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Viewpoints on the reasons for and impact of the March 8 elections earthquake

Reproduced from the “Tipping Points; viewpoints on the reasons for and impact of the March 8 elections earthquake” by the Edge Communications Sdn Bhd
After its unprecedented poor showing in 2008, the MCA needs to not only do some soul searching but to also take some strong decisions going forward. There are two core options that MCA has. One is for it to stay within the BN fold and the other is for it to leave.
Staying put is the most likely outcome. MCA has been in the BN for half a century and you don’t just abandon your partners in times of trouble. Nevertheless, the dynamics of the relationship obviously have to change. It can’t be business as usual because the old business model, if you will, obviously isn’t working anymore.
One thing that won’t change is that as long as UMNO doesn’t turn multi-racial, MCA – and for that matter MIC – can’t either as there will still be Chinese and Indian issues to deal with. There are those that question whether race-based parties are anachronistic in this day and age. But being multiracial party alone is not enough to ensure good governance. And being race based does not mean that you cannot be fair at all.
For the MCA’s participation in this coalition to be viable there are three core areas it needs to re-negotiate with UMNO: race relations, the NEP and religious issues. After all, the rakyat has clearly indicated that it wants to revisit the old haunts of the social contract. It seems that they want MCA to be more assertive to ensure that non-Malay, non-Muslim rights are protected.
One of the reasons MCA suffered in the recent elections was the perception that it did not stand up to UMNO strongly enough when non-Malay rights were threatened. Actually, MCA leaders did bring these issues up and discussed them vigorously with their UMNO counterparts. But all this was done in not camera, played out in the media.
In retrospect, that proved to be a disastrous strategy. MCA’s constituents perceived the lack of noise to be lack of action. And so they voted for the Opposition who are very good at making a lot of noise. MCA’s leaders need to speak out more and vocalize their concerns publicly. This can and should be done respectfully and without being threatening or antagonistic. But it needs to be done.
Although MCA lost a lot of seats in the elections, it is still a key component of the BN. While it’s true that it needs UMNO in order to be part of the government, the reality is that without MCA, it would be hard for UMNO to form a functioning government. It might still have the absolute numbers to form a government but a government that has hardly any Chinese representation is untenable.
The notion of MCA leaving BN may be a tantalizing one for some Chinese voters who are fed up with UMNO’s bullying tactics in recent years. For sure, it is an option but a very complex one. There are four possible scenarios.
The first scenario is for MCA to become an independent entity. That means it’s neither part of the BN or the Pakatan Rakyat. The only reason MCA would want to do this time is to give itself some breathing space and time to consider its options. It might also give it more leverage when it comes to negotiating for a better deal as it would be heavily courted by both sides. However, this is a highly risky strategy. If either BN or PR is able to form the government without MCA, it will be left in the lurch.
A second scenario is for MCA to become a social service organization with no political leanings. This might sound ludicrous but MCA did have its roots as a social organization, not a political party.
In such a scenario, its purpose for existence would be purely to help the Chinese community on social matters. In other words, become an organizational version of Michael Chong, on steroids. Make no mistake, there is a huge community need for such services and it would be immensely popular. It will have the freedom to voice political-socio-economic concerns while engaging with a wide spectrum of NGOs to lobby. It would be a unique situation to effect change because of its familiarity with the political-government machinery.
The third option is for MCA to join PR in order to form a new government. This is only worth considering if MCA happens to be in the position of king-maker, meaning its 15 MPs are crucially needed in order for either side (BN or PR) to form the government. For it is only then that MCA can bargain from a position of power.
One could envision MCA, in a king-maker scenario, securing a better deal by joining the PR. But it’s still early days for that coalition and we don’t really know if they can work well together.
The reality is that PR comprises three disparate parties held together by a common glue in the form of Anwar Ibrahim. What if, for whatever reasons, Anwar is not in the scene anymore? Would PR survive without him, the commonly accepted leader of the coalition?
The situation right now is very fluid with every component party within BN undergoing some form revamping exercise. There are so many variables involved. But there are some constants too. Whatever the scenario, there are a few key things MCA must do in order to survive and to eventually thrive once again.
As mentioned earlier, it needs to be more vocal in championing and defending its constituents’ rights. It also has to keep up with the times and make better use of New Media as PR parties have done.
Perhaps most importantly, it needs to not only keep up with, but to also surpass whatever the other parties have to offer in terms of calling for judicial independence, freedom of the press, police reform, civil liberties, eradicating poverty, combating corruption, reducing crime, curbing inflation, and last but not least, standing up to racist and extremist rhetoric from any quarters.
This is a tall order but tough situations call for tough decisions. If MCA does not rise to the occasion, and do what needs to be done, it will eventually disintegrate and die a natural death.
-By Rita Sim & Fui K. Soong-

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