Blank shots from MCA spin mill

The party’s publicity machinery has been working overtime since Chua Soi Lek took over the presidency, but its efforts have come to nought because of hypocrisy in the party and its leadership

Stanley Koh, Free Malaysia Today

Not too long ago, Perkasa boss Ibrahim Ali hammered out a warning to Barisan Nasional that it would lose both Chinese and Malay votes like a haemorrhage if MCA president Dr Chua Soi Lek did not shut “his bad mouth”.

His had this advice for Dr Chua: “If you love MCA, better take a back seat. Don’t syok sendiri, as in the video.” (“Syok sendiri” is a popular Malay expression indicating that someone is basking in self-approval but does not deserve it, and “the video” is the one showing Dr Chua having extramarital sex.)

This was a remarkable and rare show of brilliant insight from the great champion of Malay rights. Ibrahim was saying, in effect, that it would be a grave error for anyone to assume that success in politics depends entirely on the shaping of perception through publicity efforts.

Malaysians are no longer dumb, deaf and blind. They can smell deception when a politician tries to advance an argument by re-packaging propaganda instead of by the force of facts.

If politicians still think they can convince voters of their worth merely by wagging their tongues or churning out daily press releases, they are in for a rude shock when the ballot papers are counted.

When Chua was trying to explain his return to active politics despite his abrupt resignation in January 2008 over a sex scandal, he cited the findings of a survey conducted by a local Chinese magazine. “The survey informed me that I can still get votes because it was a private affair and not affecting public interests.”

That was the beginning of his move to exploit publicity to the hilt for his political comeback. He calculated every political manoeuvre to ensure that it went in tandem with publicity games to undermine confidence in his presidential predecessors, Ong Ka Ting and Ong Tee Keat, who were his rivals in the 2010 presidential election.

Politicians are apparently akin to ships, noisiest when lost in a fog. So it is no surprise that MCA, under Chua’s leadership, is showing such prowess in its publicity attacks against political opponents.

The pertinent question is whether this is an effective strategy considering that the party has rows of cupboards full of skeletons? Will the constant firing of propaganda missiles at Pakatan state governments improve MCA’s image? Have the publicity spinners at headquarters forgotten that two of the party’s top leaders are facing court trials over the PKFZ scandal?

Many Malaysians no longer read mainstream newspapers and are therefore no longer misinformed. If MCA wants to take the high moral ground, it must first ensure that its leaders, past and present, belong on that ground in the eyes of the public.

Lies and propaganda

The main publicity obstacle facing both Chua and his party is that neither can qualify to be a guardian of the truth. The party’s recent history is riddled with distortion, lies and propaganda engendered by infighting and leadership tussles.

Not that Chua’s steamy sex scandal is a lesser problem, but since he apparently thinks of himself as the most publicity-savvy president MCA has ever had, let us ask another pertinent question. What has he done to ensure press freedom, which he promised to do during his presidential election?

A couple of years back, he wrote in his personal blog: “The problem is that many political parties own controlling stakes in the press, MCA included. 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? How can it ever have credibility when all and sundry know they are owned by certain political parties?

“A particular senior MCA leader has been ranting and raving about the importance of press freedom … (but) behind the scenes he exerts an inordinate amount of editorial control and interference.”

Referring to a former president whom he did not name but whom everyone could tell was Ong Ka Ting, he said: “Articles which are highly critical of him and his special ones do not see the light of day (in the Star, which MCA owns).

“I doubt I have to tell you who this leader is. He has been very busy making public statements these days.”

Well, we can ask Chua a few more questions.

To what extent has he pursued reform toward press freedom since taking over the party presidency? Has Chua not adopted a policy of admitting weaknesses but concealing mistakes, as was quite evident in the controversy surrounding the sacking of DJ Jamaluddin Ibrahim from a MCA-controlled radio station? Why did MCA appoint party veteran Fong Chan Onn as board chairman of the Star instead of choosing from among independent professionals to improve public confidence in the paper?