SINCE the MCA leadership crisis broke out, the second largest component party in the Barisan Nasional has found its image dented and popularity waning.
A lot of hard work following the party’s strong performance in the 1999 general election was over-shadowed by the 14-month open bickering.
Its dignity is declining and, as the party turns 54 today, its leaders could not have chosen a theme better than “Unite for Dignity” for the occasion.
Having chosen this theme, the two factions dubbed Team A and Team B led by president Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik and his deputy Datuk Seri Lim Ah Lek respectively will have to prove their seriousness in keeping the party’s dignity.
The “ceasefire” between the two sides came in April last year – in the midst of the party’s triennial elections – after Barisan chairman Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad stepped in with a “elections without contest” peace plan which returned all incumbents until 2005.
But the animosity is far from over.
MCA secretary-general Datuk Seri Dr Ting Chew Peh said the majority of the party’s one million members wanted party unity and he hoped the theme would be a reminder to those still oblivious to the importance of party unity.
“A man must live with dignity. A political party must also have dignity and protecting our party's dignity is our obligation,” he said.
Dr Ting said MCA must always uphold its dignity and strive for the Chinese community’s respect and confidence for it to remain relevant.
“MCA has grown from strength to strength, represented the Chinese community and fulfilled its role as the second largest Barisan component party due to support from the community,” said Dr Ting, who is also the anniversary celebrations chairman.
Johor MCA chief Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek said the national-level celebration at Jalan Tebrau Stadium on Sunday would be attended by 6,000 members from all over the country.
He said the event and its theme were symbolic and reminded members of their support which saw the party grow from strength to strength, adding that it should not be seen as a show of strength of any individual leader.
“Those who try to undermine the event by organising functions simultaneously will only have the events backfiring on them and reflect their lack of love for the party,” Dr Chua said.
The peace plan has managed to keep the temperature down but both sides have openly gone their own ways.
MCA vice-president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting stressed that MCA had to resolve its internal problems before it could proceed further, adding that he was confident his views were shared by all members.
“Only a strong MCA can play its role in the party, community and nation together with other Barisan component parties in the face of challenges at home and globally,” he said.
As such, Ong said that leaders and members alike must always put party above self.
“This can be achieved by setting aside one’s differences and minimising prejudices, grudges and personal interest to the lowest possible level.
“Efforts must be made to look for common traits and exercise tolerance so that all may be together again,” he added.
Only the Chinese New Year gathering at party headquarters on the first day of the new lunar calendar was attended by both teams.
Besides this, leaders have continued to organise their own functions.
Except for vice-president Datuk Chan Kong Choy and his supporters, none of the Team B leaders attended the MCA annual press night recently – an event held in conjunction with the Lunar New Year which is usually well-attended by MCA leaders to maintain close rapport with the media.
Chan described the theme as “very appropriate” after more than two years of internal party squabbles.
“It is most timely because only a united MCA will gain the respect of the people,” he said, adding he was confident that party unity was the wish of every member.
MCA vice-president Datuk Dr Fong Chan Onn said that open differences between party leaders was normal and the progress in Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman last year had proven that differences were not a stumbling block.
Serdang MCA division chairman Datuk Yap Pian Hon, from Team B, also felt the theme was appropriate, adding that members must uphold party dignity all the while.
Yap believed the differences could be resolved through sincerity and all could work together to face external challenges as in the general election.
MCA Youth secretary-general Loh Seng Kok said the theme was most relevant in reminding members of the need to unite for the party and the community.
“Let’s put aside our differences and close ranks,” he said.
MCA Youth central committee member Fam Lee Ee said the theme should be translated into sincere actions by both teams.
“Actions speak louder than words,” he said, adding that his wish was that both teams could work together seriously and start afresh after such a long standoff.
Wanita MCA national organising secretary Chew Mei Fun said the theme was very appropriate because “we need to be united or else others will look down on us.”
She said the interests of individuals must not be above that of the party and nation.
Perhaps the Chinese belief “setting up a business is difficult but maintaining it is even more difficult” mirrors the struggle of the 54-year-old party.
As the party celebrates its anniversary, its leaders could best take a look at how they intend to win lost ground following the crisis.