An open letter to MCA - By Commander S THAYAPARAN (Retired) Royal Malaysian Navy
Monday, June 04, 2018
Malaysiakini : “We know that no one ever seizes power with the intention of relinquishing it.” – George Orwell, 1984
COMMENT | Dear MCA, tough year, right? Let me be very clear. What you went through in this election amounted
to a keelhauling. DAP made no secret of wanting to destroy you at the
polls, and for all intents and purposes, they succeeded. This does not mean that the MCA is finished, however. You remain the only opposition in town.
When I say “only opposition,” I mean the only mainstream opposition
for a secular base, and not the Umno-PAS opposition, which could no
doubt be a highly successful combo for the race and religion crowd. It
all depends on how Pakatan Harapan deals with the economy. What does the economy have to do with race and religion? Glad you asked. As long as Harapan steers the economy in the right direction, issues of race and religion will be muted.
Now, the Umno-PAS pairing would no doubt attempt to push these issues
to the forefront, but as long as Harapan carries out economic policies
which are a mixture of entitlements, fiscal responsibility, keeping the
cost of living at a reasonable level and weathers turbulent international economics vagaries, people will be content and would not
fall for populist racial and religious agendas.
Or maybe because of the racial and religious dynamics of the
opposition – read that as the Malay to non-Malay ratio – the country
could be subjected to sub rosa agendas which citizens would notice or
ignore. Could go either way. That and of course the treacherous sea of
Malay politics. At this moment, there is a possibility that Harapan could use the
excesses of the former Umno regime to remove players from the
All well and good, but the reality is that Umno still has a strong
base, and could potentially galvanise the majority Malay vote depending
on how Harapan navigates between Malay nationalism – not ‘spooking the Malays’ – and broad-based Malaysian issues. MCA, meanwhile, should not buy into this illusion that we are in a
post-racial Malaysia. Nobody should. Right now, there is all this talk
of opening up MCA to all races, and even Umno is floating this idea.
The reality will soon sink in – after the financial corruption card
plays out or the cost of living does not improve – of how racial we
truly are. While I am ambivalent about you opening up, what I do know is that
you do not have to be a multiracial party to advocate secular,
egalitarian principles – contradictory as that may seem – and act as a
watchdog for corruption in the new government.
At this moment, anything you say will be mocked, and your political
operatives vilified. But here’s the thing. The same happened to the
opposition during the long Umno watch, before the charismatic Anwar
Ibrahim cobbled together an alliance which eventually brought down the
If MCA becomes a multiracial party organically, that’s all well and
good; forcing the issue, however, especially when it comes to the
hypocritical political landscape of Malaysia, is unhelpful. Let’s face facts, MCA has in many ways been a lifeline to the Indian
community because the MIC was totally out of it. In other words, just
because you are a race-based party does not mean you only have to obsess
about Chinese preoccupations. The history of MCA at the ground level is
evidence of this.
This post-election spat between MCA and Umno is a necessary first step in regaining some sort of equilibrium. Sure, you are vulnerable at this moment, and Umno is in a far better
position, but things change. And fast. Besides, MCA is still cash rich,
which is why there are moves to destabilise corporate interests in the
guise of cleaning house. Nothing you say will win the social media war at this moment, and
while the majority of the Chinese community have now abandoned MCA, this
is a great opportunity for you to chart a new course.
This may sound like an oversimplification, but people have tasted the
freedom of kicking out political hegemons which they believed failed
them. A reformed MCA would then be a perfect candidate for people who
say that they will throw out the current government if it fails them. Some have no understanding of the reality that Malaysia really has no
opposition to speak of. In other words, people may choose not to vote
if they believe Harapan is not living up to its promises.
But if a resurgent MCA can demonstrate a commitment to change, they could function as the alternative. While it may seem as if everything is a mire of partisanship, what is
important to remember is that MCA – despite having propped up a
kleptocrat – was also a major component in the success of this country
when times were good. If the current revisionism is to be believed, this
would include the time when Dr Mahathir Mohamad led the BN hegemon.
Right now, the Harapan establishment is operating without any
oversight, in the sense that they have the goodwill of a people
desperate for change. But do not have the popular vote. While Harapan
political operatives blame the Umno regime’s electoral malfeasance for
this, the reality is that we remain a divided country. While it may seem that MCA is at a disadvantage at this moment, the
reality is that after decades of being subservient to the Umno hegemon,
you can finally address issues in a way that the new political paradigm
Not only was MCA in the government during the so-called golden era of
Malaysia, you are now in the position now of being in the opposition
after decades of seeing how a bureaucracy evolves. MCA understands the nature of racial and religious politics when it
comes to the power-sharing formula, and more importantly, the faultlines
when it comes to policy decisions involving the sensitivities of the
And you have the luxury of not starting from scratch. There are some
who would argue that MCA needs to, but I am not of that opinion. While
Umno rightly points out that MCA is bereft of their protection, the
reality is that Umno has very little protection they could offer anyway. Until they can sort out their internal problems, Umno is unlikely to
even form a cohesive strategy except yelping on the sidelines and
wondering when their political operatives would be visited by the
Harapan state for sins past. Or who would jump over to the good ship
While I get that the business community would naturally shift to the
ruling power elite, this does not mean that MCA is bereft of influence.
Small business, civil society issues – now that the civil society elite
are hovering around the Harapan regime – and numerous other grassroots
issues could be exploited by MCA to its advantage.
And let’s face facts, the BN regime on the whole has lost touch with
the grassroots. Noises from the Harapan faithful and political
operatives are busy telling civil society types – those not hovering
around the new political elite, that is – that the war is over. This, of course, is not the case. Political operatives only believe
so because they think their political opponents are down for the count.
Pundits assume that MCA needs to reform. That’s true, but more
importantly, Harapan has to impose reforms, or else people will lose
faith. And this is an important point. Because people now understand that
regimes can change – peacefully – in Malaysia, there is a potential
voting base for MCA for a public desiring change.
Whatever criticism from your side must be objective. If the proposed
policy is beneficial, MCA should support it, and if it is not, you
should clearly articulate why. Again, it may fall on deaf ears, but when
you build up a consistent coherent narrative, people will gravitate
towards it. You should stake the middle ground, attempting to create a narrative
of balancing the expectations of diverse communities without resorting
to the Kool-Aid of ‘Bangsa Malaysia’ or anything else BN cooked up in
Being Malaysian is being Chinese, Indian, Muslim, or however
you self-identify, and not extinguishing culture for an incoherent
political ideology. A history of being at ground zero of racial and religious hot button
issues, as well as economic and foreign policy issues, makes a reformed
MCA an extremely viable alternative if Harapan does not carry out the
reforms it has promised.
Of course, being an alternative may not get you in power, but all
this depends on how the Malay vote plays out. It's all about credibility
and persistence – something that MCA in its current form lacks, since
you have been coasting on the bloated policies of Umno for decades.
In any case, all the best, and welcome to the opposition.