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M'sian party battles for survival as polls loom
Publication Date : 23-10-2012
The Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), founded 63 years ago to protect Chinese interests as the nation fought for independence from the British, is now fighting for its own survival.
At its party congress over the weekend, its last before the next general election, this key political ally of the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) urged its members to prepare for a "do or die" battle, amid predictions that it could suffer severe losses at the poll.
"We are ready for war," its president Chua Soi Lek told 1,700 party delegates. The party claims a membership of one million.
Chinese Malaysians, who make up about 31 per cent of 13 million voters, shunned the BN in the 2008 general election. The BN, especially the MCA and another Chinese-based party, Gerakan, suffered record losses although it held on to power.
The MCA lost support because it was seen as being subservient to Prime Minister Najib Razak's Umno party - the linchpin of the BN - which had become stridently pro-Malay in its outlook and policies.
Since then, the MCA has sought to win back Chinese support by, among other things, getting increased funding for Chinese schools.
It has also warned the Chinese against flirting with the opposition Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), which has the ultimate goal of enacting hudud law in the country.
Hudud is the Islamic law which prescribes punishments like chopping off the hands of thieves. It has been enacted in Kelantan and Terengganu but not enforced because it breaches the federal Constitution, which gives the federal government jurisdiction over punishment for criminal offences.
The MCA's real target is PAS' Chinese-based ally, the Democratic Action Party (DAP), the strongest party in the opposition Pakatan Rakyat coalition. PAS and the Malay-based Parti Keadilan Rakyat have lost some ground since 2008. Since then, Chinese support has flowed steadily from the MCA to the DAP, which has stood up to an increasingly pro-Malay government.
Political analyst Fui K. Soong, who heads the independent Centre for Strategic Engagement, said the anti-hudud campaign could gain some traction because the Chinese have a long history of being uncomfortable with Islamic policies.
However, in 2008, Chinese Malaysians set aside their reservations about PAS because they were even more opposed to the ruling Umno's pro-Malay positions.
"I think the Chinese are quite split on this issue; there is a silent majority and the MCA is trying to sway them," she said, adding that those who are worried about Islamic law are unlikely to speak up.
DAP strategist Ong Kian Ming said that while many Chinese remain very uncomfortable with hudud, many voted for PAS candidates in by-elections held since 2008. "Their fear of hudud has been overtaken by their disapproval of the BN, MCA and Umno."
DAP's top leaders have stood firm against hudud becoming a part of Pakatan Rakyat's policies.
"MCA is stepping on dangerous ground here as this could turn off many Malay voters, especially the fence-sitters," Mr Ong said.
The MCA's attack on hudud has already irritated PAS, whose deputy president Mohamad Sabu yesterday said the MCA was insulting Islam, and not just its political rivals.
The MCA holds 15 of the 138 parliamentary seats controlled by the BN. Nine of the MCA's 15 parliamentary seats are Malay-majority while most of those that it lost in the 2008 election were Chinese-majority. The Malays now form the largest vote bank for the BN and MCA.
Surveys done by the independent Merdeka Centre show the Chinese tilted towards the opposition.