On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Like the long-drawn scenes of an opera

Datuk Seri Dr Ling Liong Sik has announced his decision
to seek re-election as party president. He said he would offer himself for the
post if the members wanted him to continue leading the party.

The announcement by the Transport Minister has effectively killed speculations
of his political retirement.

By making known his stand, aspirants for his post – and other posts – would now
need to re-assess their plans.

For example, a party leader who has decided to contest the No.1 post would now
have to re-examine the odds against him and the chances of making it against
the incumbent.

He may then opt to contest the No.2 post instead, if Datuk Lim Ah Lek decides
to vacate the seat.

If partnerships are formed, then the aspirants would have to decide on their
running mates carefully.

In short, Dr Ling has told party members they should now decide where they

It would not be easy for some party members as Lim and his protege,
vice-president Datuk Chan Kong Choy, also have their loyal supporters.

Under a leadership succession formula, it had been proposed that Chan takes the
deputy presidency but negotiations between Dr Ling and Lim eventually

Supporters of Dr Ling said the talks fell through because he was asked to fix a
date for his retirement, when the focus of the negotiations was on the No.2

Lim, the former Human Resources Minister, has denied asking Dr Ling to retire.
He accused his detractors of putting words in his mouth.

The failure of the talks appears to have been the catalyst for the current

At the party's 52nd anniversary celebrations on Feb 25, Dr Ling openly admitted
his differences with Lim.

Both pledged to place party unity above all else but there are no visible signs
of any olive branch being offered at this point.

The regular press statements and comments made by party leaders are likely to
aggravate the situation.

Responding to Dr Ling's announcement to seek re-election, Lim said it was not
the time to talk about political ambitions but to rebuild the party's

He said the party's immediate task was to restore the dwindling support of the
Chinese community.

Lim also called for a post-mortem to discuss several controversial issues
affecting the party.

On the same day, Johor MCA vice-chairman Dr Chua Soi Lek challenged Lim to
state his political plan since he had so often talked about retiring.

The next day, MCA publicity chief Datuk Wong See Wah issued the sharpest
criticism against Lim and Chan for what they reportedly said in a recent
interview with Yazhou Zhoukan, a Hong Kong-based magazine.

Wong said their actions were illogical and unacceptable to the party
grassroots, and had damaged the party's image.

Chan was quoted in Yazhou Zhoukan as saying the MCA was divided into two

Excerpts of the interview were picked up by only one local Chinese newspaper.
It almost went unnoticed but has since become a talking point among party

Chan had privately told party members and the local media he was upset with the
report as it was an off-the-record briefing for the magazine.

Predictably, not all MCA leaders bought the argument, and some commented that
it was a hard-hitting statement against the leadership.

The Deputy Finance Minister was quoted as saying that Youth chief Datuk Ong Tee
Kiat had been sidelined while another vice-president, Datuk Chua Jui Meng, was
seen as a threat to Dr Ling.

He said Wanita chief Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen was not Dr Ling's candidate for the
party post. Dr Ng has since rebutted, saying no one should talk about camps in
the MCA.

Asked by Yazhou Zhoukan whether Lim Ah Lek and Chua would form a team to
challenge Dr Ling, Chan said that “anything can happen.''

In the same interview, MCA Youth vice-chairman Loh Seng Kok was quoted as
saying Chua might not be in Chan's side.

He described Chua as “the third force'' and said Ong “was on his own.''

He also told the magazine Dr Ling had no intention of stepping down as

As political secretary to Dr Ling, Loh is no ordinary Youth leader.

The interview had appeared shortly after the MCA anniversary celebrations where
Dr Ling had delivered his analogy of a fish rotting from the head first,
meaning any problem in the party begins with the leadership and that leaders
must ensure that the “fish head'' remains fresh.

One year is a long time. We cannot rule out re-alignment among the political

For now, the MCA leadership problem is akin to a Chinese opera where the ending
is still a long way off. The current scene is being played to the loud beating
of drums and cymbals.