|Wong Choon Mei|
|KUALA LUMPUR, March 17: Despite professing his love and concern for the MCA, former president Ong Ka Ting has been unable to convince many Malaysian Chinese that he is sincere.|
Although they agree that his successor Ong Tee Keat did a bad job and would be unable to unite the party because of his combative nature, some have blamed Ka Ting for playing a hand in Tee Keat’s downfall.
“Ka Ting is the real dalang behind the drama of the past few months,” an MCA watcher told Harakahdaily.
“He was the real black hand that manipulated all the different stages of double-crossing in order to set the stage for his return to the helm.”
The Liong Sik-Mahathir link
The 54-year old Ka Ting, who hails from Perak and is the Kulai MP, succeeded long-serving MCA president Ling Liong Sik in 2003 amid one of the biggest factional fights in the party.
But despite criticism that he was a puppet for Ling, Ka Ting managed to control and stabilize MCA. Ling has frequently been accused of taking orders from top Umno leaders, particularly former premier Mahathir Mohamad.
During Ka Ting's five-year reign, he did introduce several major reforms to clean up and institutionalize the party.
But while he limited the presidential term to nine-years, he did not take steps to increase the voting base of the party. And till today, only some 2,378 top delegates decide what happens at the MCA, which claims to have about a million members.
"When I announced on June 28, 2008 not to seek re-election of the presidency, I thought I would be leaving the party in safe and united hands,” Ka Ting said, when declaring his intention to contest the presidential post on March 28.
"To my great dismay, this not only turned out to be otherwise, but also, the good values of healthy political culture. Good governance and collective leadership, practiced and advocated by my team have become almost entirely a thing of the past as soon as I retired
Trapped in a rut since October 2008
Indeed, the MCA under Tee Keat has been unable to get moving or find ways to recapture voter confidence after a disastrous outing in the 2008 election.
The moment after winning the presidency in the October 2008 party polls, Tee Keat launched an all-out offensive to sideline his scandal-hit deputy Chua Soi Lek. Chua had beaten the odds by getting voted to the No. 2 post despite being embroiled in a sex scandal.
The Tee Keat-Soi Lek animosity overshadowed everything else in the MCA, culminating in the resignation of 21 out of 25 Central Committee members. The CC is the MCA’s top decision-making body and the mass resignations triggered fresh party polls.
Nominations will be held on March 22 and polling March 28. Due to be contested are 31 posts including president, deputy president, four vice-presidencies and 25 central committee seats.
Tee Keat has already announced that he will defend his post, while Ka Ting will become the first former president to attempt a comeback. Font-runner Soi Lek is expected to throw his hat into the ring this Friday.
Intrigue and hidden hands
Who will win? At the moment, Soi Lek has the strongest support both at grassroots and at division level.
Whilst Tee Keat’s chances are arguably the dimmest, having lost a no-confidence vote just months ago at the party’s October extraordinary general meeting. Despite acknowledging internal intrigue and hidden hands to oust him, MCA members still blame him the most for the problems engulfing their party.
Meanwhile, Ka Ting claims support from over 50 of the party’s 222 divisions. But his biggest trump card may come from the overt support from Prime Minister Najib Razak’s Umno party.
Over the weekend, Umno-controlled newspapers front paged his possible comeback and why the MCA should support him.
“Ka Ting represents the old elite, an extension of the Ling Liong Sik factional interest. His return will actually mean the end of reforms for the MCA in so far as recapturing the respect of voters and the Chinese community,” the MCA watcher said.
"It is obvious Ka Ting has been blessed by Umno because his is considered a very ‘obedient’ group. Their common interest especially in business matters go back to Ling’s time and Ling was president for 17 years. Just imagine how much is at stake.”
In the days leading to the polls, the horse trading for delegates’ votes can be expected to intensify as all three candidates try to bolster their support.
“Tee Keat tried to change MCA. He really frightened the old guard but unfortunately he has personality problems and is too much of a loose cannon,” said the party watcher.
“Soi Lek has the best chances at the moment, but do you really think he will stand up to Umno for the rights of the Chinese community? Isn't he just another Ka Ting but without the Liong Sik link.”