Despite its money, machinery and media, the party is still seen as having a poor chance of making a comeback in the 13th GE.
The general belief among observers of Malaysian politics is that the MCA will go into the next polls with a practically zero chance of scoring a respectable win in the parliamentary contests within the Klang Valley.
Even seasoned pundits are saying that the die is cast and Barisan Nasional’s second largest party will suffer another electoral blow. One observer expressed his sentiment in the words of an old Chinese saying: “Mu yi cheng zhou.” (The wood is already made into a boat; what is done cannot be undone.)
Party president Dr Chua Soi Lek is not the kind of man who would hope for a divine wind to turn MCA’s ebb into a rising tide. He would rather put his faith in the power of the three Ms: money, machinery and media. His party certainly has plenty of those.
But what good are the three Ms to MCA if it does not have electoral support? That is like being wealthy but dead.
Chua has been heard to boast that he could make the impossible possible—in a tacit reference, perhaps, to his victory in the last MCA presidential election despite the taint of a sex scandal.
Can Chua win all the time? His clandestine campaign activities against Ong Ka Ting and Ong Tee Keat for the presidential election carried the theme “Save MCA”. It is ironical that the same clarion call has come back to haunt him as the general election approaches.
Is it karma in the making? Can he save MCA at the coming polls?
For a start, can he orchestrate an effective team to help BN recapture Selangor or at least score a respected number of parliamentary seats in the Klang Valley?
In 2008, the party won only the Pandan parliamentary seat out of the seven it contested in Selangor. It lost all five parliamentary seats in the Kuala Lumpur Federal Territory. The swing against MCA was 26% in Selangor and 17.3 % in Kuala Lumpur. Many of its own members voted against it.
This may explain the recent shameless move to buy votes a la Najib Tun Razak. MCA members aged 60 and above are given a token sum of RM100 and other members are entitled to free accident insurance for one year.
With 45.3% of party members aged 46 years and above and another 28.3% between the ages of 36 and 45, the bulk of the membership is middle-aged. Those below 21 years old barely make up 1%. With such demographics, one could say that the party is out of sync with the growing young urban population.
Despite Chua’s own optimism that MCA can perform better this time than in 2008, the sentiment on the ground is bleak.
Beating a dead horse
The 2008 tsunami was a true shocker if one were to consider how well the party performed in 2004. It achieved achieved an 82.3% winning rate by capturing a total of 31 parliamentary and 76 state seats out of 40 and 90 respectively.
Many are saying the electoral landscape has irrevocably tilted against MCA since 2008 and Chua is trying to revive a horse that he thinks is sick but is actually dead. The Chinese proverb “si ma dang huo ma yi” aptly illustrates this futile act.
But Chua’s favourite Chinese saying seems to be “you qian neng shi gui tui mo”—with money, anybody can make the devil push the grindstone. Hence the billions of ringgit in handouts. This is probably what is meant by bread-and-butter issues.
Another factor that MCA is betting its voting luck on is the “candidate selection factor”.
In Kuala Lumpur, Chua may pull off a surprise by fielding a young candidate, Tan Kok Eng, the son of Tan Chai Ho, who has served as deputy minister in numerous portfolios and is currently the party’s treasurer-general.
The choice of seat for the young Tan is equally surprising. It is Kepong, a parliamentary seat currently allocated to Gerakan, but which that party lost to DAP’s Tan Seng Giaw in 2008 after winning it in seven consecutive elections.
Kepong is one of the largest Chinese-majority areas in the country ethnic voters. According to a top party insider, MCA hopes that winning it would be a psychological boost that might help arrest the unpopularity slide.
A close aide of Chua’s, Theng Book, will be fielded for the Bandar Tun Razak parliamentary seat, currently held by Selangor Menteri Besar Khalid Ibrahim.
Chua may retain some old parliamentary candidates in Selangor. According to insiders, Loh Seng Kok is tipped to contest in Kelana Jaya and Yap Pian Hon in Serdang.
“The candidate list is in a state of flux,” Chua has said.
Will Ong Tee Keat be selected to contest again in Pandan, the only parliamentary seat in Selangor that MCA won in 2008? Will Donald Lim Siang Chai, MCA Selangor chief and Deputy Finance Minister, be retained to contest in a parliamentary seat? Sources say it is either him or Jessie Ooi for Selayang.
Teh Kim Poh was originally in the preliminary list for Klang. But like the MCA president himself has said, he could have been “allegedly dropped”.
The list of candidates is said to include several new faces from Wanita MCA: Chew Hong Leng for PJ Utara, Teh Hwi Leng for Klang, Wong Fong Leng for PJ Selatan and, as mentioned above, Jessie Ooi for Selayang. It is rumoured that Nicole Wong will be fielded in Seputeh, currently held by DAP’s Teresa Kok.
Are these winnable candidates for MCA? Surely, their names must have been “tested” for feedback in a quiet survey by MCA and by intelligence reports ordered by higher ups in the BN heirarchy.
“Rensuan bur u tiansuan,” as the saying goes. Man proposes and Heaven disposes. Not quite, perhaps.
The signs of the times are that the voters will be making the decision. They might choose to take seriously Chua’s pledge to take MCA out of the government if it performs badly.
Stanley Koh is the former head of MCA’s think-tank. He is now a FMT columnist.