By Eileen Ngeileen@nst.com.my
KUALA LUMPUR: Delegates voting in the next president of MCA today have been described as the most tight-lipped ever, making the unprecedented three-way fight of heavyweights the toughest to call yet.
The 2,378 delegates, among them, businessmen, contractors, insurance consultants, lawyers and engineers are themselves seasoned politicians who, with minor exceptions, have been in the party for at least 15 years.Campaigners told the New Sunday Times the delegates attended dinners hosted by all three camps led by the incumbent Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat; former president Tan Sri Ong Ka Ting; and former deputy president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek.Delegates scrutinised the manifestoes put out by the three sides but avoided talking about their preferences."Delegates are more tight-lipped now than before, it is hard to predict who they support as they attended all three dinners hosted by the contenders," said Selangor Youth chief Dr Kow Cheong Wei. In the absence of leads and hints, campaigners have been left grading the little details, and studying the body language -- a shrug, a scowl and a grimace could all mean something.
The tone of their telephone conversations with vote-canvassers is also examined. This amounts to what campaigners term as "informal survey".Dr Chua personally telephones every central delegate and this personal touch has won him some mileage, said a party source.Given the precious little information available, most analysts have been talking about the unaffiliated delegates or the floating voters. Party secretary-general Datuk Wong Foon Meng said there were a high number of delegates who simply have not decided.There is no way to estimate their number. Everyone will give a differing figure, ranging from 10 per cent to as high as 20 per cent or 478 delegates being the most independent-minded segment.Polling which starts at 10.15am will only end after all delegates have cast their votes.Results are expected to be announced well after 9pm based on what happened the last time around. In the October 2008 elections which attracted 77 candidates, results were announced around 10pm. There is a bigger cast this time -- 101 vying for 31 posts of which 25 are central committee seats. Party insiders said Dr Chua commands the highest number of loyal and hardcore supporters, estimated at 750. This was based on the support he received at the Oct 10 extraordinary general meeting, of 900.
The return of Ka Ting has reduced Dr Chua's vote-bank, in the same way it has eroded Tee Keat's support.
What remains is whether Ka Ting has surpassed the likely head count of the other two candidates.One palpable reason for the two Ongs trailing was that they started their campaigning later than Dr Chua.Tee Keat, who has been leading in public opinion polls of non-delegates, is hoping that he can replicate the success and swing the sentiments of the central delegates to his favour.His supporters are hoping the "third wave" comprising the floating voters will be enough to propel him to the number one spot. Tee Keat too has been calling delegates."What will push Tee Keat to number 1 are central delegates with cheng yee (sense of justice)," said Penang Youth chief Eng Hiap Boon.If Ka Ting, on his part, fails in his comeback attempt, analysts said this would be partly attributed to him being accused of being behind the "third force", which caused the no-confidence vote against Tee Keat, and the rejection of Dr Chua's attempt to reclaim his deputy presidency at the Oct 10 EGM.Although Ka Ting had rubbished the allegation, this "conspiracy theory" has refused to go away.Party sources said this was what prompted former deputy president Tan Sri Lim Ah Lek to issue a media statement urging delegates to vote for him as he had the "right credentials" to unite the party.However, this (Ah Lek's intervention) had only earned him about 10 to 20 votes, said a party insider.