By Kee Thuan Chye
28th Feb 2014
The MCA has traded whatever dignity it has left for nothing but a trifle.
In an extraordinary general meeting (EGM) held last October, its delegates voted against revoking a party resolution that barred members from accepting Cabinet positions. But only four months later, in another EGM held last Sunday, the earlier decision was reversed.
At first, no to Cabinet posts, and now, yes. This is a classic example of flip-flopping. The disease is indeed infectious, running from the head of Barisan Nasional (BN) down to the coalition’s partner. Call it leadership by example.
It’s interesting to note that in the October EGM, of the 2,188 delegates who voted, 50 per cent (1,090) said no to Cabinet positions while 49 per (1,080) cent said yes.
This time around, of the 1,982 delegates who voted, an overwhelming 99.5 per cent (1,973) said yes. Four abstained, and only five said no. Almost 900 had changed their minds since last October.
Apart from exhibiting inconsistency, the delegates showed they bent like feudal serfs to the will of their lord. Four months ago, Chua Soi Lek was the lord, but now it’s Liow Tiong Lai. And Liow has been an advocate of accepting Cabinet positions. Right after he became the party’s president last December, he declared that the move to return to the Cabinet would be foremost on his main agenda. So now the delegates are responding to their master’s wish.
Indeed, the outcome of the new EGM also makes Liow look like he himself is coveting a ministerial post. He must greatly miss it after having been Health Minister until the last general election (GE13).
He tries to rationalise it by saying that a lot of issues affecting the Chinese need to be raised at the Cabinet level in order to be resolved quickly. But this doesn’t hold water. Even the Chinese don’t believe it. At GE13, they rejected the MCA precisely because as part of the Government, it had failed to get issues resolved. Many Chinese even feel the MCA has actually lost its relevance.
Even now, in the nine months after GE13 with no MCA representation in the Cabinet, business has been going on as usual. A couple of MCA ministers in the Government would have made no difference whatsoever.
The reason for this is clear: Umno’s dominance in the Government is overwhelming, and therefore any claim made by the MCA or the MIC or any other BN component parties that they can resolve whatever issues they may raise is mostly illusory. In common parlance, such a claim is simply syiok sendiri.
Given the inherent ineffectuality of MCA ministers, it looks all the more apparent that the push for reversal of its Cabinet stand is motivated mainly by the desire of individuals to become ministers, and also the desire of intra-party parasites to get favours from the ministerial connections.
But for all that has transpired and the price paid for it in the loss of the delegates’ consistency, word has it that the MCA might not get what it is hankering after, i.e. three minister and four deputy minister openings.
The position of Transport Minister is assured, because this has been reserved for the party since after GE13, with Hishammuddin Hussein currently operating in an acting capacity. But other than that, it depends on how much of a juggling act Prime Minister Najib Razak is willing to perform.
The MCA is reportedly also hoping to get the Urban Wellbeing, Housing and Local Government Ministry because it covers Chinese New Villages. If it does, this will amount to a mere small picking anyway, especially compared to what the party used to command during its better days, when the highly important Finance Ministry was one of its portfolios. Well, that was a few decades ago; these days, there’s no chance whatsoever for the MCA to get that portfolio back. It has been reserved for Umno since the time of Mahathir Mohamad. You can bet it’s not going to change.
So it looks like the MCA will be asking for scraps, the kind of thing beggars do. But then, with its track record having deteriorated so much, what can it possibly expect? At GE13, it managed to win only seven parliamentary seats, down from the 15 it won at GE12 and the 31 at GE11. This means that at the last two general elections, it performed poorer each time by 50 per cent.
The party had four ministers and seven deputy ministers in government prior to GE13. Now if the outcome of its request to return to the Cabinet falls short of expectations, it will certainly lose face. Liow too could lose the confidence of his own party members.
The MIC, which won fewer parliamentary seats at GE13 (only four), now has two ministers and two deputy ministers. If the MCA doesn’t get more than the MIC, where would Liow run for cover?
He might take comfort in the fact that it was his predecessor, Chua, who made the horrific mistake of threatening the Chinese before GE13 by declaring that the MCA would turn down Cabinet positions if it lost badly. But, more important than anything else, he needs to recognise that the Chinese no longer have much faith in the MCA any more. That’s why they were not bothered by Chua’s threat.
This being so, MCA’s getting back into government will not help it regain Chinese support. Neither will it improve the party’s overall position. In fact, now that it has reneged from its earlier stand, its position will be worse. It will be perceived as a party without scruples, a party that does not keep its word.
The upcoming Kajang by-election, scheduled for March 23, is going to be a test – although in a microcosm – of how much regard the Chinese still have for the MCA. The constituency has 41 per cent of voters who are Chinese. But chances are many of them will not vote for the BN candidate, Chew Mei Fun. This is because by and large, the Chinese cannot accept a party that still cavorts with the “devil” that they consider corrupt, deceitful and racially divisive.
That Chew agreed to be a guinea pig or barometer of Chinese support or sacrificial lamb – whatever you want to call it – so soon after having made a comeback in the MCA and getting elected its vice-president shows that she is either courageous or thick-skinned or not too smart. Or that she is merely trying her luck.
In that sense, perhaps she reflects her party’s dilemma. When you have already lost so much, why not just try anything? After all, what more could you possibly lose?
* Kee Thuan Chye is the author of the book The Elections Bullshit, available in bookstores.