Dr Chua Soi Lek’s failure to unite his party may prove to be his downfall.
However much you may hate Dr Chua Soi Lek, you have to admire his ability to survive in the harsh and sordid world of Malaysian politics. His victory in the 2010 MCA presidential election will remain as one of the great comeback stories in our political history.
That victory came barely two years after he had confessed to a sexual indiscretion and resigned all party and government posts. It was no mean victory. His rivals were formidable; one was the incumbent president and the other a former president.
However, according to some pundits inside his own party, Chua may have used up all the dirty tricks in his survival kit and is facing his end days in politics.
They say his failure to fulfil a promise to unite the various factions in MCA and to regain voter support for the party will prove to be his final undoing.
The promise to heal rifts in the party was particularly important. If he had worked hard at it and been even half successful, he might not have become the lonely and desperate party chief that his detractors say he is today.
According to insiders, Chua hands are sore from gripping the rein of leadership tightly for fear of losing it to some scheming faction leader who has wised up to his tricks, including those he used as part of the psychological war strategy to clinch the 2010 victory.
They say he can now trust only a small circle of supporters. Ironically, that is what he used to say about his predecessor.
Chua knows well enough that in his campaign for the presidency, he made enough internal enemies to last him a lifetime. And since then he has added to the list through his decisions in party appointments and recommendations for government positions.
Now, with the general election looming, the time bomb of vengeance is ticking away. Many are the disgruntled warlords waiting to settle old scores. Will they sabotage the election just to prove that Chua is an unworthy president?
But then again, they may not have to do anything. Everyone knows that MCA is facing the darkest hour it its history and many think it will be wiped out in the coming election.
The fact is glaringly clear: Chua has failed to win back the Chinese community’s support for MCA and BN in nearly three years of helming the party.
He has made blunder upon blunder in his public statements on issues that the new generation of voters care about, such as human rights and environmental concerns. When not blundering, he would resort to glittering rhetoric about BN’s claimed culture of consensus or, in classic BN style, skim over the issues.
Frogs in a well shaft
In the eyes of the public, MCA leaders are like frogs in a well shaft. They see only the sky above. They are no longer feeling the pulse on the ground, having lost the plot set by the party’s founding fathers in their aspiration for a democratic and united Malaysia.
Critics among party insiders privately acknowledge that today’s MCA has neither a ideology nor any semblance of unity.
“Party unity is, at best, an illusion,” said a veteran who served as a party official during Lee San Choon’s presidency.
One would be naive to think that Chua is unaware of disunity in his party despite the rhetoric he uses to convince his political masters in Umno that the situation is otherwise.
It is out of his awareness of disunity that he has exercised extreme care in selecting candidates for the 13th GE. Foremost in his mind is his own political survival, which depends partly on MCA winning back a decent number of seats.
It is anybody’s guess how many rival factions there are in MCA, but insiders agree that one of the most dangerous to Chua is the faction led by Ong Ka Chuan. He is a brother of Ong Ka Ting, whose presidency was undermined by the Save MCA Campaign launched in 2006 and the Snoop Squad controversy that Chua allegedly had a hand in.
Another faction is linked to the party’s former youth chief in Penang, Eng Boon Hiap. Eng is a staunch supporter of Chua’s predecessor, Ong Tee Keat. In December 2011, he led 400 others in a resignation that shut down two MCA branches.
However, the biggest threat to Chua’s future comes from the fact that the “collective leadership” he put together after winning the presidency was based on a betrayal of trust and selfish interests.
Both Liow Tiong Lai and Wee Ka Siong were staunch supporters of Ong Tee Keat and were, during a factional split under Ling Liong Sik’s tenure, aligned to a faction that was at odds with the faction Chua supported.
MCA leadership is indeed trapped in history with political personalities and characters void of principles and non-ideological.
Whispers in the party
Speaking to FMT, Eng Boon Hiap said Chua’s leadership status could be summed up in the following words: “He has no present because only his past is rushing into the future.”
Recently, Chua accused pro-Umno bloggers of betraying his trust by posting confidential remarks he had made about deputy, Liow Tiong Lai and former president Ong Tee Keat. Insiders say that episode was a good illustration of Chua’s combative character.
Chua had told the bloggers that Ong Tee Keat should resign from the party and made innuendos to the effect that the former president would jump ship if BN loses badly in the coming election.
“When Chua said this, it looks to me like a personal vendetta,” former party vice president Jimmy Chua said. “It is very unusual in MCA history for a sitting president to run down a former president.
To many party members, Chua’s remarks were unnecessary and contradictory to his promises of fostering party unity.
“It is not politically correct for Chua to be making remarks on internal party matters to outsiders,” said a party veteran regarding his comment about Liow’s bleak political future.
Lately, there have been whispers in the party that Chua should resign to allow for the emergence of a truly collective leadership before the party sinks into political oblivion at the next national polls.
It is well known in MCA circles that hordes of members have deserted the party without handing in their resignations.
“The party will be lucky to win three to five parliamentary seats at the next general election,” said a former president.
Stanley Koh is a former head of MCA’s research unit and a FMT columnist.