MCA gears up for another battle

DATUK Seri Liow Tiong Lai could not contain his emotions when asked about his party’s fate following its dismal performance in the May national polls.

Zubaidah Abu Bakar, NST

The deputy MCA chief turned away from the reporters waiting for his comments, but they could see tears well up in his eyes when he turned around minutes later.

Liow had earlier admitted that MCA’s losses were a big blow to the 64-year-old party, and that it would be a big challenge to regain the support of the Chinese community.

“I pray the party can overcome the challenge. I believe we can go through the challenge…I really hope we can be united,” he said, his voice choking, and then turned his back.

This incident happened two days after the polls, after Liow and Barisan Nasional members of parliament had a special meeting with Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak in Parliament.

MCA only won seven parliamentary seats out of 37 and 11 state seats out of 90 it contested. They fared worse than in 2008, where it won 15 parliamentary seats out of 40 and 32 state seats out of 90 it contested.

Now Liow is asking party members for a chance to lead MCA and regain the support of the Chinese community, offering himself as MCA’s new president at the December party polls.

He is said to have the support of current and past leaders, as well as some party divisions. The most recent on Wednesday came from MCA divisions in Selayang, Kuala Selangor, Subang and Serdang.

“What is important is that party grassroots support and welcome Liow’s candidacy. There is now some light at the end of the tunnel for MCA,” says a party divisional leader from Ipoh who requested anonymity.

Altough Liow is thus far alone in declaring his intention at the party polls, the contest for MCA’s presidency is shaping up to be a multi-cornered one.

“Many people think nobody wants the presidency but in fact, many want to be the MCA president because MCA as a business has assets worth several billions” says Monash University political scientist Prof James Chin, who is also Senior Visiting Research Fellow of Singapore’s Institute of Southeast Asian Studies (ISEAS).

And although MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek has said he is not defending his post, party insiders and MCA watchers do not expect him to support the candidacy of his second-in-command Liow.

“I believe Dr Chua may decide to go for another term; he still has the support of some 90 per cent of the voting delegates,” says an insider who claims the party president is unhappy with the manner Liow was campaigning for the position.

Liow had said that he decided to contest the president’s post after interacting with grassroots members during a nationwide tour intended to get feedback on MCA’s transformation.

Grassroots members had attacked the MCA leadership at some of these meetings, and the story goes that a very unhappy Dr Chua blurted out against his deputy after a function in Kuala Lumpur.

“I appointed Liow to head the MCA Transformation Taskforce. His duty is to hold nationwide roadshows and listen to grassroots…and not to make it a platform for leaders to kill each other,” he was reported as saying.

The grapevine has it that Dr Chua is still interested to keep his post and is looking for a running mate. Another possibility, should he not defend his post, is a proxy fight via a young candidate without much baggage and enemies within the party nominated to challenge Liow.

Dr Chua is a seasoned politician and strategist. In the 2010 MCA elections, he was the first challenger to win against both incumbent and former party presidents in a three-cornered contest.

Dr Chua had polled 901 votes ahead of former president Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting who polled 833 votes and then president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat to become MCA’s 10th president.

Speaking of running mate, who will Liow’s be? Some members say it’s a toss between party youth chief Datuk Seri Dr Wee Ka Siong and central committee member Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan.

Others also think Tee Keat might make a comeback since he still enjoys the support of members who look up to him as a leader who is brave to speak out in defence of the community.

Does Liow command support of the 2,500 delegates to the December assembly? It’s hard to say, but the guest list at the wedding reception of former deputy president Tan Sri Chan Kong Choy’s son in Kuala Lumpur recently has been the talk of the town as a show of Liow’s strength.

Some big names in MCA — Dr Chua and Tee Keat, among them — were reportedly not invited to the event.

Party elections are months away, but in politics even a single day is considered very long. Expect to see more developments in the days ahead.