Recently, New Straits Times interviewed me on the election results and what holds in future for MCA. Below are the full interview content.
Former health minister and MCA vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek talks candidly to TAN CHOE CHOE, P. SELVARANI and DAVID YEOW about his party's crippling defeat
Q: Should MCA president Datuk Seri Ong Ka Ting take responsibility for MCA's defeat and step down?
A: To be fair, (the defeat) is a collective responsibility. (But) Ka Ting's biggest problem is that he practises a "very exclusive type" of consultation. There are meetings every week, Central Committee meetings every month and party gatherings. I've been attending all these meetings for years, but I noticed people didn't speak the truth. They spoke only what the president wanted to hear. If you're articulate, they think you have some hidden agenda. The president is vested with executive powers to decide whom he wants to be the minister, the deputy or whatever. So, everybody wants to be in his good books, to be included. But it may come to a situation where the emperor with no clothes is the best-dressed emperor in the world.
I was in the cabinet for nearly four years, and I was also vice-president, but how often were we consulted openly on issues? Less than five times. Hush-hush meetings "got". That was Ka Ting's core weakness; the lack of trust in his colleagues. Somebody told me that was his basis for success.
Q: What do you think caused MCA's poor performance?
A: (It's a) disaster. There are two main factors. First was the generally negative sentiment of the voters towards the government. It was negative, very anti-establishment, but nobody realised how strong it was. There were many issues that cut across racial lines this time, like inflation. Although the government had done a lot to control the price of goods, the dissemination of information about what was done wasn't effective. People don't read the mainstream media. Then there was crime and the perception that there was abuse of power.People also felt some MPs were just clowning around in parliament, that they were not treating this august assembly with the respect it deserves.The talk about leaking roofs and "leaking women" hadn't gone down well, especially with the younger generation (who are) educated. There was also the Lingam video controversy. There were also shortfalls in the implementation of government policies. Religious issues concerning non-Muslims hadn't been satisfactorily resolved. The church groups were not happy. The second factor was that MCA kept singing the same old tune -- talking about Chinese school relocations, how many new schools they had built and how many scholarships had been given. They (the MCA leaders) say these are important. Congratulations, you've done a good job, but the community faces bigger problems. Problems like economic and educational opportunities, and fairness in dealing with every race on issues like licensing to professional practice. A lot of professional fields were really squeezed. Initially, we were told (professional firms) must have a Bumi partner, later they (Maybank) said it (Bumi shares) must be 50 per cent. We were unable to address these concerns. To be fair, MCA has done a lot over the years. But people want to see an MCA that is more vocal to articulate the frustrations of the Chinese, rather than an MCA saying it's resolving issues behind closed doors. This low-key manner adopted by Ka Ting has not gone down well. People feel we're playing second fiddle to big brother Umno and don't stand up at crucial moments.
Q: Do MCA leaders speak up for the community in the cabinet?
A: Yes, but we addressed it in a "fire-fighting" manner when I was in the cabinet. There was no clear-cut policy to set a direction. There was assurance, but no implementation. When elections came, we were still unable to address the bigger issues that were of concern to the community.I met a group of professionals recently who said, "Please doctor, wake up. These are only part of the problems. We have bigger problems which your party is not addressing."Giving out 500 scholarships is good, but only 500 families are happy. If the country is serious about building its human resources, all good deserving students should be given scholarships. Why must they go crying to MCA or to MIC for help? To the younger generation, it (education) is their right.Q: Has the MCA leadership become complacent? Is this why people lost confidence in the party?A: I won't say that but we were feeling very comfortable. We thought we had done a lot. Just before the general election, we got the minister of education to make some announcements, give RM5 million here, RM10 million there.The Chinese regarded these as an insult. They said, "We are not beggars. Why give us this RM10 million now? Why couldn't you give it earlier?" Q: There was talk that some MCA members were also campaigning for the opposition. A: If you parachute candidates and it doesn't go down well with the grassroots and their feelings are not taken care of, I'm sure they would have. But I wouldn't say MCA failed because of their campaigning.
Q: Do the election results signify the beginning of the end of racial politics?
A: It only signifies that (when) pent-up feelings and frustrations are so high, people will vote across racial lines. Barisan Nasional is still relevant, so is MCA -- if we know how to re-brand, re-strategise, admit our mistakes and rebuild on the strong foundation that we have laid down. We still have a good organisational structure. The opposition doesn't have the machinery and the members (yet) they won handsomely. Some were so confident that they stood for parliament and state and won both.Politics is the art of perception, real or imagined. And they (the opposition) have done well to show they care, can connect with the people and be a force to articulate their dissatisfactions.
Q: You previously said MCA might have taken its rejuvenation exercise too far by dropping a lot of experienced and reliable candidates. Why?
A: People can accept that the party wants to rejuvenate and introduce a mixture of young, old and middle-aged, but local sentiment must be considered . I can list many cases where we failed and it was because of the candidate. Whether you like it or not, the divisional chairman is the warlord, be he from Umno, MIC or MCA. So if I'm the wakil rakyat and I've been serving my people well, but you tell me, "you've served three terms, your time is up" and put in somebody else -- not many can accept that.
Q: But what about the case of Datuk Lee Hwa Beng (MCA candidate for Kelana Jaya) who served the public, especially in Subang Jaya, faithfully for almost 12 years? He lost to Loh Gwo Burne, a virtual unknown?
A: Sometimes, voters can become emotional. They wanted to send a strong message, to teach BN a lesson. In Hwa Beng's case, Loh Seng Kok (former Kelana Jaya member of parliament) had also served the area well. So there may be people who voted for the alternative out of sympathy for Loh.
Q: Should MCA do away with its three-term policy?
A: I think it is healthy politics for a (capable) leader not to be limited to serving only three terms. Here you have a deputy (deputy party president) who said just one day before nomination day that he was retiring because of health reasons. Do you think people (can) accept it? Things like this have caused the people to distrust the party.
Q: Gerakan was almost wiped out and MCA took quite a beating. There are suggestions on the ground that the two should combine forces and reinvent themselves as a multiracial organisation.
A: I've said MCA is still relevant, just like Umno and MIC because racial politics will be with us for quite some time. The question now is how MCA can rebuild itself after this disaster. It was founded 60 years ago on a purely racial basis to look after the interests of the Chinese. We have this fixation that if we have developed the new villages, taken care of educational opportunities by building TAR (Tunku Abdul Rahman) university college, built Chinese schools, relocated some, and given them money, then the Chinese community would be satisfied. We also thought we should look after the longkang, the garbage, the back of people's houses; because DAP don't do it and we do, so we are great and people will vote us. What they didn't see is that people think all these are the job of the government. So what are we shouting about? It's the government machinery and delivery system that is not good; that's why we have to do it. We have to come up with a new strategy, new image. That we are not just a Chinese-based party, but we accept the political reality that we exist in a multiracial country.We have to address some of the problems in the context of a multi-racial society. The basic services are important, but some MCA wakil rakyat who have done these excellently still lost shamefully.That means people rejected them. They want us to address and articulate more fundamental and bigger issues. So we have to re-brand ourselves to show we are relevant and are able to articulate their frustrations. We cannot stay low-profile, low-key. We should let people know that we are addressing their issues and let the press know about it.
Q: Do you think MCA should be more vocal now?
A: MCA shouldn't have this fixation with Chinese schools, new villages -- these are important, but more important is to ensure the government is fair in dealing with all issues, like the economic opportunities on an expanding economic cake. The perception is that the NEP (New Economic Policy) is still on and anything you do, you must have Bumi participation.We must tell the Chinese they are not marginalised, that they're still relevant, still part of the mainstream economic development and they are doing well.
Q: Do you think the interests of the Chinese and Indians are going to be properly addressed now that they have less representation in government?
A: That's what we've been telling the Indians and Chinese. I have a very big Indian community in Labis -- 18 per cent. They told me recently that half of them have gone to DAP and Pas. They said "we've been voting faithfully but there's been no change". They've been staying in estates like their fathers before them, so what representation are you talking about? At least, the new party gives them hope. So until we address their problems, the Indian community has a lot (of reasons) to be against the government. The estate community was a self-contained community which they could be proud of 30 years ago. They had their quarters, their water, their own health (facilities).But 30 years on, things have not changed. The estates made a lot of money but nobody paid attention to them, until Hindraf (Hindu Rights Action Force) came and there was a sudden awakening. It's only logical they voted differently.Meanwhile, the Chinese said they voted MCA in the best and worst of times, but it's still the same.
Q: Why didn't you voice these opinions earlier?
A: How do you know I never did? If I hadn't, do you think I would be such an unfavourable man in the party? I would have been the favoured son.
Q: Do you agree with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad's call for the prime minister to resign because of BN's performance in the polls?
A: The prime minister not only looks after the component parties, but also the country. His responsibility is not just to Umno but to all other parties and races. So when you have a bad outing like this, it may cause a lot of problems if he suddenly steps down. People may think that he's irresponsible.
(Taken from NST Online)