(Also published on The Malaysian Insider)
I had the opportunity to have lunch with Chua Tee Yong (CTY, hereafter) before I joined the DAP. I was grateful for this opportunity given that I had already written a few less than complementary articles about his father, Dr Chua Soi Lek, in his capacity as MCA president. I wanted to meet up with him because I had been somewhat impressed by the manner in which he handled himself in parliament. He was articulate in his parliamentary replies and he responded coolly and calmly to the supplementary questions thrown his way. I thought that this MCA leader, in his capacity as the chairman of his party’s Young Professionals Bureau, could raise the overall level of political discourse by attracting more qualified young people to be engaged in the political landscape. I never thought that less than a year later, he would instead drown in a puddle of his own making, snuffing out whatever little hope his party had of rejuvenation and regeneration.
The cause of CTY’s massive loss of what credibility he may have had is well known – the so-called RM1 billion Talam ‘scandal’. When he first announced this ‘scandal’, many of us in the opposition were worried that he had actually uncovered an issue that could potentially sink the Pakatan government in Selangor. He displayed tremendous confidence which we now know was actually ignorance masked by cockiness. The utter baselessness of his accusations has been exposed by my colleagues in Pakatan. I don’t need to go into the details here except to say that he has been faulting the Pakatan Selangor state government for trying to retrieve debts owed to the state, something which the BN federal government has failed to do time and time again because of ‘obligations’ to cronies such as those behind the PKFZ scandal, the NFC scandal, the MAS bailout, and a long list of other real scandals. The public at large, with access to alternative sources of information, have also figured out that CTY is barking and continues to bark up the wrong tree, especially after the recent release by the Selangor state government of the Talam White Paper.
What I will highlight is the utter disappointment that CTY has been to the young people of Malaysia. The political landscape post GE2008 had been thrown wide open. Given his privileged position as a new MP who had inherited his father’s seat in Labis, Johor, his rapid promotion to the position of a Deputy Minister and the access to the resources of MCA and indirectly, the Star, CTY could have been a noteworthy young leader in influencing the political landscape especially among young Malaysians. A small but growing number of young Malaysians were awakened politically post GE2008. Many of them were looking for direction, for avenues to be more politically engaged and for young political leaders who could inspire and perhaps even lead them. CTY could have positioned himself as one of the key young BN leaders to watch by engaging in thought leadership on the important issues of the day including political reform and economic transformation, by taking on Pakatan on substantive issues (read: NOT TALAM!), by building a team of young aspiring leaders to renew his flagging party, by having meaningful engagements and reaching out to the younger generation through the strategic use of social media, by taking strategic contrarian positions to set himself and his party apart from the larger BN infrastructure, just to mention a few. I’m sure there are (hopefully!) many experienced and politically savvy MCA leaders whose advice he could have followed in order to take full advantage of the changed and changing political landscape.
Disappointingly, instead of taking the bull by the horns and charting out a new progressive direction of leadership, he has squander his privileged position in the manner in which he handled the one issue that will define him for many years to come – the non-scandal of “Talamgate”. The Talam issue is a financially complicated deal with many moving parts. Even though I think there was no basis for CTY to use this issue to attack to the Selangor state government, he could have potentially salvaged some pride and his reputation by at least agreeing to have a debate with any one of the Pakatan MPs from Selangor who were more than willing to take him on. If he was that convinced of his case and if he was confident that he could convince the larger public, he should have taken up one of the many offers made to him to have a public debate with Tony Pua, Teresa Kok, Dr Dzulkefly Ahmad and William Leong. By doing so, he would have put himself in the firing line and perhaps come away with some ‘street cred’ for daring to take on some of these Pakatan heavyweights. Instead, he chickened out. Worse yet, he failed to allow a single Pakatan MP to be heard when MCA organized a discussion / debate on Talam because he insisted on debating with the Selangor MB, Khalid Ibrahim (this is akin to Tony Pua wanting to debate with the PM), who instead sent four able and willing representatives (3 Pakatan MPs and his political secretary) to answer CTY’s allegations.
Perhaps he should have followed the example of some of his BN colleagues who have responded to the changing political times. UMNO Youth Chief Khairy Jamaluddin does not seem to have an issue with debating PKR’s Director of Strategy, Rafizi Ramli, not once but twice, even though Rafizi does not hold any elected position within his party. And Khairy regularly shares the same platform in panels and dialogue sessions with younger Pakatan leaders such as Nurul Izzah, Tony Pua and Anthony Loke. Does CTY perceive his political stature to be above that of Khairy so much so that these sorts of political engagements are beneath his office? Or perhaps he thinks that such debates and dialogues are not part of Malaysian culture? If so, he should take the lead of a fellow BN Deputy Minister, Saifuddin Abdullah, currently Deputy Minister for Higher Education. Saifuddin regularly engages not just with Pakatan politicians but also many NGOs including youth groups from a wide spectrum of society and political leanings. It is worth highlighting that Khairy and Saifuddin have been working with MCA Senator Gan Peng Sieu, who is also the Deputy Minister for Youth and Sports, rather than CTY on making stands against certain government positions including urging the government not to appeal the decision by the Court of Appeal that Section 15 of the University and Universities Colleges Act (UUCA) was unconstitutional as well as making a stand against the controversial amendment to Section 114A of the Evidence Act.
CTY’s Talamgate attacks have negative political repercussions not just for him but also for his party and the BN. The fact that an MCA politician from Johor had to be ‘catapulted’ to Selangor to lead the charge against the Selangor government speaks volumes about the confidence which Chua Soi Lek has in MCA Selangor chairman – Donald Lim Siang Chai. The fact that Chua Soi Lek has to use this channel to promote his son also speaks volume about the leadership dynamics within MCA, especially with regard to the availability of young and articulate leaders. Sadly, this is a reflection of a larger systemic problem within the BN component parties, namely the lack of young, inspiring thought leaders which has led to the ceding of more and more political ground to the ever-dominant UMNO.
Not that I should be complaining. CTY’s antics are definitely helping convince the voting public that the BN, especially MCA, is a lost cause. But from a perspective of someone who thinks that raising the level of political discourse and increasing meaningful youth participation in politics on both sides of the political divide is a positive and necessary step for the country, CTY’s inability to take advantage of his privileged position is very disappointing indeed.
Ong Kian Ming
DAP Election Strategist