PETALING JAYA, Aug 16 — MCA’s decline began in 2008 when it was massacred by DAP and what eventually became Pakatan Rakyat in the general election.
Despite the writing on the wall then, MCA demonstrated an unwillingness or inability to change, leading Barisan Nasional’s Chinese component to fare progressively worse with each successive election and ending with just one federal seat — Ayer Hitam — after May 9 this year.
Bereft of Chinese support, the party has struggled to justify its professed raison d'etre of representing the community.
Now, the party is about to put itself through the ultimate litmus test by contesting the Balakong by-election not as part of BN but as the Malaysian Chinese Association replete with its own star logo.
While it may think that the move will demonstrate its independence — finally — from subservience to Umno, it should be aware that it is also signalling to the Chinese community that MCA can no longer count on the Malay nationalist party’s patronage.
MCA expects it is conveying to the Chinese that it is free of that yoke and can now dish it out just as well as its natural rival, DAP, by openly campaigning on Chinese issues without worrying about antagonising Umno.
Prior to the general election, MCA had also cut a deal with former BN component Gerakan to cooperate and try to win back the Chinese community’s support.
The two rival siblings even deigned to share a Chinese New Year celebration, ostensibly as a public show of commitment.
Despite the fanfare, however, the Chinese community was not convinced and consigned both to political oblivion on May 9. Gerakan was completely wiped out and promptly left BN.
For both, it was a case of damned-if-you-do and damned-if-you-don’t. It was Umno’s patronage that gave either any real clout in the previous government, but also Umno’s dominance that kept both bleeding popular support.
On Saturday, MCA will attempt to dig itself out of its political grave by fielding Tan Chee Teong using the party’s own logo against DAP’s Wong Siew Ki, who will run as a Pakatan Harapan candidate, in Balakong.
MCA’s Tan is almost certainly doomed before even before the ink dries on his nomination forms.
The incumbent, Eddie Ng, won the seat in the general election with a 35,538-vote majority over his MCA and PAS challengers then.
With the added sympathy over his death in a car accident last month and the constituency’s clear Chinese majority, Tan will have nothing less than a mountain to climb.
For both MCA and DAP, only bragging rights are at stake. The outcome will have no effect on the Selangor assembly in which PH has an overwhelming majority.
But with the BN party choosing to fly its own colours for the first time in decades, however, it can only hope that the MCA blue does not run red in embarrassment.