. There is only one in the Chinese community who answers to that description. His name is Dato' Seri Ling Liong Sik. He could well have written that letter. Did he?

For all we care, it is an outright forgery. It is tied up in some way with MCA's leadership crisis. The MCA's future hangs on the presidential fight between Dr Ling and his deputy president, Dato' Seri Lim Ah Lek. It split the Chinese community as nothing has in recent years. In no body of MCA representatives, within the party and without, is it now safe for Dr Ling to assume he is in control. One Lim Ah Lek man could scuttle whatever Dr Ling plans. So what happened to Tan Sri Tan, and his connexions to Dr Ling, is more important than a routine police inquiry.

The MCA-controlled newspaper, The Star, looks upon Dr Ling's challenger to be lower than vermin. But it is in for a shock. UMNO politicians look upon it now as a Ling, not MCA, paper; especially if Dr Ling, like his predecessors, win a pyrrhic victory. His predecessor, Mr Tan Koon Swan, found, too late, that his victory led to the charges that sent him to jail. He was warned of it well before he decided to split the MCA, but he thought victory gave him immunity. It did not. Nor did it another MCA president, Tan Sri Lee San Choon. The MCA is a powerful weapon in the hands of its president, and that vests in him an arrogance that in time sinks him. It would well nigh be impossible to remove these absolute powers for every president thinks he builds an empire to last for ever, and would not want to remove his power to remove his enemies.

Dr Ling's son, Hee Leong, whom Dad helped make a billionaire in three months, disregarded Dad's advice not to team up with fugitive business man, Dato' Soh Chee Wen. This is an interesting twist in this tangled tale for Dad's advice came when Dato' Soh, was an honoured member of the MCA presidential council. Dad is in a bother now, and Son helps out. Of course, Nanyang Siang Pau, which carried this interview, did not ask him if he could raise RM1.2 billion if he was not Dad's son. It could not because Dad's MCA controls the Star Publications, which in turn owns Nanyang. If Son thought he was helping Dad, he is mistaken. Even Dad would be embarrassed at such sterling confidence in Dad's acument.

Besides he is also an MCA Youth central committee member and batting for Dad to continue as MCA president. So, he puts the knife into his Youth chief, Dato' Ong Tee Keat, who he says is a deviant politician who breaches every MCA and National Front (BN) principle and, unlike him, cares not a whit for the Malaysian Chinese community. This must lead one to ask if he allowed this interview because he wanted it or because Dad encouraged him to it. Either puts Dad in a spot. Which is not, of course, Son's intention.

But Dad and Son is linked to problems in politics and business. A former Malaysian air force chief and others sue them over guarantees they gave in the then 27-year-old's Dad-given right to be a billionaire as fast as he could. The Lings' application to strike out the suit is disallowed. In other words the pressure comes on the Lings from political, legal and other sources. Magnum, if you recall, is a plaything of that eminent though now-invisible Malaysian, Tun Daim Zainuddin, the likes of him we have not heard of or seen after he decided UMNO and Malaysia did not deserve him. As UMNO Treasurer, he was asked by the UMNO supreme council to be given the party's accounts, and he decided it should not. And resigned from all his party and govrnment positions. But he controls his business empire through proxies and by remote control.

The Magnum directors would not file police reports without a nod from on high. Would it dare if it did not? The Prime Minister, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed, cannot break publicly with the Chinese community. So, he moves obliquely against both it and the MCA president. It is not the Chinese community he is after, but of one individual who is MCA president. In other words, the word is out UMNO is closer to the views of Dato' Seri Lim than Dr Ling. When UMNO comes in, blood must flow. As in every MCA crisis. History is about to be repeated. Every elected MCA president from the first, Tun Tan Cheng-lock, was forced out of office. A mircale it would be if Dr Ling does not follow that tradition.

In other words, whoever is elected president this year, Dr Ling loses. He cannot now call it quits. He is hemmed in from all sides. When he stumbled in buying Nanyang Siang Pau, it opened a veritable can of worms he cannot escape from. Now the Star is also on notice. Buyers could not possibly be found to take Nanyang off its hands. It owns 93 per cent of the listed company's shares, and if it cannot sell two-thirds of it soon, it would be delisted from the Kuala Lumpur Stock Exchange. When MCA made it clear it would control Nanyang no matter who bought it, even those could buy it decided not to.

The MCA and the community is too divided to give the Star and Dr Ling any breathing space. UMNO and the Malay community sees the Star now as Dr Ling's mouthpiece. The knives are out whoever is the next MCA president. When the Star overtook the New Straits Times, it was helped by the NST's corporate descent into unrepayable debt and the Anwar affair which caused the Malay to desert it in droves. Now the Star is in that position, and UMNO is not about to let it wriggle out of its predicament. Both the Star and the NST support the president of the political parties which own them. But the Star has not the political clout the NST has.

Press freedom has nothing to do with it. Newspaper editors and publishers in Malaysia are politicians masquerading as journalists. They espouse press freedom as much as I want two bullet holes in my head. When the editor-in-chief of the most influential newspaper in the land is prepared to be a flunky in the information ministry, his position cannot be an inspiration for the cause of press freedom. They are paid well to be the owners' mouthpiece, without the right to advice. They are expendable, and once sacked all but employable.

Newspaper publishers and editors are too holden to whoever controls them to stand up. They are expendable, and once thrown out virtually unemployable. They are paid well to be mouth pieces. Any advice they give has as much influence of their political masters as Dr Ling's advice had on his son. With the same result. An important section of the MCA is as disgusted at the Star's news coverage as UMNO and the others in BN. So the Star does not have political friends it can depend on in its trying times. It took the short term view of being at the MCA president's beck and call than the voice of the community in whose name MCA owns it.

The Star's brilliant reorganisation, its healthy balance sheet, its imaginative coverage, its deliberate baiting of its rivals all brought it to its pre-eminent role. But when the MCA president forced it to sell its prime land in Petaling Jaya for its own building a kilometre away which a crony built, the rot set in. And then it was downhill. Dr Ling did the coup de grace when he forced it to buy the Nanyang. Both look to its past for its future glory. It need not have been. But politics in Malaysia is of individuals not of the communities they represent. When leaders are annointed demi-god leaders of their communities, they would not only fall hard, but they would bring the communities down with them. Especially if they are not Malay.

M.G.G. Pillai
06 April 2002