On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

MCA gears up for party polls


THE stage is set for the fight for the party president’s post in the MCA elections in October following the decision of incumbent Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting not to seek re-election.

On Friday evening, vice-president Datuk Ong Tee Keat announced his candidacy, ahead of the party division elections next weekend.

The elections involving 191 divisions are crucial as they would be selecting the delegates to the general assembly in October.

Tee Keat, an engineer-turned-politician, is known for being outspoken, an image his supporters said would help him secure the top post in the current political climate.

It has never been easy for Tee Keat, 52, who started off his political career taking on the late Selangor Mentri Besar Datuk Harun Idris in the 1989 Ampang by-election, where the latter contested as a Semangat 46 candidate.

Tee Keat won the seat with a 4,500 vote majority. Tee Keat, a Universiti Malaya graduate, came from a humble background. His father was a fishmonger while his mother was a washerwoman.

As MCA Youth leader, he also took on his then DAP counterpart Lim Guan Eng in a public debate at the Chinese Assembly Hall, witnessed by thousands.

The debate was conducted in Bahasa Malaysia, Chinese and English.

Tee Keat’s candidacy is said to be endorsed by Ka Ting, 52, and his deputy, Chan Kong Choy, 53; the party president took Tee Keat with him on a road show recently.

Dropping hints that he was stepping down, he had also indicated that Tee Keat would be taking on a bigger role before announcing he was not seeking re-election on June 28.

But Tee Keat is expected to face a challenge from Datuk Dr Chua Soi Lek, 61, who has been meeting grassroots leaders despite having stepped down from all positions early this year after the video clip scandal.

Another Johor leader, Datuk Seri Chua Jui Meng, 65, is attempting to make a comeback but he has not indicated which position he would be eyeing. Jui Meng was a vice-president.

Attention would also be on the deputy president’s post. There is no clear indication who would be vying for the slot although names like vice-president Datuk Donald Lim, 53; secretary-general Datuk Ong Ka Chuan, 54; and Youth chief Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, 47; have been mentioned.

So far, Donald, the former PJ Selatan MP, has been the most active campaigner, with most political observers expecting him to contest the number two post.

Liow is also tipped to contest one of the four vice-president posts and is almost certain to leave his Youth chief post.

Current secretary-general Dr Wee Ka Siong, 40, is almost certain to contest that post.

Many expect deputy chairman Datuk Ling Hee Leong, 39, believed to be aligned to Soi Lek, to challenge Dr Wee but now there is talk that Ling may even contest a vice-president post.

History would also be created when Wanita chief Datuk Dr Ng Yen Yen, 62, vies for one of the vice-president posts. The women’s wing secretary-general Datuk Paduka Chew Mei Fun, 44, is likely to contest the Wanita post.

The only possible contest, political analysts say, could be from Penang MCA Wanita chief Ooi Siew Kim.

Chew could have a relatively easier passage with the resignation of MCA central committee member Datuk Paduka Dr Tan Yee Kew from the party.

Dr Tan, who is believed to have been offered a position in Pakatan Rakyat, quit MCA last week.

But as the party leaders gear up for the fight, they are also aware that the party can ill afford a fractious campaign, particularly after being badly bruised in the March 8 polls, which saw the party holding on to 15 MP seats.

More importantly, the MCA needs to face the reality that the fight to represent the community does not just come from the Gerakan in the Barisan Nasional but also the DAP and PKR now.

And with communal politics getting unfashionable, the MCA has to re-invent itself – in its image and the manner it operates in a multi-racial context – in the quickest possible time to stay relevant.