THE countdown has begun. On Saturday, the MCA delegates will decide once and for all who they want to lead the party.
The reality is that party president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat and his suspended deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek have been an odd couple.
They never intended to be a team but during the Oct 18, 2008, party polls, the delegates ended up putting the two together.
In that contest, Ong polled 1,429 votes against Datuk Chua Jui Meng’s 918 for the presidency race.
At the deputy’s race, Dr Chua garnered 1,115 against Ong Ka Chuan (1,001), Donald Lim (209) and Lee Hack Teik (10).
It has been almost a year since the party elections and a year that has been wasted.
The MCA extraordinary general meeting (EGM), for all intents and purposes, is an election between Tee Keat and Soi Lek.
Supporters of both sides have been meeting delegates as if there is a full-scale polls going on. Dinners have been hosted and non-stop telephone calls and SMSes have been made to the voters.
With just six days to go, both Tee Keat and Soi Lek have taken a very low-key approach, preferring not to issue statements but taking a more personal touch instead.
But the feverish coverage of the EGM has stepped up in the Chinese media with front page treatments; as for radio and television talk shows, the dominant issue remains the MCA leadership.
Even as some dismissed the relevance of the MCA in the country’s new political landscape, the amount of attention on, if not the concern of the community for, the party reflects the importance of the Barisan Nasional’s second largest partner.
There’s always a love-hate relationship between the Chinese community and the MCA. Many love to take jibes at the party but they also understand that the MCA is the party that they go to for help.
Some may outwardly condemn the MCA “for not doing anything”, yet these critics would also admit that the community has benefited from the educational programmes of the MCA’s Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman and Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman.
For the working class, they turn to the MCA Public Services and Complaints Department chief Datuk Michael Chong for assistance. It is no exaggeration to say that his office resembles a government hospital with people waiting for their turn to seek his help.
But the community also wants reforms in the party. They do not want to see a subservient MCA. They do not want to see a party of yes-men and conformists – they want to see their leaders stand up and speak up.
They like the push against corruption and Tee Keat’s relentless initiatives in unveiling the wrongdoings of the Port Klang Free Zone project have earned him much admiration.
The task force initiated by him has uncovered disputed claims amounting to RM1.6bil. The community wants to see leaders who dare to take on the seemingly untouchable with their political-business clout.
However, Tee Keat’s detractors have said he is taking on too many battles and offending too many powerful figures, which will cost him politically.
Tee Keat’s youthfulness is his plus point and at TV talk shows, this has been constantly brought up.
A new MCA culture with reforms, including a direct presidential election, has been the focus of Tee Keat’s message. The fact is that the MCA has to change and as with everything in transition, it is often a painful process.
If the MCA is unable to move on, leaving its old baggage behind, then there is little chance of regaining the support of Malaysians.
The sex DVD issue has continued to dog Soi Lek, with his backers saying this was a personal matter and that he had paid the price by quitting all party and government posts and he got himself re-elected.
In many ways, that would be the crux of the EGM – to decide on the kind of leadership and the course of the party. It’s not just what the delegates want but what the community wants.
The 2,377 delegates cannot detach themselves from the sentiments of the community. They have to accommodate their wishes.
As the lobbying enters its final lap, supporters of Tee Keat and Soi Lek have both predicted victories.
Chinese papers, however, have apparently reported that gambling syndicates have bet that Tee Keat would win.
Supporters of Tee Keat, however, have frowned on the betting, saying this was not something to be taken lightly. The idea of being a favourite, they said, would help sympathisers vote for Soi Lek.
In the psychological warfare, Soi Lek said there were “silent supporters” who would surprise Tee Keat when they voted.
Then, there is talk of a “third force” which does not want both Tee Keat and Soi Lek but Tee Keat’s camp has dismissed it as a tactic to “divide the supporters of Tee Keat”.
In the Chinese media, where the real battle is being waged, full page newspaper advertisements have been placed by Tee Keat’s supporters to openly back him.
The stakes are high – Tee Keat has openly declared that he would quit, along with the central committee members, if the EGM approves resolution No. 2 to annul the decision of the central committee (CC).
If that happens, Tee Keat said, it would be deemed as casting a vote of no confidence against the CC and him.
That means he would quit – even if the delegates reject Soi Lek’s resolution No. 1 to pass a vote of no confidence against him.
In short, the delegates cannot have the best of both worlds. They have to choose whether they want Tee Keat or Soi Lek.
There’s a Chinese saying yi shan bu neng cang er hu or two tigers cannot live on one mountain. In the case of the MCA, there can only be one party boss and the delegates will have to decide once and for all.