On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

Keep politics fresh and young

On The Beat

FOR a brief moment, the crowd was clearly stunned. Even the Penang reporters covering the MCA dinner at the Esplanade on Friday night could not believe what Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting had just said.  

The MCA president had told the crowd that this would be the last time he was contesting in the general election.  

With his youthful appearance, not many people could believe that the 51-year-old politician wanted to limit his political career.  

But Ong had begun his helm in the MCA by limiting the terms of the party president to only nine years or three terms. It was a dramatic move to ensure that a leader would not cling on to power forever.  

A strong advocate of party rejuvenation and giving new talents a chance, Ong wanted to make himself an example.  

Taking a jab at the opposition, he said, “In the opposition, a candidate can keep contesting until he is old” – an apparent reference to DAP veterans approaching their 70s.  

Ong was appointed party president in 2003 and retained his post in 2005. He has been Housing and Local Government Minister since 1999.  

He has also brought into the party’s fold many aides and researchers who are in their 30s and 40s, believing that they will introduce fresh directions and new ways of doing things.  

It is a bold but calculated move to ensure that the MCA remains relevant at a time when the voters have become younger and surely more demanding.  

In the United States, presidential hopeful Barack Obama is 47 years old and for many college-educated voters, he is their man.  

They see in him their call for change and his lack of experience an advantage as they shun the old politics of the establishment.  

His opponent in the Democratic Party is Hillary Clinton, 60, and should Republican John McCain make it to the White House, he would be 72 by then, making him the oldest president.  

Within the Barisan, there are also incumbent MPs, some in their 60s, who still find it difficult to retire.  

Some have been reluctant to announce their readiness to make way for younger candidates, hoping against hope that they would still be given another shot.  

A few seem to imply they are indispensable and that they will only be able to retain the seats for the Barisan Nasional, using anti-establishment sentiments as their argument.  

It is a problem that Barisan chairman Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi has to deal with in every general election.  

Worse, he cannot interfere in the running of component parties, where some of their party chiefs, in their 70s, put their names on their lists. And they themselves cannot hear the loud voices from the people that they should go.  

Shockingly and hypocritically, they talk about bringing in “new blood” and of their “unfinished work”. Of course, it is always for the country and the people. Haven’t we heard that before?  

Used to the perks and power that go with the job of an elected representative, many find it hard to let go.  

Using all sorts of tactics, they get their supporters to hold press conferences to announce their support for them, ambush their party bosses at airports, send their wives to meet their bosses’ spouses and some even break down and weep shamelessly.  

But this is part of the melodrama that builds up during every election, where politicians so often put their ambition first before ideals and principles.  

It is the same in the opposition, where statements have been issued against their party leaders and tantrums thrown because they have not been picked to contest the elections.  

And of course, they, too, say that their entry into politics is to fight for justice, against abuses of power and to strive for accountability. Never personal glory, naturally.  

In a survey conducted among young people in the United States, many said they could not recall then presidential-hopeful Bill Clinton appearing in a talk show, wearing dark shades, playing Heartbreak Hotel on his saxophone.  

Clinton’s cool appearance won him support from the young and minority groups, as with Obama now. But that was 16 years ago and now, the young do not even know the show’s host Arsenio Hall, who remarked, “It is good to see a Democrat blow something beside the election.”  

In this age of YouTube and Facebook, Malaysia is not doing justice if we still have to have those from Jurassic Park lead us.  

By the way, it was a blockbuster movie and it was 15 years ago. Never heard of it, our young will tell us.