MCA’s reforms hollow without Umno’s, analysts say

Datuk Seri Najib (centre) and MCA leaders stand to attention at the opening ceremony of MCA's 60th AGM in Wisma MCA Kuala Lumpur, December 21, 2013. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng
Datuk Seri Najib (centre) and MCA leaders stand to attention at the opening ceremony of MCA's 60th AGM in Wisma MCA Kuala Lumpur, December 21, 2013. — Picture by Saw Siow Feng

KUALA LUMPUR, Dec 22 — MCA is unlikely to succeed with planned reforms to win back the Chinese community so long as Barisan Nasional (BN) lynchpin Umno continues to thrive on communal politics, said two political analysts.

Despite the winds of change blowing through the party that yesterday elected a new line-up of leaders, they said Umno’s dominance over government policies meant it was difficult for MCA to shake its seemingly subservient role to the Malay nationalist party that has disenchanted its traditional support base.

Since reinforcing its position by winning 88 of the 133 federal seats the coalition managed to retain in Election 2013, Umno has also gained a stranglehold over country’s administration by controlling 17 of the 25 ministerial posts in the government.

“Reform in MCA is dependent on Umno,” Prof James Chin, a political analyst with Monash University, told The Malay Mail Online yesterday.

“The reform would only go as internal party reform and not government policies,” Chin said of MCA’s planned transformation.

In yesterday’s party polls, MCA delegates voted in a new line of leadership in an election that is meant to resuscitate the ailing party and restore its former glory as Malaysia’s main Chinese party.

Some 2,300 delegates elected Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai as president and former Youth chief Datuk Wee Ka Siong as his deputy, both of whom are among the only seven MCA candidates that survived an opposition onslaught in the May 5 polls that saw its remaining 27 federal candidates were annihilated.

Liow had campaigned for the presidency on “meaningful and effective reforms” necessary to prevent the party from “fading into oblivion” and allow MCA to have the last word on matter affecting the Chinese community.

His victory yesterday also closed another chapter on MCA’s chronic infighting, ending a months-long feud with outgoing president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek.

This issue was highlighted by political analyst Khoo Kay Peng, who said MCA must first rid itself of factional politics if it plans to reform, noting that the warring camps were more interested in positions and their privileges than achieving change.

But Khoo said even if MCA were genuine in its desire for reform, its success would be dependent on Umno discarding the communal politics that seen as a major cause of the Chinese rejection of BN and the MCA.

“All the BN component parties will have to go back to the BN platform... MCA has to tell Umno that it must go back to fighting for the interests of all and not just the Malays.

“If Umno goes back to its BN principle of inclusiveness, it can get the support of the Chinese back,” Khoo told The Malay Mail Online.

Khoo noted that, in 1999, Umno and BN had survived a Malay voter backlash that followed the sacking of then deputy prime minister and current Opposition Leader Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim on the back of Chinese support.

When opening MCA’s assembly yesterday, Umno president and Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak at least was cognisant of the damage friendly fire from his party could do wreak on MCA.

“Especially Umno, we should not say things that hurt the feelings of the Chinese. This is not rocket science. If we want to uphold harmony, we cannot hurt the feelings of others and others should not hurt our feelings,” he said when reminding the various communities to be mindful of unseen boundaries when pressing their interests.

But gorged on its relative success in Election 2013 that saw most of its other allies lose ground, analysts believe Umno was unlikely to change its ways.

Since the May 5 polls, sections of the party have become bolder in calling for the Malay community to be rewarded for its support during Election 2013 and for others to be ostracised for failing to vote BN.

Although corruption and economic issues were credited with the urban vote going against BN, Umno leaders had sought to frame the result as a “Chinese tsunami”; at its annual general assembly earlier this month, delegates even suggested for “1 Melayu” to replace Putrajaya’s “1 Malaysia” and for the government to sideline the Chinese for voting against the ruling coalition.

Pointing to these and MCA’s perceived reluctance to confront Umno, Chin said it was clear why reforming MCA alone will not regain the Chinese vote for BN.

“You can see, the Chinese have completely abandoned MCA. There’s no point for reform,” he said.

Chin was also less than charitable about MCA’s professed intention to reform.

Just like others in BN parties, he said the second-largest component party was wracked by factionalism and warring camps made of self-serving leaders interested only in positions.

“The MCA polls is not about reform. It is about who is the successor to Soi Lek. Nothing more than that”.

The party’s political fortunes has been on a decline since 2008 but eyes continue to watch developments at the head of the party as it entails control over the billions of ringgit in assets and shares that include Malaysia’s best-selling English language newspaper, The Star.

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