MCA’s fate in Tg Piai: Damned if you win, damned if you lose?

Zurairi Ar
Candidates for the Tanjung Piai by-election pose for a group picture at the nomination centre in Dewan Jubli Intan Sultan Ibrahim in Pontian. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

PONTIAN, Nov 16 — As voters head to the ballot booths today, the Tanjung Piai by-election also seems like a reckoning for Barisan Nasional (BN) component party MCA, whose candidate Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng is trying his luck again after his narrow defeat last year.

While losing the contest may pose an existential threat over the Chinese-majority party, political analysts predict that MCA may yet reap its reward if it manages to extend the number of its MPs from one to two.

“Well, paraphrasing Simon and Garfunkel, when you are down and out, when you are on the streets, when tears are in your eyes, another seat is like a bridge over troubled water,” said political analyst Oh Ei Sun.

According to the senior fellow in the Singapore Institute of International Affairs, having one more MP will lift the party’s spirits, but may do little towards raising MCA’s relevance in Parliament and BN.

“At the end of the day, MCA has always been on its own. Now they will have a 100 per cent increase in seat.

“It's good for the party, since Ka Siong won’t be lonely to eat lunch anymore,” added independent political analyts Khoo Kay Peng, referring to MCA president and Ayer Hitam MP Datuk Seri Wee Ka Siong.

There is also the matter of MCA contesting Tanjung Piai on the goodwill of its BN big brother Umno, and its new ally PAS — of whom MCA has in the past opposed vehemently, including in the issue of the controversial Islamic penal code of hudud.

Barisan Nasional hopeful Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng (centre) is pictured at the Pontian district police headquarters November 12, 2019. — Picture via Twitter

After BN announced Jeck Seng as the candidate, there was initial opposition from the Umno grassroots who had hoped for a Malay-Muslim candidate instead.

Umno vice-president Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin even claimed that both Umno and PAS had given MCA a chance to contest the by-election to prove that it remains relevant.

Similarly, PAS secretary-general Takiyuddin Hassan similarly tried to placate the Islamist party’s supporters by explaining that the party is backing MCA in order to have non-Muslims who are “not extremist” in the Parliament.

But analysts said MCA ultimately depends on Umno and PAS’ grassroots to campaign in the seat, which is nearly equally divided between Malay and ethnic Chinese voters.

“MCA being subservient to Umno and now PAS is not something new. But in politics dominance over or subservience to other allied parties is not as crucial when it comes to winning votes or seats.

Pakatan Harapan candidate for the Tanjung Piai by-election Karmaine Sardini campaigning at Pontian industrial park in Pontian November 15, 2019. — Picture by Shafwan Zaidon

“The harsh fact is such that Umno and PAS could effectively canvass votes for MCA to win seats, most probably Tanjung Piai, for example,” Oh said.

“Chinese voters’ new found dislike of DAP in particular and PH in general does not translate automatically into their support for MCA. MCA thus still has to depend heavily on Umno and PAS to bring out the votes,” he added.

Ethnic Chinese voters make up 42 per cent of the 53,528 registered voters in the seat, compared to Malays at 57 per cent.

Khoo also said that voters are unlikely to balk at MCA for collaborating with Umno, or even PAS, especially as DAP has done so as well — not just with PAS, but now with its splinter Parti Amanah Negara in Pakatan Harapan.

“For a minority political party, without the support of either Malay faction, you cannot challenge for national power. The core of the Malaysian political power still lies with the Malay parties.

“If you don’t have political power in Parliament, there's nothing you can push,” Khoo said, referring to MCA’s influence in the Dewan Rakyat.

Finance Minister Lim Guan Eng greets visitors at a kopitiam session near the Kukup International Ferry Terminal near Pontian, Johor, November 9, 2019. — Bernama pic

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng has also admitted so earlier this week, minority leaders will be sidelined from key policy decisions under Umno-PAS rule.

Lim noted that leaders in MCA have toned down their criticism against the adoption of Islamic policies and proposals after PAS and Umno forged their Muafakat Nasional pact.

In return, PAS president Datuk Seri Abdul Hadi Awang had recently played down Jeck Seng’s opposition of hudud, saying it was merely his personal view rather than MCA’s.

The Tanjung Piai by-election will see a six-way contest between PH’s Karmaine Sardini, BN’s Datuk Seri Wee Jeck Seng, Gerakan’s Wendy Subramaniam, Berjasa’s Datuk Badhrulhisham Abdul Aziz, and two independent candidates Ang Chuan Lock and Faridah Aryani Abdul Ghaffar.

The Tanjung Piai seat fell vacant after Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia’s Datuk Dr Md Farid Md Rafik, 42, who was also a deputy minister in the Prime Minister’s Department, died on September 21 due to heart complications.

In 2018, Dr Md Farid won the seat by a 524-vote majority in a three-cornered contest against Jeck Seng, and Nordin Othman of PAS.

There will be a total of 27 polling centres through 125 lanes. After voting between 8am and 5.30pm, the ballots will be counted at the Sultan Ibrahim Intan Jubilee Hall here.

Karmaine is expected to vote at SK Telok Kerang and Jeck Seng at SJK(C) Yu Ming 1 and 2. The other four candidates are not voters in Tanjung Piai.

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