The party goes into a crucial annual assembly amidst doubts over its chances of recovery.
The general belief is that it will do worse in the 13th general election than the bruising it got in 2008, and most of the blame is placed on Dr Chua Soi Lek’s leadership, or rather the lack of it.
At the party’s 59th annual general assembly this weekend, Chua will no doubt try to boost party morale in preparation for the impending election. Sources familiar with his style predict that he will use emotional rhetoric aimed at imbuing the rank and file with the fighting spirit necessary to pull off the miraculous feat of winning more seats than the party did in 2008.
He is also expected to emphasise that he has brought unity and stability to the party, as he has done on many occasions. His detractors in the party say the claim sounds more hollow and frivolous with each repetition.
Chua, 65, limped into the MCA presidency in April 2010, carrying a tremendous amount of moral baggage. Since then the party has plunged ever more deeply into the political abyss, with no convincing sign that it will recover any time before the election.
Such is the pessimism within a sizeable section of the membership. But many prefer to whisper to each other about their grievances and frustrations rather than discuss them openly, mostly for fear of being accused of disloyalty in the face of a seemingly formidable Pakatan Rakyat, specifically DAP.
When Chua took over as the MCA’s ninth president, many party insiders regretted it, saying the event was an ugly stain on the legacy of the third largest Chinese organisation in the world.
They were not referring only to the confession two years earlier that he was the protagonist in a widely distributed pornographic video, but also to his alleged plotting against rivals as he worked his way to the top. Some have said that his political machinations were even sleazier than his sexual indiscretion.
Details of the alleged plotting against former presidents Ong Ka Ting and Ong Tee Keat might one day emerge. For now, however, insiders claiming to be in the know would only speak in general terms, perhaps out of love for the party and in the hope that it will somehow tide over these trying times and one day regain its lost glory.
Recalling Chua’s assertion that he was not interested in any executive position in MCA, they say he was in fact all the while manoeuvring his way to the top, getting himself appointed as Barisan Nasional’s chief coordinator, and then contesting and winning the deputy presidency of MCA and eventually the presidency.
They accuse him of being behind the “Save MCA Campaign” that forced an open inquiry into a so-called “snoop squad”, which in turn undermined the credibility of then president Ong Ka Ting.
They note that many of the party activists who lobbied for the March 2010 EGM that installed him as party president have been rewarded with ministerial and senatorial posts and top jobs in the party and agencies linked to the party. Others are potential candidates in the coming general election.
Such glaring favouritism makes nonsense of his claims of success in uniting the party. Detractors say he had better leave out any talk of unity in his speech this Saturday (today) unless he is not concerned about being called a liar.
Like Umno, MCA is facing the grim possibility of losing votes from even its traditional base of supporters. Analyses of figures from the 2008 election show that sizeable numbers of card-carrying members rejected both parties. The question now is not whether those members will return to the fold this time around, but how many more will join them in giving votes to the opposition.
What about Chinese voters not affiliated with either MCA or any of the opposition parties – the so-called fence sitters? Since they are not involved in any factional animosity, is there any chance that they are impressed enough by Chua’s leadership to give their votes to MCA?
“Me and my friends are not supportive of MCA as a party and consider its role as no longer relevant,” Gary Lim, a 32-year-old insurance executive, told FMT.
Lim, like many voters in his age group, said he resented being treated like a fool by MCA’s propaganda machine.
Referring to what he described as “distortions and lies” about PAS, he said: “It’s as if we’re all so ignorant, or we don’t have other sources of information.
“I have friends from all over Malaysia, and many are from Kelantan. They told me they are living harmoniously there. In fact, they even boast about how liberal the Kelantan government is. I’ve been told that there is even a place where a pork seller does his business close to a mosque.”
Lim said he doubted that the 13th general election would see MCA doing even as well as it did in 2008.
Tony Leong, 50, said Chua and his party appeared to be lacking in sincerity. He said MCA should look at itself in the mirror before accusing rival parties of neglecting their duties to the electorate.
“Recently,” he said, “I read in the news about an MCA leader accusing the opposition of not doing anything at all.
“That is a sweeping statement and a blatant lie. I live in Taman Perdana, Balakong. The opposition MP takes good care of the constituency in terms of rubbish collection, road repairs and even organising gotong royong.”
Food vendor David Yap, 51, said that if MCA were to win more than 15 parliamentary seats in the next election, it would be because of phantom votes. Yap believes there will be a lot of cheating, especially in Selangor, where BN is desperate to deny Pakatan a second term.
Yap, who claimed to be an avid follower of current events through print and online media, said he could not cite any achievement that MCA had made under Chua’s leadership.
“I don’t know what MCA has done apart from barking at the opposition,” he said. “Perhaps it will be more effective as an opposition party. But we’ll see.”
Stanley Koh is a former head of MCA’s research unit. He is a FMT columnist.