MCA was thrashed in the last general election in May 2018, but this has not deterred it from playing a vital role in national politics.
IF there was one political party that had acted with decorum and confidence during the past two weeks of political upheaval in the country, it was the revitalised Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA).
At every stage of the fast-changing political developments after the unexpected resignation of Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad as premier on Feb 24, MCA had responded to the new and unfathomable situations with propriety.
Following the collapse of Dr Mahathir’s Pakatan Harapan coalition government on Feb 24, MCA’s presidential council headed by party president Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong stated the Parliament should be dissolved to pave way for a general election, as is practised in a mature democracy.
Other political parties – including Umno, MIC and PAS – immediately took after the stance of MCA in calling for a snap election.
In another quick turn of events, when Dr Wee realised Dr Mahathir was aiming to be a “one-man” show with unfettered powers that could lead the country down the path of dictatorship, he promptly made a U-turn and withdrew support for the 94-year-old politician.
Other political parties within and outside Pakatan also withdrew their support for Dr Mahathir after the latter publicly confirmed the suspicion.
Following this, new alliances emerged again.
The latest developments saw MCA joining its allies within the Barisan Nasional coalition to back the leadership of Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin, who was sworn in by the King as the eighth PM on March 1. This was meant to help restore political stability.
This government of Muhyiddin needed a Chinese party to reflect the multi-racialism of Malaysia, and MCA accepted the invitation to join the government.
This last move of MCA – though debatable as the alliance supporting Muhyiddin includes the feared Islamic party PAS – falls in line with the thinking of many in the Chinese community.
Whichever group forms the government, the Chinese would want to see representation in the Cabinet and government. This is a lesson learnt from the past, when Tan Sri Dr Chua Soi Lek was president.
Chinese form 23% of Malaysia’s 32 million population, whose other key races are Malays, Indians and the bumiputras of Sabah and Sarawak.
When speaking at MCA’s 71st anniversary celebrations on Feb 29, Dr Wee explained to over 1,000 MCA members the position taken by the party in response to various changes:
“We must take into consideration the various aspects of the current political situation. With the latest changes, the dissolution of parliament is no longer an option.
“The Comptroller of the Royal Household had said in a statement that the King would hear from the leaders of all the political parties with MPs and to give them an opportunity to nominate an MP to be the PM.
“And thus, the dissolution of Parliament is no longer an option. Hence, MCA and Barisan decided to support the nomination of Tan Sri Muhyiddin to be the eighth Prime Minister.”
It is to be noted that in the week of Feb 24, there were intra-party cracks and inter-party disputes as political leaders scrambled for support from various factions and groups.
But amid this political mess, MCA stood aloof. There was no split within MCA and the once- powerful Chinese party did not engage in open quarrels with any other parties.
“Our party is united with one decision and one voice in our political stand amid this national crisis, ” Datuk Seri Dr Mah Hang Soon, deputy president of MCA, tells Sunday Star.
Unlike last year, party members appear to be happily toeing party line in politics. There is no debate on Dr Wee’s decision to stay on in Barisan.
“We are standing on high ground amid the current political turbulence, ” declares Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai, the immediate past president of MCA.
He says, “As a leader, Ka Siong has done well. MCA is consistent and we hold on to our principles. Ka Siong has been good at articulating the issues of the Chinese community, as well as national issues affecting all people.
“MCA is now respected not only by the Chinese community, but by other races as well. We play a very important role now as Pakatan has failed the people.
“They were not focused on nation building when in government, but spent their time on politicking and power struggle.”
Liow says MCA is “very spirited” now, particularly after the Tanjung Piai by-election over three months ago in which MCA’s candidate Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng won by a shocking majority.
The current optimism seen in MCA is a far cry from 16 months ago, when Dr Wee assumed the president’s post at a time the party’s future looked uncertain, bleak and gloomy.
In the general election of May 9,2018 (GE14), MCA lost all but one parliamentary seats it had contested. Voters rejected MCA due mainly to the fact it is a coalition member of Barisan, led by Umno, whose top leaders had bullied MCA and are now facing corruption charges in court.
“MCA is well-organised now and things look bright. We are close to the Chinese community, and all races. In the next general election, we will do much better, ” says Liow, who took responsibility for MCA’s humiliating loss in GE14.
He gives credit to Dr Wee for having lifted the party from the ashes and injected confidence in MCA.
Amid unkind remarks by anti-MCA voters and piercing remarks from Dr Mahathir that MCA should close shop, Dr Wee had trudged on laboriously.
In his first presidential speech, he said MCA must review its flaws and move on to serve the people.
His sterling performance as an opposition MP in Parliament was inspiring, and in a way has helped to restore the dignity and confidence of the party.
He gave the Pakatan government of 22 months hell by exposing its wrongdoings, criticising bad policies and poor governance.
The 52-year-old fiery orator – fluent in Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and English – has articulated important national and communal issues clearly, and this has helped MCA to gain political mileage.
But as an astute politician, Dr Wee realises that for the party to regain its past glory, MCA must have capable, knowledgeable and bold leaders.
During its heydays in government, MCA scored more than 30 parliamentary seats during general elections.
There is a need for more MCA leaders to speak up and learn to make friends with the media so that the voice of MCA could be disseminated and heard.
In his speech on Feb 29, Dr Wee demanded all future leaders of MCA to be well-versed in the three main languages in the country.
“You must be bold in raising issues. I hope the new generation of leaders will master communication skills in giving speeches.
“You have to be the voice of the people, be able to handle people-related affairs in government departments and be able to present the party’s stand accurately to the media, ” he added.
Currently, what is lacking among many MCA leaders is a good oratory skill. Not many in the party can boast of eloquent public speaking.
The captivating roars of “golden lion” Lee Kim Sai, a past youth leader and deputy president, in Thean How Temple in 1987 to thousands of people who were protesting against some unfair measures in Chinese primary schools could only be found in the history books of MCA.
But Dr Wee also wants MCA leaders and members to remember the original mission of the party when it was set up in 1949 to champion the rights of the Chinese, while working with other ethnic groups.
Though dominant from 1949 to the 1960s, MCA’s fortunes fluctuated after the rise of DAP, which challenged it for the Chinese votes amid a pro-Malay environment created by Umno and the New Economic Policy.
The inability of MCA leaders in the past to ensure Chinese rights would not be eroded in education and economic fields also caused disappointment.
Although MCA enjoyed strong support in the mid-1990s to early 2000 period, its performance went downhill fast after it fared poorly in the 2008 general election. In 2018, it was almost wiped out.
Dr Wee also wants members and leaders to remember the history and contributions of past leaders to MCA and nation-building.
Hence, a video display at the start of the celebrations last Saturday featured briefly selected leaders and their work in the past.
Of prominence was MCA’s founder and first president, Tun Tan Cheng Lock (1883–1960). He was a Chinese businessman who devoted his life to fighting for Chinese citizenship rights and social welfare of the Chinese community in Malaya.
Tan led the MCA to form the Alliance in 1954 in coalition with Umno and MIC. Along with Umno and MIC leaders, Tan had played a vital role in negotiating independence from the British, which was achieved in 1957. Another outstanding early leader was MCA’s third president Tun Tan Siew Sin, a respected finance minister of high integrity. He established Tunku Abdul Rahman College after a proposal to set up a Chinese university was rejected by Tunku’s government then. Other leaders shown on the screen included Tan Sri Lee San Choon, Tan Sri Tan Koon Swan and Tun Ling Liong Sik.
For this year, MCA has chosen “Freedom-Democracy-Justice, together we build a Malaysia for all” as the theme for its 71st birthday.
And Dr Wee explained why in his speech: “Our country has been exposed to many administrative failures, conflicts and power struggles by Pakatan Harapan leaders. We need to rebuild this country.”
He added whatever the future, the pledges of MCA to create a free, democratic and just society will be its main pillars to bring the party forward.
He declared: “MCA will serve the people with the spirit of multiculturalism and moderation. It will be the Chinese-based political party that is well received by all ethnic groups.”