Who and how should one judge which MCA boss was better?
Published on: Saturday, July 14, 2012
By: Tan Siok Choo
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AN article in The Star raised an interesting question: who was the worst MCA president? A Sin Chew article published in 2010 labelled Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat as the "worst president in the history of MCA."

That this description was cited in the English language news article - without any criticism - suggests the writer endorses this view.

The Star article, however, failed to elucidate one critical issue: what is the appropriate criterion to assess an MCA president?

Should he be rated only as a party leader? Or should his effectiveness as a cabinet minister be included?

Should his role in government be accorded greater weight? And should an appraisal include events before and after he became MCA president?

Established in February 1949, the MCA has had 10 presidents.

Evaluating the incumbent, Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek, isn't possible until he steps down as president.

Of the nine MCA presidents, was Tee Keat the worst?

Tee Keat's presidency was notable for two reasons.

First was his internecine battle with Soi Lek. An extraordinary general meeting held on Oct 10, 2009 was spectacularly inconclusive.

Tee Keat lost a vote of no-confidence against his leadership by just 14 votes while Soi Lek failed to win reinstatement as deputy president by 74 votes.

Another EGM scheduled in November that year was called off.

Tee Keat was finally ousted in a three-cornered contest for the presidency on March 28, 2010, as part of a snap poll for all party positions.

Second was Tee Keat's persistence in uncovering the Port Klang Free Zone (PKFZ) scandal which a PricewaterhouseCoopers' report estimates could potentially cost taxpayers an astounding RM12.5 billion.

That the PKFZ fiasco caused a former MCA president and his deputy, in their roles as successive transport ministers, to be separately tried for cheating makes Tee Keat's accomplishment arguably doubly heroic.

Tee Keat's 17-month tenure as MCA president wasn't the shortest.

That distinction belongs to Tan Koon Swan who held the post for an eventful 11 months.

Koon Swan was also the first MCA president to be jailed on both sides of the Causeway - for two years in Singapore on August 1985 for abetting a criminal breach of trust in Pan-Electric Industries (Pan-El) and later in Malaysia. He relinquished his MCA presidency in September 1986.

Koon Swan was the biggest indirect shareholder of public-listed Pan-El, whose bankruptcy triggered the unprecedented closure of the Singapore and Kuala Lumpur stock exchanges on Dec 2, 1985 for three days.

Was Koon Swan a better MCA president than Tee Keat?

Another short-lived presidency was that of Datuk Dr Neo Yee Pan who helmed the party for 32 months until November 1985.

Phantom MCA members allegedly created to fend-off a strong challenge for the presidency led to a stalemate in the party which was resolved by then Deputy Prime Minister Tun Ghafar Baba.

This was the first - though not the only time - Umno intervention was required to resolve an impasse in MCA. Yee Pan was also the first incumbent president to be unseated in a party election.

Was Yee Pan a better MCA president than Tee Keat?

Detractors may claim Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting helmed the party's worst electoral showing.

In the 2008 general election, the MCA won only 15 out of 40 parliamentary seats and 31 out of 90 state seats contested.

However, Ka Ting resigned to take responsibility for the MCA's electoral debacle.

During his tenure, he implemented term limits for the party president and other top leaders - a singular achievement because no other political party has done so, not even the DAP despite its constant championing of political governance.

Others may claim the MCA's greater electoral loss was in May 1969 when it won only 13 out of 33 parliamentary seats and ceded control of Penang to then opposition party Gerakan, led ironically by former MCA president Tun Lim Chong Eu.

Should Tun Tan Siew Sin be judged solely on his record as party president or should his accomplishments as Malaysia's longest-serving finance minister be taken into consideration?

During Siew Sin's tenure, the MCA also held two important portfolios in the cabinet - finance and trade and industry. To provide affordable quality education, Siew Sin also set up the Tunku Abdul Rahman College.

Under Siew Sin's stewardship as finance minister, the ringgit traded at a premium to the Singapore dollar, Malaysia enjoyed a budgetary surplus and inflation was negligible.

Those who favour rating MCA presidents on their accomplishments in the party should remember voters are more likely to cast their ballots based on the candidate's totality of accomplishments in politics and government.

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