ON Monday evening, Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting and Datuk Chan Kong Choy sat down together for dinner at a hotel in Bukit Bintang with some friends.
They told their friends that they were in high spirits because the day had been a good one, although a little hectic.
Exactly a month ago, we were elected MCA president and deputy president, Ong said.
Chan then joined in, reminding their listeners that it was around dinner time that the official announcement was made.
The two had since criss-crossed the country and attended countless party meetings, mostly at grassroots level, to get party members to close ranks after over 14 months of leadership crisis.
The response has been good, signalling the readiness of the one million MCA members to accept the new leadership.
As the conversation and wine flowed, the mobile phones began to ring continuously with reporters calling up to say that Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad was calling a press conference the next day to announce changes to the government line-up.
At 8.45am yesterday, the Prime Minister announced the minor changes, involving mostly MCA leaders.
Chan, who was Deputy Finance Minister, was appointed the Transport Minister while Wanita MCA chief Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen took over his post, making her the second woman deputy finance minister. Wanita Umno chief Datuk Seri Rafidah Aziz was the first.
The post is certainly a feather in the cap for Dr Ng, who has earned top marks for her performance at the Culture, Arts and Tourism Ministry, particularly her untiring efforts to woo Chinese tourists.
That was not all. Dr Mahathir rewarded the MCA, the second largest component party in the Barisan Nasional, with another deputy ministers post.
Datuk Donald Lim, the Transport Ministry parliamentary secretary, was elevated to Deputy Information Minister.
His counterpart at the Ministry of International Trade and Industry (Miti), Datuk Fu Ah Kiow, was promoted to Deputy Culture, Arts and Tourism Minister.
Ipoh Barat MP Datuk Ho Cheong Sing, an engineer, was named the Miti parliamentary secretary.
The other changes include moving Datuk M. Kayveas, who was Deputy Housing and Local Government Minister, to the Prime Ministers Department which oversees the administration of courts and enforcement agencies.
Kavyeas, an outspoken and controversial figure, will now report to minister Datuk Seri Dr Rais Yatim.
But it will be the appointments of the MCA leaders that will grab the attention of political analysts.
Ong has taken a departure from his party predecessor, Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik, by deciding to stick to his present ministerial portfolio.
As Housing and Local Government Minister, Ong must have decided that he wanted to remain close to the 452 Chinese new villages with over two million people under the care of the ministry.
He would be able to effectively interact with and help these new villagers, who form the bulk of the partys grassroots members.
There is also plenty of uncompleted business involving the powers of local governments which he wants to focus his energies on.
Ong, however, is no stranger to the Transport Ministry, where he was a press secretary and then a political secretary for five years from 1986.
Although the Transport Ministers post is often identified with the MCA president, Tan Koon Swan was never a minister while acting president Datuk Dr Neo Yee Pan was Housing and Local Government Minister.
But the appointment of Chan as Transport Minister certainly fits the stature of MCA deputy president.
The portfolio is regarded seriously in modern government as countries compete to upgrade their seaports, airports and rails, which are seen as engines of growth.
Another bonus for the MCA is the extra deputy ministers post. The party now has seven deputy ministers one more than previously.
Lim, the PJ Selatan MP, will now move to the Information Ministry as a deputy minister. His role will be important as the ruling party gears itself for the general election.
It is important to note that Health Minister Datuk Chua Jui Meng and Deputy Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Ong Tee Keat have kept their jobs.
Despite being on the wrong side of the fence, by maintaining the status quo, it shows the seriousness of the Barisan elders in wanting to see the MCA remain united.
It must also be taken into account that Chua is still an elected MCA vice-president while Tee Keat is Youth chief.
The government leadership changes essentially involve MCA leaders as Dr Mahathir must have felt the need to accommodate the political changes in the party following the resignation of Dr Ling.
With the exception of Arau MP Mastikah Junaidah, who was named parliamentary secretary to the Women and Family Development Ministry, there were no other Umno candidates.
Dr Mahathir has not filled up the other ministerial post in the Prime Ministers Department, left vacant by Datuk Kasitah Gaddam, who was de facto Federal Territory Minister.
The Housing and Local Government Ministry is now left with one deputy minister, Datuk Peter Chin.
There is also no deputy minister under the Women and Family Development Ministry headed by Datuk Shahrizat Jalil.
But a major revamp would be meaningless, given the fact that Dr Mahathir would pass the leadership baton to his deputy, Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, in October and with the general election expected to be held early next year, another change can be expected after the polls.
The changes made by Dr Mahathir, particularly involving the MCA leaders, would however allow Ong to chart a steadier course now that he has taken over the leadership helm.
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