On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

The MCA transition has started


HE had been mulling over the decision not to defend his position as party president for months, telling close friends and party leaders that this could be his last term.

In turn, they had told Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting that he should only make public his views nearer to the October elections.

The first step had been taken when he decided not to accept a Cabinet position after the March 8 polls. But yesterday, Ka Ting announced his decision much earlier than had been expected.

The first indication of his plan came during a meeting with grassroots members in Penang recently, where Ka Ting introduced the “new team” of party leaders. And, as he was winding up his speech, he joked that he might have to campaign for votes in the future.

The little hints were enough for the grassroots to realise that Ka Ting, 52, already had plans to let someone else take over the party’s helm.

Deputy president Datuk Seri Chan Kong Choy, 53, who did not contest in the March 8 general election, is almost certain to follow in Ka Ting’s footsteps.

The Chinese newspapers had also speculated that party vice-president Datuk Ong Tee Keat, 52, already had the endorsement of the two leaders to take over.

MCA Youth chief Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, 47, is also expected to move up the ladder.

The Health Minister’s party post is likely to be filled by the youth wing’s secretary-general Dr Wee Ka Siong, 40.

Both Ka Ting and Chan have taken their line-up to various states since last month on a roadshow introducing them to grassroots leaders – ahead of the party divisions’ meeting next month.

But before that happens, they need to be tested out first. Former MCA vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek has been speculated to contest the president’s post with vice-president Datuk Donald Lim eyeing the number two spot.

At the same time, veteran party leader Datuk Seri Chua Jui Meng is also seeking a comeback although he has not committed himself to which position he is going to contest.

The development in MCA is the beginning of a rejuvenation process in the party, where younger party leaders have been identified and groomed, and, in this case, even pave the way for them to take over the leadership.

It has not been an easy process. Ka Ting fielded a large number of young candidates in the general election, which saw many defeated.

Some party members attributed the losses to the large number of veterans being replaced. But the likelihood is that even if the veterans had been retained, there was no way the political tsunami could have been stalled. And the results could have been even worse than the party’s line-up of 15 MPs now.

So far, the party election campaign has been restrained. Despite the snoop squad controversy, where party rivals were said to be targeted, it has been relatively composed.

The decision of the two top leaders not to seek re-election would also remove the possible emotions of a fractious contest that could have an impact on the MCA, which is carrying out reforms to rebuild the party.

A new leadership would also bring hope, freshness and rejuvenation, which the party needs badly after the disastrous outing on March 8.

The Chinese community expects their leaders to speak up both in and outside the Cabinet. That challenge will now rest on the shoulders of the younger leaders in Cabinet.

They also want the MCA leaders to relate and communicate with them, to be their voices and not merely a loyal partner of Umno. With the country’s 54% of population being less than 24 years old, the social contract and the friendship of the Alliance means little, if nothing, to them.

In the age of Facebook and the Ipod, they want change now. As in today, and not tomorrow! Failure to meet the expectations of a young electorate, which has a disdain for communal politics, would mean the decline of the race-based parties.

Ka Ting is still an MP and would surely be watching from the sidelines, giving a hand or two when necessary, but the transition has started