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MGG: The Prime Minister orders MCA leaders to shut up [Must Read]
By M.G.G. Pillai

15/4/2002 1:21 pm Mon

The Prime Minister orders MCA leaders to shut up

Visitors to Parliament are admitted on condition they do not speak to National Front (BN) MPs. MPs cannot ask questions in Parliament of ministerial salaries for that would put cabinet ministers in a spot, so highly paid they are that those who elected them should not know. Now, the Prime Minister orders MCA leaders to shut up so we would be ignorant of how divided MCA is. As usual, it was made as an aside, after he attended a charity golf function. "Can I make a statement," he asked reporters. "My statement is that no statement on MCA is to be made by anybody, including myself. That's all." If you want to know how serious the MCA crisis it, Dato' Seri Mahathir Mohamed confirmed it. He said the MCA president, Dato' Seri Ling Liong Sik, and his "beloved friend" and deputy president, Dato' Seri Lim Ah Lek, agreed to the gag order.

Meanwhile, the proposed MCA EGM, which Dato' Seri Lim wants but not Dr Ling, is on track. Dr Mahathir would not say if he would, or could, stop it. He could well not for as the law stands it is legal. Since he leaves for his monthly foreign visits -- this time to Morocco, Libya and Qatar -- tomorrow, and returns just before the proposed EGM, there is more to it than meets the eye. For if he does not, and the EGM is held, it clips Dr Ling's wings even further. The MCA secretary-general, more in fright than to resolve the doubts, said the requisition is flawed because enough of them wrote to him to withdraw their signatures. Curiously, they did not write to who called for it. In law then, the demand for the EGM contained the number required to call for the EGM. The MCA acts not with the probity its constitution and equity demands and complicates its position even more. And how its three newspapers -- the Star, Nanyang Siang Pau, China Press -- attacks Dato' Seri Lim's faction puts them at risk too.

Whatever happens then, Dr Ling loses. Dr Mahathir, who once thought he could manipulate the MCA through Dr Ling, does not think it wise anymore. The autocratic MCA president Dr Ling is, he fears his own shadow, hemmed in by the pressure from his "beloved friend" puts on. He needlessly brought the MCA and the Chinese community to the brink, that as an Emperor with No Clothes, he is utterly naked, his key supporters look nervously beyond their shoulders and make side deals with Dato' Seri Lim's Team B. The Chinese community is abuzz with talk of a "deux et machina" so beloved of Greek playwrights to resolve the MCA crisis. The gag order is so the MCA mice would not set the community ablaze while the UMNO cat is on his regular working holiday overseas. It is also to save Dr Ling's face for he is headed for a big fall if he wins or loses the MCA presidential elections.

Dr Mahathir had no choice. He knows the Chinese community is as divided over Dr Ling as MCA president as the Malay is over Dr Mahathir as UMNO president. UMNO and MCA face the same irrelevance amongst their communities. Moreover, the BN cannot survive on Malay votes alone as it could between 1955 and 1995. Without the Chinese, Sarawak and Sabah, the BN cannot retain its two-thirds majority. (What saves it is the Opposition's virtual irrelevance, but that is another story.) The infighting within UMNO is as serious as in MCA. The Malay is supremely unconcerned about UMNO as the Chinese about MCA.

In other words, he sees the MCA crisis mirroring his own problems vis-a-vis UMNO and the Malay. And he does not want the Malay to get ideas of a similar confrontation. It is an open secret in UMNO, its deputy president, Dato' Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, faces a challenge from an UMNO vice president, Dato' Seri Najib Tun Razak, for the right to succeed Dr Mahathir. It is denied, of course, as furious behind-the-scenes talk of resolving it without testing it on the ground goes on. When Dr Mahathir ordered MCA leaders to shut up, he would have preferred it on UMNO leaders as well, only that he could not make it stick as he can on MCA.

What makes it all frightening is his governance of the country, party and all else by auto pilot while he travels to distant climes at the drop of a hat. He makes it a point to leave the country at least once a month that wags claim he is the most travelled head of government of all time. He is not in the country to provide the leadership and everything dissembles as cabinet ministers prepare for party elections or to jump ship at the appropriate time. When institutions break down, and the government cannot answer for it, it arrogantly restricts debate, assuming that that would resolve the problem. It does not matter which institution one talks off, it is flawed. In politics, in government, in business. You name it. It is broken. Is anyone interested in repairing them? If there is, they are not anyone in BN or the government. When the reality of it strikes home, he could spawn anti-government confrontations that would make People's Power in the Philippines look like a garden party.

The MCA crisis therefore reflects a worsening malady and malaise in the country. No one dares second guess Dr Mahathir, who believes if he orders that it be done it would. He knows it does not. The Malay anger at this grows by the day. He dare not travel within the country as freely as he does overseas, even with the tightest security and protection given him. The civil service sells him short. When ministers should be looking after their portfolios, they look for post-retirement jobs. Almost all, like Dr Ling, have long lost reason why they should be where they are. But they are kept on for the damage they could create within UMNO if they are out. And Dr Mahathir cannot clean up the non-UMNO parties in the National Front and let UMNO fester in its own irrelevancy. This is the dilemma he faces in which Dr Ling is about to be the latest casualty. Even if he continues as MCA president after the party elections.

M.G.G. Pillai