The writing was all over the wall at Dewan San Choon last weekend.
The weekend meeting gave unmistakable signs that MCA is in denial about its loss of relevance as a political organisation representing Malaysian Chinese and its inability to regain their support.
All this became evident the moment Deputy President Liow Tiong Lai opened his mouth last Saturday to address the party’s youth wing. He profusely thanked Prime Minister Najib Tun Razak for “wooing back” Chinese support to “Barisan Nasional and MCA” through his transformation programme.
Liow’s tone embarrassed many delegates to the assembly. Some were heard whispering that it was a virtual admission that the party was now so impotent and so lacking in good leadership that it had to depend on Umno for its lifeline.
President Dr Chua Soi Lek, who spoke on Sunday, was even more sycophantic. After his usual attack against Pakatan Rakyat, including unsubstantiated remarks about the failure of Pakatan-rule states, he proceeded to pour praise upon Najib, to the point of mistakenly describing him as a “democratically elected leader”. He even tried to show a fondness for abbreviations and acronyms, which Najib is known for.
The Star, of course, maintained the tone of adulation. Reporting on Najib’s speech at the assembly, it described it as “inspiring, honest, clear” and spoken “from the heart”.
To their credit, Malaysian Chinese are not so easily bought by such gimmicks. They see today’s MCA as a hypocritical and pretentious party, full of contradictions and addicted to doublespeak. It did not escape the notice of assembly delegates that these characteristics were reflected in the decorations at Dewan San Choon, in the change of uniform from white to the BN blue, and in the orchestrated cheering and applause.
Nothing happened at the assembly that could convince the average voter that there has been any credible move to correct fundamental weaknesses in the party and its leadership.
As one delegate put it, “It’s the same old sandiwara”—a yawn-inducing prolongation of the frivolous press releases and the bitter vitriol against Pakatan that the party’s publicity department has been churning out since Dr Chua became party president.
Another critic said the party leaders, while pointing an accusing finger at Pakatan, were pointing the other fingers at themselves for their lack of political finesse and sticking the thumb into an unmentionable place to rebuke themselves for failing the credibility test.
Lesson not learned
Party members and erstwhile supporters admit that the politics of patronage and adulation had been part of MCA culture even before Dr Chua came to power, but they are appalled that the current leadership has failed to learn a lesson from the debacle of the 2008 general election.
Although there has been much talk of the need to change, there has been “zero transformation” under Dr Chua’s leadership, in the words of a delegate to the weekend assembly. His spinners have simply manufactured new slogans and concocted more half-truths and lies to cover up the weakness of his team.
The superficiality of the show of confidence and gumption at the assembly did not escape the notice of even the reputably impressionable Najib. He expressed a hope that the blueness of the delegates’ T-shirts was less important than a unity of minds and hearts.
The Prime Minister has often spoken of the coming election as a “war” needing the dedication of a “united army”.
Can the party win the war with new T-shirts, meaningless slogans, expensive dinners and a prospectus of rhetoric against its rivals? Are members of the public so dumb that they cannot see through the noisy talk and the pretensions of preparedness for war?
“MCA promotes peace,” says one slogan, as if no one is aware that it has a long record of leadership and factional fighting.
Another slogan, proudly displayed at the meeting hall, accused Pakatan of inciting hatred, as if it would not serve to remind the delegates of Dr Chua’s recent rhetoric against Islam.
Indeed, there are many hard-hitting questions that MCA leaders should ask themselves before launching scathing and ill-conceived attacks against the opposition.
If Pakatan is deficient in its practice of democracy, as Dr Chua and other MCA leaders have alleged, then what can one say about BN’s hijack of Perak? And what about Najib’s unelected presidency of Umno?
If BN is so democratic, why does MCA have to continually struggle for “bargaining power” in the coalition, as so many of its leaders have said publicly, especially when campaigning for positions in the party?
When Deputy Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin rebuked MCA for behaving like an “abused wife” in its protestations over being treated unfairly by BN, many saw it as a Freudian slip, and party members were dumbstruck by the silence of their leaders.
There have been many other insults directed at the MCA leadership and the Chinese community from Umno and organisations affiliated with it. Most of these the MCA leaders have chosen to forget, thereby deepening the impression that they have lost both their backbone and their moral compass.
If only they were wise enough to realise that their real enemy is not any opposition leader or party, but themselves.
But wisdom and hypocrisy cannot exist in the same person, at least when you consider wisdom as defined in classical Chinese thought.
Chua is on record as being critical of political control of the press. “The problem is that many political parties own controlling stakes in the press, MCA included,” he wrote in his blog in the run-up to the election that installed him as party president.
Speaking of MCA, he said: “It has controlling stakes in both the Chinese and English press.
“As such the editors and journalists working for those particular papers are beholden to their political masters and would have to toe the line or risk facing the sack. With this in mind, how can the press truly be free?”
Our question is: Why did Chua appoint one of his core supporters, Dr Fong Chan Onn, as the Star’s chairman and why did MCA recently acquire a weekly Chinese paper, The Tomato?
The current party leadership has failed to keep many of its promises, including rectifying the lopsided ethnic composition of the civil service, police and armed forces. It has also neglected to ensure adequate Chinese representation in statutory bodies and government-linked companies and, of course, a reasonable share of political power.
However, the truth is that many voters today are no longer inspired by race-based politics, which makes MCA and the other major parties in BN irrelevant to them.
As for MCA members, it would be good for them to remember the Persian proverb that a former party president once quoted: “The rotting of the fish begins from the head.”
Is MCA facing extinction? Or, if it survives the next general election, will it continue to exist as a parasitic burden to Umno?
Perhaps, as many party members are hoping, MCA only needs to go on a five-year vacation to free its leaders from governmental responsibilities so that they could address their own weaknesses and thereby place the party on the road to recovery.
Stanley Koh is a former head of MCA’s research unit. He is now a FMT columnist.