Chua launches bid for top post to rousing support

Written by Chua Sue-Ann, The Edge

The battle lines are drawn with Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek and Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai offering themselves on Sunday, March 21, for the MCA presidency and deputy presidency, respectively, in the party’s fresh polls that will be held on March 28.

Chua joined the race in a three-way fight with incumbent Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat and immediate past president Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting, who is making a comeback.

The contest for the deputy presidency is shaping up to be a two-way fight following Liow’s announcement of his candidacy after another former vice-president Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha had offered himself earlier.

Nominations for the party polls will be held at Wisma MCA here on March 22.

Though the candidates are playing it coy for the moment, the battle lines appear set with Chua and Kong making an appearance together on March 21, while Liow and Ka Ting are largely seen as a tag team, and Tee Keat keeping to his “lone ranger” status.

Horse-trading could continue until the polling day on Sunday and fresh twists are not unexpected, with the possibility of central delegates electing a president and a deputy who have been at loggerheads with one another, and potentially extending the party leadership crisis.

Speaking at a press conference here, Chua dismissed questions about a running mate, saying that he did not “team up” with anyone.

Expressing optimism, he maintained his chances were “as high as any of the other two candidates”.
“Anyone elected as president has to accept anyone who is chosen by the delegates (to be deputy president). This is how we can reduce or eradicate the factions,” he said.

In a rousing speech to his supporters, Chua took a swipe at Ka Ting, who led MCA for five years until October 2008. “It must not be denied that during March 8, 2008 when MCA was under the leadership of Ong Ka Ting, the party suffered huge losses but we see that the organisation is still strong and party members are still loyal and committed,” Chua said.

He claimed that MCA’s dismal performance was due to Ka Ting’s poor choice of “parachute” candidates whom he said were unfamiliar to the voters.

If chosen as party president, he pledged to listen to the grassroots’ views when deciding on election candidate.

After saying that, Chua quipped to his supporters, “I am giving you all more power, why no applause?” before the ballroom burst into applause and cheers.

“This time, your choice of party leader is very important. (The leader should be) tolerant, open-minded and willing to listen to the grassroots and not only one who wants to listen to his own voice,” Chua said, perhaps taking a jibe at Tee Keat.

He told the crowd that he planned to strengthen the grassroots by utilising the party’s assets, including  MCA-owned newspaper The Star’s profits, which he said totalled some RM40 million to RM60 million.

“I understand the aspirations and demands of MCA members. I have a strategy of how we can unite MCA members and stabilise the current situation in MCA.

“If chosen, I’m confident we can form an MCA that can encompass everyone so we can move forth as a team and be prepared for the next general election,” Chua said.

He added that he would launch his election manifesto on March 22 but remain tight-lipped as to what he would be banking on to win the presidency.

When asked, Chua said he had already “acknowledged the fact” that his secretly-filmed sex tape, which was circulated at the end of 2007, may be used by “people who will use anything for their own political gain”.

“I give assurance that I will not use personal issues (when campaigning). Each MCA leader has his own weakness. It’s a matter of whether it is exposed,” said Chua, who had resigned from his positions after the video recording surfaced.

Former MCA vice-president Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha, who was present at Chua’s press conference, told reporters that he was prepared to work with any of the three candidates who were vying for the presidency.

Kong, who is housing and local government minister, is widely seen as Chua’s running mate but has dismissed such a conjecture.

Also present during Chua’s announcement were MCA disciplinary board chairman Datuk Seri Fong Chan Onn as well as former central commitee (CC) members Datuk Tan Chai Ho and Loh Seng Kok.

Chua’s announcement at a hotel here was met with a standing ovation from over 600 supporters, many of whom are said to have been transported by bus from Chua’s home state Johor.

At the hotel entrance, almost 100 supporters held four banners bearing Chua’s photograph and slogans proclaiming support for Chua’s bid while asserting that the embattled party needed a strong leader to unite MCA rather than a “hero”.

The crowd enthusiastically blew whistles and shouted slogans urging Chua to “fight to the end”.
Chua resigned as deputy president on March 4, along with seven other CC members, adding to the other group of 13 CC members who had also sent in their resignations in a bid to trigger fresh elections for the party’s powerful central body.

According to the MCA constitution, fresh elections for the CC must be held within 30 days if at least two-thirds or 21 of its 31 elected members resign before their term expires. Chua was reinstated as deputy president by the Registrar of Societies (ROS) on Nov 3, 2009 after he was earlier sacked from the party.

MCA’s emergency general meeting on October 10, 2009 saw Chua reinstated as a party member but not as deputy president.

Liow mum
Meanwhile, at a press conference also at MCA headquarters that was held earlier to Chua’s, Liow declined to comment on the presidential candidate that he would be aligning himself to.

He hoped that delegates will decide with the party’s interests in mind and based on the candidates’ abilities, instead of factions and alliances.

“I have mentioned in my statement that unity, harmony and stability of the party are of utmost importance; so as long as we have the same direction we can work together.

“I am a team player. I prioritise the party’s stability, harmony and unity. It’s not a slogan but a commitment to my party.

“I am ready to work together with the new MCA leadership to reinforce the party’s position so we can confidently face the general election,” Liow said.

However, he declined to say whether he would be ready to work with Tee Keat if the latter were to retain the top post. “I do not want to comment. All these are wait-and-see questions,” he said.

Liow also declined to comment on his contender only saying that Kong had the right to contest in the polls.

Kong, who resigned from his vice-presidency in February, won the highest number of votes in the last party elections.

To date, only Liow and Kong have announced their intentions to gun for the No 2 position ahead of nomination day March 22.

“It is important for MCA to restore its integrity as quickly as possible. Come March 28, MCA will fully recover its integrity,” Liow said, to applause by his supporters.

Also present at Liow’s press conference were MCA Youth chief Datuk Wee Ka Siong, Wanita MCA chief Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun and former CC member Datuk Chor Chee Heung.

Chor, who is deputy finance minister, on March 15 announced his bid for one of the four MCA vice-president posts after he was sacked from the CC in November, 2009.

Liow was briefly MCA deputy president last year before the Registrar of Societies reinstated Chua to the position following the party’s inconclusive Oct 10 EGM.

A total of 31 positions are up for grabs in MCA’s CC polls, including 25 CC members.