ONE week – that’s all the time the candidates contesting in the MCA election will have to campaign. They will file their nominations tomorrow and by next Sunday, the delegates will decide their fate.
But it will be a gruelling campaign as the party polls this time are regarded as a “decide once and for all” election.
Party president Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat, who is defending his position, is being challenged by his predecessor Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting and, almost certainly, Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek.
All three are regarded as heavyweights and a thriller is expected, but no one is ready to make any predictions at this point.
Tee Keat is campaigning on the populist line that he is a man of the people who is paying the political price for taking on the fat cats – the powerful politicians and businessmen.
He has apologised to his listeners for putting the party in a tight spot over his whistleblowing decision on the Port Klang Free Zone issue.
Feathers have been ruffled and he has stepped on the toes of many who now want to see him lose. In his own words, he won’t get the backing of the tycoons.
He has launched his “meet the grassroots” trips, where his backers have urged delegates to listen to the voice of the community and to speak and vote on the community’s behalf.
Ka Ting has surprised many with his decision to enter the race. He wants to be seen as a reluctant candidate who has to return to put the party together.
The health-conscious politician who regularly jogs at Taman Tun Dr Ismail park told the Chinese media last week that some joggers had asked him why he was still there and did not render his hand to rescue the MCA.
“Those words had an impact on me. After giving it deep thought, I decided I am duty-bound to come back,’’ he said.
His challengers have taken his entry seriously as it has ended the earlier scenario of a Tee Keat-Soi Lek straight fight.
His nemeses have quickly branded him a “recycled politician”, a dig at both his green campaign when he was Housing and Local Government Minister and his attempt to return to centrestage.
But his backers have dubbed him a “saviour”, a tag which he has quickly pulled down, saying that he merely wanted to consolidate the different camps within the MCA.
The last entrant is almost certain to be Dr Chua who, his backers say, has sufficient votes.
The straight-talking politician is scheduled to inform the media of his decision at Corus Hotel, across the MCA headquarters in Kuala Lumpur, today.
He, too, is expected to say he wants to unite the party before the next general election.
“Next year should not be the MCA’s funeral but a year to be ready for the general election. Umno is ready but the MCA isn’t, for sure,’’ said a Selangor MCA leader who is backing Dr Chua.
Dr Chua has also told delegates in his nationwide rounds that he wants an “inclusive” MCA to accommodate the views of all sides.
His announcement, only on the eve of the nominations, has also delayed the stand of former vice-president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai.
Liow and his supporters had earlier given the impression that they would settle for a pact with Dr Chua.
Liow is expected to announce his plans today. He is said to have held back on opening his cards because of talk that Dr Chua may just decide to contest for deputy president.
The delay even triggered speculation of a Tee Keat-Soi Lek combination to take on Ka Ting.
Yesterday, Housing and Local Government Minister Datuk Kong Cho Ha said he would be going for the number two post. Perceived as an ally of Dr Chua, Kong’s announcement virtually means Dr Chua would not settle for anything less than the presidency.
But whoever wins the top post has the task of bringing the various factions together. It would not just be about winning the crown of the party but the more important task of winning back the hearts and minds of the people.
The in-fighting has dragged on for far too long, to the point that the Chinese community has lost its patience with the MCA.
Many have expressed their dismay and shame at the mud-slinging between the feuding factions and some have even questioned the relevance of the party.
But the enormous interest of the community towards the party election also reflects its concern over the future of the MCA. There is still space in the heart of many for the party.
The expectations of the community have changed, just as the political landscape has changed in this country.
Whoever helms the party must be aware that it cannot hope to win in the general election if the community feels that it is only good at welfare and services. That is not enough.
The party’s contribution to education, such as the Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman and Kolej Tunku Abdul Rahman, is there to see. Next would be Utar’s medical school, which would be a great step forward.
But even that again is not enough. We have entered the Age of Great Expectations!