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Sunday, 14 January 2018 | MYT 12:00 AM

Back to business after unity rally

MCA and Gerakan held a roaring gathering on Jan 6, with their national and grassroots leaders declaring repeatedly their unequivocal stand to render mutual support in the 14th General Election (GE14).

The highly charged pledges made by 2,500 politicians in Menara MCA, Kuala Lumpur, amid the flutter of blue Barisan National flags, showed their resolve to bury past hatchets.

Although the two Chinese-based parties are partners in the Barisan government, they did not have a good track record of working closely together in past GEs.

Until recent years, historical baggage, rivalry for similar Chinese support, lack of trust and coordination had dogged the two parties.

Given that Gerakan was formed by a splinter group from the MCA in 1968, this “Stronger Together” rally represents a political breakthrough for the parties.

The breaking of the ice was the obvious work of the present leaders who appear to share similar DNA – MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai and Gerakan president Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong.

At the assembly, both political leaders set the tone by making two important vows: support each other during GE14 and not to sabotage each other’s candidates.

The seriousness in forging this alliance was demonstrated by the discipline of the attendees, as well as the leaders’ attitude.

Mah’s praises for Liow’s leadership in solving Chinese problems in the Cabinet showed his sincerity to cooperate with the MCA leader. Liow must have been “melted” by Mah’s remark that he has “the utmost respect for Datuk Seri Liow”.

The English-educated politician also gained points when he related in an entertaining manner how he had attempted to polish his Jan 6 Mandarin speech for three nights so that he could relay the unity message to the Chinese-educated grassroots in the two parties.

The most important takeaway from this rally is that for the first time in the history of both parties, their leaders had pledged to support each other.

“Under the leadership of Gerakan president Datuk Seri Mah Siew Keong, a strong fighting spirit is being shown. And MCA comrades will do our utmost to rally with Gerakan in solidarity,” Liow pledged in his speech.

For those at the assembly, this event was a good start for the MCA and Gerakan ahead of the crucial election that Mah has described as a “do-or-die” battle.

“The morale of MCA leaders and members has been boosted by this rally. We may win 12 to 15 parliamentary seats this round. We will be able to win more state seats as well,” says Datuk Dr Hou Kok Chung, an MCA vice-president.

“But under the current environment, we must field strong candidates as voters are likely to look at the quality of candidates more,” Hou tells Sunday Star.

MCA performed badly in the last GE. It only bagged seven parliamentary and 11 state seats in 2013, which has been jokingly labelled as winning the “7-11” store.

Gerakan’s captain displays even more optimism.

“The response and enthusiasm seen in the rally was incredible and will help to give us an edge in a few more marginal seats,” Mah tells Sunday Star via WhatsApp.

Before the rally, Mah said he was confident Gerakan would win more popular votes and had a good chance to clinch more than five parliamentary seats and 12 state seats, including “a few surprises in Penang”.

To the Chinese society, this political pact will help foster Chinese unity. There is no doubt that this united front will generate a win-win situation for all.

However, there has been muted silence from the Chinese community. No exciting statements from major guilds and associations have been issued so far.

“The MCA-Gerakan rally is a good story, but as usual the Chinese community prefers to adopt a wait-and-see attitude. We choose to watch developments,” says Goh Bok Yen, vice-president of Selangor and Kuala Lumpur Teochew Association.

“Without a doubt, the two parties can complement each other to win support. While Gerakan has the support of academics and intellectuals, MCA has more grassroots. While Gerakan is a more focused and localised party, MCA is a more broad-based national party,” Goh says in a text message.

But euphoria aside, the first test for the MCA-Gerakan cooperation pledge will emerge when negotiations for the distribution of seats among Barisan component parties led by Umno takes place.

Will the two parties help each other to bargain for “safe” seats in the coming GE? Will they give way or give face to each other in the negotiation for seats? Will party interests come first?

The joint pledge on Jan 6 “to come together as comrades” will become a mockery if they fail to resolve issues amicably in conflicting situations.

However, Mah is full of optimism. “There was and will never be a ‘giving face’ mentality. What should prevail is mutual respect, consensus and power sharing, which has been the best formula to maintain political stability for not just MCA and Gerakan, but all 12 component parties in Barisan,” he says over WhatsApp.

“After the rally, a vote for Gerakan is a vote for MCA and vice versa. In seat allocation, all decisions will be made on a win-win solution. After the unity rally, the atmosphere is even more conducive. But of course, the BN chairman will have the final say,” Mah adds.

As the coming GE will be a very tough battle for Barisan, both the MCA and Gerakan can ill-afford to make mistakes.

A host of challenges await them, apart from having to fight for their rightful share in seat allocation.

Besides having to tackle questions on the seemingly unending controversy involving 1MDB from the electorate, MCA and Gerakan will have to convince Chinese and other non-Malay voters that the Barisan, if re-elected to rule the country, will uphold principles of moderation in religious practices, racial relations and Chinese education.

As the Chinese voters in urban areas are generally regarded as politically savvy, MCA and Gerakan must ensure they field strong candidates with good education.

Although Gerakan’s recent survey showed that Barisan can win about 30% Chinese votes in the coming GE, up from 13% in the previous election, any disappointing behaviour of the Barisan parties or their proxies can upset these statistics.