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Fwd MGG Lee San Choon And The Rewriting Of History
By web aNtu

27/9/2000 9:52 am Wed

The former MCA president, Tan Sri Lee San Choon, disturbs a hornet's nest within the current dispute between UMNO and the Chinese community over loyalty. The Prime Minister accuses an important Chinese pressure group, of being pro-communist, and neither the MCA nor Gerakan challenges it. Tan Sri Lee alleges in an interview with the Chinese edition of Asiaweek that UMNO stabbed him in the back after "proving" to UMNO the MCA had Chinese support. He did that, he insists, by standing against the DAP's then national chairman, Dr Chen Man Hin, in the latter's Seremban parliamentary constituency in the 1982 general election. He won. Therefore, he proved to UMNO the MCA had Chinese support to continue to represent them. Flawed though his logic is, his statement attracts more than unusual attention. Senior UMNO leaders rush to deny his version of events. It diverts attention from the current dispute about the limits of non-Malay political participation, how far it could push the boundaries of political correctness especially when UMNO itself is caught in a political maelstrom. The most articulate anti-Lee San Choon view comes from Tan Sri Abdullah Ahmad, who puts his own gloss which rewrites history. He says Tan Sri Lee was a "Young Turk". Young though he was, he was with the party's old guard from the very beginning. The Young Turks in the MCA at the time of the 1969 General Elections were men like Dato' Seri Lim Kheng Yaik, Dato' Seri Paul Leong, the late Tan Sri Alex Lee. Tan Sri Lee's singular role was to destroy them politically by being the Rasputin behind the then MCA president, the late Tun Tan Siew Sin -- a move which accelerated the MCA's march to marginalisation in Chinese politics. Its leaders return to elected office from mixed constituencies, where the Malay usually voted solidly with the National Front.

The MCA lost its raison d'etre with the Chinese community then, one which led to then deputy prime minister, the late Tun Dr Ismail Abdul Rahman, to characterise it as neither dead nor alive. Its miscalculations -- reminiscent of its present miscalculations after the 1999 general elections when it wanted to have its candidate nominated as chief minister of Penang, when none of the others wanted it to -- in which Tan Sri Lee played a prominent part, led to MCA's political irrelevance in the larger National Front setup, especially when the then opposition Gerakan Rakyat Malaysia formed the state government in Penang after the 1969 general elections, and the MCA Young Turks moved to it, and became the alternate Chinese voice in the cabinet. It accepted the MCA's declining support within the Chinese community, one Tan Sri Lee's election win in Seremban could not reverse in 1982. As it is, that election proved nothing but that when required the MCA could muster cash and people to win an election it must win. Nothing changed. If the current MCA president, Dato' Seri Ling Liong Sik, were to try a stunt like that, it would only prove something Malaysians had known for three decades: that the MCA, by allowing itself to be an appendage of an UMNO worldview in the National Front, is there as Chinese representatives because UMNO wants it to. Dr Ling himself remains MCA president because UMNO wants him to.

Within UMNO itself, after Tun Abdul Razak's unexpected death in January 1976, there was no clear cut successor. Tun Razak had, as Tan Sri Abdullah, points out in his New Straits Times column "On The Record" (NST, 26 September 00, p12), identified a brood of politicians who could take over from him. Amongst them were Dr Mahathir, Tengku Razaleigh, Dato' Musa Hitam, Tun Ghafar Baba. Indeed, if Tengku Razaleigh had joined the cabinet, instead of continuing to head Petronas and Bank Bumiputra Malaysia Berhad, after the 1974 general elections, he would have been deputy prime minister under Tun Hussein. But he miscalculated. He was not an outsider. The outsider was Tan Sri Ghazali Shafie, the then home minister. When Tun Hussein wanted him as deputy prime minister, the three UMNO vice presidents -- Ghafar Baba, Tengku Razaleigh, Dr Mahathir -- in a demarche said none would serve if one of them was not appointed deputy prime minister. Only the three said they would not serve, not as Tan Sri Abdullah insists the UMNO Supreme Council. Ghafar was not considered, Tengku Razaleigh was not in the cabinet, leaving only Dr Mahathir, who was. This was done in anti-Hussein surroundings, in the fallout from the Selangor mentri besar, Dato' Harun Idris's arrest for corruption, with his backers accusing close aides of Tun Razak as being pro-communist. This led to Tan Sri Abdullah's detention under the Internal Security Act for five years. But that is another story.

Tan Sri Abdullah is right when he suggests Tan Sri Lee and the MCA president preferred Tengku Razaleigh to Dato Seri Mahathir Mohamed as UMNO deputy president and therefore deputy prime minister after Dato (later Tun) Hussein Onn became Prime Minister in 1976 after Tun Abdul Razak Hussein died in London. He was close to Tengku Razaleigh, and he paid the price by being forced to resign. There was no question that UMNO stabbed him in the back. He miscalculated in his support for who should be UMNO president and paid dearly. He had to go. The MCA leaders themselves decided it could not have as president one who backed the Prime Minister's rival. That they did underlines not that the MCA has Chinese support but when the crunch comes, they had no choice but to kill their leader for putting lucrative contracts at risk. The non-Malay parties in the National Front survive, especially after the 1969 riots, by destroying their own standing with their communities if their leader's links with the UMNO president suffers. The MCA leaders' ability to shoot themselves in the foot when everything works in their favour is uncanny. It also makes Tan Sri Lee's claim the MCA had Chinese support even more questionable.

When Dr Mahathir became Prime Minister in 1981, Tan Sri Lee's political career had come to an end, especially when Tengku Razaleigh prepared to challenge Dr Mahathir for the UMNO presidency after Dato' (now Tan Sri) Musa Hitam was appointed deputy prime minister. The MCA realised that with Tan Sri Lee as their leader, it would suffer at the hands of a vindictive Prime Minister. So, he had to go. That paradoxically proved how misguided Tan Sri Lee was at his victory in Seremban in the 1982 general elections.

M.G.G. Pillai