What Next For Liow Tiong Lai ?
This vegetarian health minister is attributed to be the leader of 22 CC members who signed a letter demanding that Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat step down as the president during the CC meeting last Thursday following the vote of no confidence against him in the Oct 10 extraordinary general meeting (EGM).
Although Liow has clarified that the letter was merely to express their opinion, and not to topple Ong, the greater unity plan brokered by Ong and bitter rival former deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek, seems to have put his political future in uncertainty.
Liow was said to have been caught off guard by the plan, which party insiders described as a brilliant political move by Ong to check on Liow after he was accused of masterminding the alleged plan by some CC members to topple the president.
Although Liow knew that Ong and Dr Chua had met on several occasions in the aftermath of the Oct 10 EGM, party sources said he did not expect that the two could hatch a plan that could effectively curtail his influence in the party as the combined force of Ong and Dr Chua commands the support of more than 90 per cent of delegates.
On hindsight, the "high drama" prior to the news conference by Ong to announce the party's greater unity plan on Thursday afternoon was not surprising.
The news conference at the party's headquarters was delayed as Liow and vice-president Datuk Seri Kong Cho Ha remained in the deputy president's office, just a door away, even when Ong was already prepared to start.
After an anxious 20 minutes or so, Liow and Kong emerged and joined Ong and other leaders including vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen, and Dr Chua, who were seated and waiting for the news conference to start.
There were speculations that Liow was unhappy with the plan and initially refused to joined the news conference but this was denied by an aide of Ong who explained that there was a miscommunication between them and Liow.
Ong's posting on his blog on Friday did raised some hints on the current state of relations between him and Liow when he wrote, "I am also confident that Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai and other central committee members will close ranks and see the rationale behind the need for an inclusive MCA".
While this may be perceived as Ong offering the "olive branch" to Liow, to party insider, it could be interpreted as "conveying a strong message" to Liow, asking him to accept the unity plan.
"It's like telling you that 'the game is over and that you have been checkmated; don't try anymore... just accept whatever it is that we are going to give to you'," a party insider told Bernama.
Ong planned the political manoeuvre as Liow was seen as "betraying a friend" for his alleged attempt to take over the party leadership.
Liow was known as Ong's trusted lieutenant and to a certain extent, regarded as Ong's right hand man but now some of Ong's loyal supporters branded him as "betrayer" and sometimes, "traitor".
A CC member, Datuk Ti Lian Ker did not mince words in his criticism of Liow. Naming him as the leader of the "third force" in the party, he said also said that Liow was now being perceived as an "evil man".
While the detail of the greater unity plan is not immediately known, it is learned that it will be similar to the MCA peace plan that ended the infamous "Team A-Team B fight" in 2003, with supporters of both factions being given important party positions, including in the CC and state liaison line-ups.
If this happened, it would greatly undermine Liow's faction, which may see some, particularly appointed CC members, losing their positions.
Up for grabs would be eight appointed CC posts, and state liaison chairmen, both of which are widely speculated to be reshuffled soon by Ong to accommodate some of Dr Chua's supporters.
There were also speculations that Dr Chua himself might be given position, including as the party state chairman for Johor.
According to Ti, who played an integral role in bringing Ong and Dr Chua together, the situation are more complicated for Liow now as supporters of both leaders no longer trust him to lead the party as "he is seen to lack the compassion of a leader and seems too brutal and cold to be a good leader".
"The immediate about-turn and revolt by some of Ong's strongest allies and inner circle had pained the president tremendously, causing him to rethink on the political morality of handing over the party (to Liow)," he said in a posting at his blog tilianker.blogspot.com.
Ti claimed that Liow's first meeting with Dr Chua was immediately after the Oct 10 EGM, offering "a power sharing plan in order to get the support from CC members that aligned to Dr Chua to take over presidency from Ong."
However, the plan did not materialise as he claimed that Dr Chua's supporters did not trust Liow.
Liow's supporters have denied that there was such a plan.
The health minister is now said to be in a more awkward position as he is no longer part of Ong's camp.
Vernacular newspapers reported that immediately after Ong's announcement of the unity plan, Liow held a meeting at a Chinese restaurant here with 15 CC members to strategise their next move.
Apart from that, there are also talks that some youth and Wanita members might want to push for an EGM either to reject the unity plan or to remove certain leaders aligned to Liow.
If that happens, the MCA will be heading for trouble again.
As some political analysts point out, the truce between Ong and Dr Chua is not the end of internal struggles in the second largest Barisan Nasional component party.