04 August, 2008

'I had moral courage to admit it'

Despite his DVD sex scandal, Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek is being touted as one of the top contenders for the presidency in the upcoming MCA elections. Fresh from winning the Batu Pahat MCA division seat uncontested, he tells TAN CHOE CHOE that MCA members have to decide whether to judge him by his public performance or his private actions.

Q: Speculation is rife that you're gunning for the No 1 post.
A: I thank the people for their confidence in me. I'm still gauging the support of the central delegates and MCA members. When I resigned (his government and party positions after the sex DVD on him surfaced), I was only a party vice-president. I can stand for vice-president, deputy or president. The thing I have to take into consideration is my ability, whether I can contribute to the reformation of MCA.

Q: There's talk about Team A-Team B factions in MCA led by shadow generals.
A: This Team A-Team B thing has existed from Tun Dr Ling Liong Sik's time. After he retired, Team A and Team B were represented by (Datuk Seri) Ong Ka Ting and (Datuk Seri) Chan Kong Choy respectively. But over the years, (the line of division) has become blurred. The remnants of Team A and B still exist, but the demarcation is not that clear. Some Team A people have gone over to Team B and vice versa.

Q: There's a totally new Team A and Team B now led by former presidents.
A: I don't think it's true. To get Tun Dr Ling involved is grossly unfair. He has said many times that he doesn't want to get involved. It's pure speculation that he's involved.

Of course, in the case of Ka Ting, he's still an MP. There is speculation that he would continue to exercise some influence as a former president, an MP and through his brother (Datuk Seri Ong Ka Chuan).

We don't know what happens between these two brothers and I don't think we will ever know. So, it will always remain as speculation. But the possibility is there and people will talk about it.

Q: Many people believe Dr Ling's influence is still very strong and that he favours you for the top post.
A: You cannot prevent people from having this perception because he was the president for 17 years and he has been very easy-going, very friendly and he keeps in touch with MCA members.

How influential he is, I really don't know. Whether his personal touch will influence people in their choice of candidates, is still a question mark.

Q: Has he had talks with you?
A: I do contact him over the phone, but more on a social basis.

Q: Has he given any advice or indicated his support?
A: No, not really.

Q: You said the grassroots have forgiven you after the divisional election. Are they ready to accept you if you contest the party presidency?
A: I have considerable support throughout the country. Whether that support is strong enough for me to contest any post, I'm not sure.

There's been a lot of calls that I should stand for one of the senior posts in view of my public performance. They say Johor is a good example (of strong MCA showing) and I've been the state chairman.

In the 2004 general election, we (Johor MCA) scored 100 per cent. This year -- I resigned in January and the election was in March, so Johor MCA was still under me at the time -- despite the political tsunami, Johor MCA candidates scored about 90 per cent (success), compared with a lot of other states where we got zero.

They always say Johor MCA is slightly different from the rest and there's a need to share whatever experience and knowledge that I have to rebuild MCA.

Q: So why is Johor MCA different?
A: One, Johor MCA has always been united, compared with the other states. We have a more solid organisation.

Two, we have very good relationship with other Barisan Nasional component parties.

Three, we have had excellent relationship with the state government. We worked together to solve a lot of Chinese problems, from allocation for Chinese schools -- which no other state has -- to Chinese temples and allocation for MCA divisions.

It's the only state where we have a lot of reserve land for Chinese schools. It's the only state that allocates land for temples and (Hindu) kuil.

Q: All these are contributed by MCA's strong standing in Johor?
A: These came about because of the long, continuous interaction between MCA and the state government.

In this respect, I must thank the menteris besar of Johor -- Tan Sri Muhyiddin (Yassin), when I was in the state exco, and the close cooperation which has continued with (Datuk Abdul) Ghani (Othman). So, we don't have incidents of temples being demolished.

Q: How big an obstacle is your sex scandal to your political aspirations?
A: There are two schools of thought on this. One is that when you're a public figure, you're evaluated on your public performance. They feel that I should be evaluated on my public performance.

The other says that when you're a public figure, your private life is also of their concern.

I had the moral courage to admit, apologise and resign from all posts. I could have indulged in self-pity and bitterness and lived a life of bitterness.

Or I could choose to serve the party and the community, which I've been doing for the last 23 years.

Now I'm starting (political career) all over. It's like a rebirth -- from an ordinary MCA member from the branch to division to national.

After I resigned, there were many indications to give me encouragement to continue to serve and optimise whatever strengths I have. From the general election until now, I continue to receive a lot of invitations to officiate at functions.

Q: From within and without MCA?
A: Yes, even non-governmental organisations. I try not to accept too many invitations because I don't want too much public exposure.

Q: The reason being?
A: People (might) say, "this person doesn't seem to regret. He's showing his face everywhere".

Q: So you're repentant now?
A: I have admitted my guilt. I've resigned -- that is like a form of punishment.

I'm willing to start all over again, which means I leave it to the delegates to decide my political destiny, whether my private life is more important than my public performance.

I've publicly admitted my weaknesses. At no time did I try to deny it. At no time did I say it "looks like me and sounds like me but it's not me".

Q: There's talk that there'll be a new (sex) DVD on you should you decide to contest.
A: Every time I criticise the leadership, every time I talk about contesting, this threat of a new DVD comes up.

You can see the connection between my political career and the move to destroy me. It's what we call character assassination. You don't need rocket science to establish this.

Whether it's a new DVD or an old DVD, it's the same. I'm the same Dr Chua, with the same weaknesses, same strengths.

So, I leave it to the delegates to decide if they are willing to allow character assassination to bring down the leaders.

If you look at the country now, people are no more talking about performance. People are talking about character assassination. People are not concerned about what you do, but are more concerned about what you do in your privacy.

Q: But as a public figure and a leader, your private and public actions both reflect you and your integrity.
A: Oh yes, I'm the first to admit it. I never say that it looks like me and sounds like me (but isn't me). I'm the first to come out and tell people what I am.

It is up to the delegates to decide whether to accept my weaknesses and strengths.

Q: Have you overcome any of the weaknesses you admitted to?
A: No, this is my girlfriend of nearly 12 years. My wife is aware of it. She has openly said, "I married my husband. I know he's not a saint. But he's a good husband, a good family man."

Q: Are you still seeing this girlfriend?
A: No.

Q: Some say this year's MCA election is between young guns and veterans.
A: I think these are the terminologies given by the press. People have forgotten that when Dr Ling became president, he was much younger than Ka Ting -- he was 43. Ka Ting became president at the age of 48.

It isn't about young guns and veterans. MCA has a large membership. Most of the members who are active are between the ages of 35 and 60. What's the difference between 53 and 58 years old when the average lifespan of Malaysians is about 75?

Q: What kind of president does MCA need right now?
A: We need an MCA leader who has the support of the members, who is aware of what's happening to the party and the Chinese community.

We cannot have one who is aloof and out of touch with what's happening with the Chinese community. We cannot have an MCA leader who is weak.

We cannot have an MCA leader who tries classifying every issue confronting the Chinese community as "sensitive" and so says there is no need to discuss it.

In the last three years, we had an image problem (because of this).

Q: Just in the last three years?
A: In the last three or four years, it got worse. They feel that the leadership is weak, unable to articulate the frustrations of the community and unable to stand up for the rights of the community.

There was also a significant shift from MCA being a political party to as if it was an NGO, doing more social work.

Q: Like Cupid Club and life-long learning?
A: Cupid Club, crisis-relief squad, tuition centre ... rather than doing political work. That's the truth. My president hates me for telling the truth. I call a spade a spade and I dare to debate on it.

If MCA wants to change, it has to be a real political party focusing on politics, economics and education.

These are the three core issues that affect every Malaysian, more so the Chinese who are worried about their position in the country, their political rights, their sharing of the economic cake and educational opportunities.

The other issues are equally important, but they can be done by NGOs. We can co-operate with NGOs. We can support them, fund them, advise them.

MCA should regain its traditional role as a political party. It must not only be vocal.

However vocal MCA becomes, it can never be more vocal than Lim Kit Siang because he has been in this business for the last 30 years.

It is not a question of being vocal. It's a question of how effective you are in solving problems.

Q: But even after the March general election, MCA has not changed any of its problem-solving tactics.
A: To say that there is no change is not true. There were attempts but I would put it as too little and too late. After the election, there was a lot of scepticism.

Q: Does the new president have to be seen to be able to stand up to Umno?
A: The new president must be able to articulate the frustrations of the Chinese community, its needs and the three core issues that I've listed --- politics, economics and education.

The Chinese know that we (MCA) are not the know-all; that we do not have a magical wand that can solve all problems.

Even Umno has a lot of problems confronting the Malay community. But as long as you champion their rights, I think they're more than happy.

But if you keep quiet in the name of sensitivity, then people cannot accept MCA any more.

Q: What do you think you have to offer to MCA members if you were to go for any of the top posts?

A: If we want to rebrand or reform MCA, you must have a leadership which is not out of touch with the members and the community.

It must not be based on empty slogans -- beautiful Chinese slogans which you and I may not be able to understand. For your information, they're all taken from Taiwan.
Two, we cannot sing the old tune anymore, which is "you vote us, you get political stability". We got whacked (on March 8) but there's still political stability.

You vote us, you have power- sharing. There's no need to have MCA for power-sharing. They can go through DAP and Pakatan Rakyat for power-sharing.

And we offer good services by looking after roads and drains and garbage.

The people want more from us. They want to see us as a real political party in power; a party that can solve most, if not all, of their problems.

And we cannot be all Chinese any more. We have to be more multiracial in our outlook and approach in solving problems. While we can champion the rights of the Chinese community, we should make our stand very clear on other issues in this country.

When you talk about the judiciary, the Lingam tape and Hindraf, MCA kept quiet.

This is something which the Chinese community was not happy about.

We cannot continue to move forward by talking only all Chinese and the rest have nothing to do with us. We are a component, a unit in a multiracial country.

So while we continue to be a mono-ethnic party, we have to be more multiracial in our outlook and in our response to solving problems.

Q: How can MCA achieve that?
A: It's with the leadership. If the leadership tries to ignore a problem by saying that it is sensitive...

When Pas and Umno are having talks, MCA should make its stand clear.

One MCA minister says something, another minister says it's no go, but another minister says if you don't infringe on our rights, it's okay.

A strong leadership will clearly state MCA's stand. Whether you like it or not, this is our stand. This is what leadership is all about. But because there's no leadership, everybody talks.

How we interact with Umno leaders, how we bring up our problems to Umno in the cabinet are important.

Q: There is talk that Malaysians, or Malaysian Chinese, are not really concerned about MCA elections because ultimately MCA will still play second fiddle to big brother Umno.
A: Yes. That's why MCA must be more assertive and play its role as a party in government.

Q: So there's a need to review how MCA works within BN?
A: We have to convince Umno that if we are unable to articulate and solve Chinese problems, please do not expect us to deliver the Chinese votes to BN come the 13th general election.

Q: MCA has always been ready to condemn DAP over its alliance with Pas. How do you view the Umno-Pas talks and Perak Umno's invitation to Pas?
A: I've always held the view that if Malay political power is threatened, you'll see Umno and Pas working together. I've said that many times.

I'm not very optimistic about politics being non-racial in this country. That is the political reality of things.

Q: Datin Paduka Tan Yee Kew (who is crossing over to Pakatan Rakyat) said, "We get elected MCA leaders who are not true leaders because they don't have popular support." What is your comment on the phantom voters that she alluded to?
A: The MCA membership list is always a contentious issue.

The process of setting up a branch and becoming a member is long and tedious, not transparent, not democratic and sometimes not fair.

If you look at the number of members in an MCA division, it's always the same as the number of Chinese voters in that area.

Do you believe it? I find it unbelievable. In other words, there's padding by some leaders who need the phantom support. So in that sense, Dr Tan is correct.

If we want a list that is good, we should do an audit and verification exercise after the election.




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