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MGG: The MCA Crisis: From Tragedy To Farce And Back
By M.G.G. Pillai

10/4/2002 10:56 pm Wed

10 February 2002


The MCA Crisis: From Tragedy To Farce And Back

M.G.G. Pillai

The MCA crisis shifts from tragedy to farce and back again with each passing day. The President's Men and the Deputy President's Men are in gridlock, outstaring each other in a dispute that must weaken the MCA and how it represents the Chinese community. Neither is prepared to give way in this runup to the Presidency.

The president, Ling Liong Sik, believes he must have the unfettered right to remain MCA's sole voice for as long as he likes. The deputy president, Lim Ah Lek, is as insistent the man has long outlived his usefulness. Neither would give way, and whoever wins, the MCA is hobbled, its investments into the newspaper business bleeding it so badly its raison d'etre is in doubt.

In the latest twist, the MCA central committee rejected the Lim faction's demand for an emergency general meeting to discuss the phantom members it alleges is peppered in the party membership lists.

It cites spurious grounds to deny it: if held, it would be too late anyway for the new list of delegates would have been elected by then, and the EGM result moot. More than 70 per cent of the delegates oppose it. Enough delegates withdrew from Lim's petition to disqualify it.

To put the knife in, the Nanyang Siang Pau and China Press carries identical editorials to damn the request for the EGM on equally spurious grounds. The MCA central committee has no right to refuse an offer or look into why an EGM is called. But it does not want it, raises irrelevant issues and twists the law to pain the Lim faction as party poopers.

Neither would give way. The Ling faction, which controls the MCA now, has rejected the EGM, but the Lim fation is hell bent on holding it. The three newspapers MCA owns - The Star, Nanyang Siang Pau, The China Press - is commandeered to do Ling's bidding, the extreme shrillness of its voice reflecting their fears of what would happen to its gatekeepers if Ling should lose.

The clash of the MCA titans

Given their extreme partisan coverage of this clash of the MCA titans, an editorial and management massacre is highly probable if Ling loses. The Star management is especially vulnerable: it bought the Nanyang Siang Pau Group without due diligence, found itself with 93 per cent of its shares, must dispose 63 per cent soon, or take it private. It is caught in a Catch-22 conundrum from which escape is near impossible.

The newspapers are full of self-serving postures of both factions, each raising its voice but neither explaining or looking at their battles in the MCA's own role. It is, like many a political confrontation in Malaysia, reduced to one group demanding the president be returned and another that he be thrown out.

But this functions as it should, for there comes a time when every MCA president is forced out for staying on too long, and he goes screaming and in high dudgeon. For when he leaves, he loses his perks of office, his high profile in government, the adulation he gets wherever and whenever he moves as the demigod he is made out to be.

He does not understand -- indeed no non-Malay leader in the Barisan Nasional do -- he is no more than a performing seal for UMNO and the Malay. That was not his role when he started out: he was an active participant. In the years since, he compromised himself to remain in power and today it is not unusual for a coalition party leader to stay on for a liftime in politics. Several have been party presidents for two decades and more.

The communities they represent have no say. But those communities are not prepared to accept their nominal leaders, demand answers they would rather not answer, and worries the party leaders no end. And the more insecure their hold, the more intense the party infighting.

The MCA's battle royal is typical. Ling thought he could do as he liked, and did. He promised to step down, then refused, made a pact with Lim that both would, then reneged, all the while hoping he could pull it through. He got the Prime Minister, Dr Mahathir Mohamed's nominal support. With that, he set out to cut Lim's coattails. That brought it into this fight-to-the-death irrelevance it now is.

It is reduced to who should be MCA president, not how each would improve the lot of the Chinese community, and how. I have spokenn to both sides, and I get no sense of what they stand for, except to destroy the other faction. With the Lim faction out to rid the newspapers of editors and others who harmed them in print. In other words, a vendetta of sorts is in place who ever wins.

Is this how MCA would wean back waning Chinese support? Has either faction thought through how it could get back some modicum of respect in the Barisan Nasional when it is embroiled in an irrelevant quarrel within the MCA? The Lim faction would not comment when I asked if it would amend the constitution to remove the untrammelled power of the president. In other words, little would change in the party no matter who wins.

In other words, is this another 'wayang kulit' that Malaysian political parties are famous for, and the battle royale in the MCA a fight of the proxies of UMNO leaders? Or is it where one faction believes the other had had their run of power, and it is now their turn? That nothing would change, except the president's men would be exchanged for the new president's men?

Manufactured crisis

For when all is said and done, one sees a futility in this manufactured crisis in the MCA. Nothing is about to change no matter who wins. All it would result is a horrendous bloodletting the victors would demand of the losers. If that is followed by a clear statement of principles it would abide by, and bring the MCA back to some respectability, this could make a difference.

But that is not how each faction looks upon its role: it is to destroy the other faction and its supporters. I found it curious that neither looks upon its relations with UMNO and the BN in this fight for survival.

It looks like a gang clash for a small corner which is of total irrelevance to the larger and more deadly battlefield for the Malay mind. This is unaddressed, and is why it cares not a whit who emerges the victor. Unless he orders his priorities and acts to stop the rot, the MCA would become more irrelevant as the days go by.

M.G.G. Pillai