In the Party elections this time, members responded positively to the call made by Party President that the top six posts be unchallenged. The six top posts were President (Datuk Lee San Choon); Deputy President (Datuk Richard Ho); and four Vice-Presidents ( Datuk Chan Siang Sun; Datuk Mak Hon Kam; Tan Sri Chong Hon Ngien and Datuk Neo Yee Pan).
The new Party Headquarters Building was officially opened by President Datuk Lee San Choon with a grand ceremony. A week-long Chinese Cultural Festival was held in conjunction with the opening which attracted tens of thousands of participants from all walks of life.
MCA launched a Second Five Major Projects, these were:
- Koperasi Jaya Diri (KOJADI)
- The State Holdings Corporations
- The MCA Institute of Cadre Training
- The MCA Education Fund
- The MCA Cultural Centre
Party President Datuk Lee San Choon accepted a challenge from DAP Secretary General Lim Kit Siang and contested in the Seremban Parliamentary constituency to face DAP National Chairman Dr. Chen Man Hin. Dr. Chen was defeated . MCA also obtained outstanding results elsewhere in this year’s elections in which the party won 24 Parliamentary and 28 state seats.
Shortly after the elections, Datuk Richard Ho who did not contest in the general elections resigned as Deputy President and left the Party. The Party Central Committee then nominated Datuk Neo Yee Pan as the acting Deputy President and Tan Koon Swan as the Vice-President.
Datuk Lee San Choon shocked the Party when he announced his resignation as Party President and Transport Minister on March 25. Members from various states came to Kuala Lumpur to persuade him to change his decision. However, he insisted that his decision was final. The Central Committee, after accepting his resignation with regret, appointed Dr. Neo Yee Pan as the acting President and Datuk Mak Hon Kam as the acting Deputy President. Dr. Neo announced an “Eight-Point Plan & Eight Committees” to replace the Party’s Ten Major Projects.
The issue of phantom members was raised by many grassroots members of the Party. They alleged that there was a syndicate in the Party which used false personal particulars to “create” new Party members. They wanted the central leadership to take immediate action to stop this practice. However, the Party’s Acting President Dr. Neo Yee Pan refused to take any action. On March 17, a Central Committee meeting was held to discuss this issue. During the meeting, supporters aligned to Dr. Neo and Tan Koon Swan were engaged in heated arguments over the issue. The group aligned to Tan wanted a special panel to be formed to handle the matter but Dr. Neo turned down the request. After a marathon argument, Tan Koon Swan submitted a joint petition signed by 13 Central Committee members requesting to hold an extraordinary general meeting to resolve the issue. The petition created chaos in the meeting which was abruptly adjourned.
Two days later, on March 19, at 10.00 a.m., Dr. Neo Yee Pan announced that he, in his capacity as Acting President, was to strip Tan Koon Swan and Datuk Lee Kim Sai of their posts as MCA Wilayah Persekutuan Liaison Chairman and Selangor Liaison Chairman respectively.
In the afternoon on the same day, Datuk Mak Hon Kam, in his capacity as the Party’s Disciplinary Committee Chairman, announced the immediate expulsion of 14 leaders and members from the party including Tan Koon Swan (Vice-president); Datuk Lee Kim Sai (Vice-president/MCA Youth Chairman); Dr. Ling Liong Sik (C.C. member); Datuk Kee Yong Wee (C.C. member); Wong Choon Wing (Organising Secretary of Wilayah Persekutuan Liaison Committee) and Wong Mook Leong (C.C. member). The announcement shocked not only the whole Party but the whole Chinese community.
Members from throughout the country wanted the Party to retract the expulsion orders. Within 48 hours after the expulsion, more than 1499 delegates sent in a joint petition calling for an EGM to be held to nullify the expulsion orders and to appoint a special committee to probe and handle the phantom membership issue.
However, this was ignored by the incumbent leadership which refused to hold the EGM forcing the Tan faction to bring the issue to court.. The Party felt into a state of near anarchy during the period and the incumbent leadership was faced with criticisms from all corners.
The Party crisis ended only on November 24, 1985 when, under the efforts of an ad-hoc Committee, a delegates’ meeting was held and it successfully elected a new leadership. However, the image of the Party had already been dented.
The new leadership was led by Tan Koon Swan as the President and Datuk Dr. Ling Liong Sik as the Deputy President. The four elected Vice-presidents were Datuk Chan Siang Sun; Chan Kit Chee; Datuk Tan Peng Khoon and Datuk Lee Kim Sai. Datuk Kee Yong Wee and Ms. Teng Gaik Kwan were elected head of the MCA Youth and Wanita respectively. Datuk Lee Kim Sai was also appointed Party Secretary General.
In order to realise the spirit of democratic reformation within the Party, the new leadership called for an EGM on March 2 to amend the Party Constitution with the objective of curtailing the privileges of the President, to specify the procedures for holding delegates’ meetings and EGM so as to prevent a recurrence of the Party crisis.
When the new leadership was actively revitalizing the Party, Tan Koon Swan resigned as President due to personal matters. After repeated efforts to dissuade him from resigning failed, the Central Committee was left with no alternative but to accept his resignation with great regrets.
On September 3, Datuk Dr. Ling Liong Sik, the Deputy President, was promoted to President in accordance with the provision of the amended Constitution and Datuk Lee Kim Sai elected by the Central Committee as the Deputy President leaving the Vice President slot to be filled by Datuk Kok Wee Keat. The post of Secretary General was given to Ng Cheng Keat and National Organising Secretary to Wong Choon Wing. The new Assistant Secretary General was Woon See Chin.
A Task Force was formed to monitor the implementation of the New Economic Policy to effect an overall study of the progress of the Policy with the aim of making constructive suggestions for the benefit of the nation as a whole. Subsequently, a “Blueprint for Malaysian Solidarity” was formulated which spelt out the Party’s stand on the strategies of nation-building in the post 1990 period.
The new leadership was faced with many challenges which included the cooperatives “scandal”, the Party’s hug debts, the issue on being dubbed alien and key posts in Chinese schools.
The “Cooperatives scandal” erupted upon discovery that 24 Chinese cooperative societies were unable to meet the demand for a refund by about half-a -million depositors who had invested their savings with these institutions. As the Party representing the Chinese, the MCA was determined to fight for the interest of these depositors and President Datuk Seri Dr. Ling pressed for a “dollar to dollar” refund for all the depositors. In the process, although faced with numerous difficulties and problems, the Party was firm in her stand and after carefully thought out strategies, the depositors were able to get a full refund as proposed by the Party which was eventually agreed to by the Cabinet.
The Party’s debts with a bank was incurred in the early 1980s due to insufficient funding for the building of the new Party Headquarters in Jalan Ampang . The building was mortgaged in 1982 to get a loan of RM 25 million to pay the contractors and for renovations. Due to the party crisis in the following years and the economic recession, the occupancy rate deteriorated which resulted in insufficient rental income to service the bank loan. The amount due to the bank accumulated to a helfy RM 36 million in 1987and the Party was required to surrender the building to the bank should no solution be found. A “Rescue the Headquarters Building” movement was launched which succeeded in raising RM 19 million from within the Party. 49% of the equity of the building was sold to the Multi-purpose Group at a price of RM 20.7 million. The bank loan was then settled.
The “alien race or kaum pendatang” issue started with some delegates in the UMNO Youth Assembly describing the Chinese Malaysians as an alien race and questioned their loyalty to the nation and the King. Selangor MCA countered by passing a resolution in the annual delegates’ conference saying that all races in the country are alien races as all of our forefathers migrated from other parts of the world to this country. The MCA stand angered the UMNO Youth and heated arguments were thrown at each other over the issue. Finally it was Deputy Prime Minister Ghafar Baba who put a stop to the quarrel by declaring that no one should call another alien as all are Malaysians. His stand effectively eliminated further quarrels.
The “Key posts in the Chinese schools” issue started when a number of state education chiefs posted non-Chinese teachers and teaching staffs to hold key positions in the Chinese primary schools in the respective states. The move caused concern amongst the Chinese community as they feared it would alter the characteristics of Chinese schools in this country. MCA leaders tried to resolve the problem in the cabinet but in vain. As no solution was in sight, MCA leaders and other Chinese community leaders held a protest meeting at the Thean Hou Temple. The meeting attracted strong reaction from the Malay community and they also organized a grand gathering to counter the move by the Chinese community.Under such chaotic situation, the government invoked the Internal Security Act to detain politicians/community leaders deemed to be posing security risks to the nation. Those detained included MCA leaders like Chan Kit Chee, Datuk Yap Pian Hon, Tan Chai Ho and Tang See Hang.
When the situation stabilised, the MCA sought to resolve the issue within the cabinet. After numerous rounds of discussions, it was agreed that a 5-member subcommittee be formed to handle the matter amicably. MCA representatives in the subcommittee proposed that only those who know the Chinese language and have been teaching in the Chinese schools be considered for five key posts in these schools. The proposal was accepted by the subcommittee and the issue was gradually settled without much publicity. Those detained were later released.
Former President Tan Koon Swan resigned as the Member of Parliament for Gopeng on April 3, 1987 and a by-election for the seat was held on May 28. MCA nominated an academician Dr. Ting Chew Peh as its candidate for the race. Although the DAP made use of the cooperatives issue to try to undermine the MCA’s chances and even started a character assasination campaign on Dr. Ting, the voters rejected their advances and returned Dr. Ting with a resounding majority of 4523 votes.
In September 1987, MCA formed a Public Services and Complaints Department led by Michael Chong, the general administrative executive to deal with the increasing number of people seeking help from the Party in dealing with their daily problems.
Datuk Seri Dr. Ling took over as President at a time when the country and party were facing several key issues, and was tasked with finding solutions to these problems. To enable him to reflect more clearly on these issues, he took a six-week no-pay leave starting on October 1. His show of determination bore fruit when the government formed a National Economic Consultative Council in December to draft a new national economic policy to replace the New Economic Policy which expired in 1990.
The Ampang Jaya Parliamentary by-election seen as a crucial test not only to Party but also to the national political development, was held early this year. After concerted efforts by members of the MCA and components of the Barisan Nasional (National Front), MCA’s candidate Ong Tee Keat defeated Malay opposition strongman Datuk Harun Idris who represented Semangat 46.
Shortly after that, on March 21, Party Vice-president and Health Minister Tan Sri Chan Siang Sun died of a heart attack. His death was a great loss to the Party and nation. The late Tan Sri Chan had been elected as the Member of Parliament for Bentong in every general elections since 1959 and was the longest serving Member of Parliament since independence. He was accorded an Official Funeral in recognition of his remarkable services.
Following his death, a by-election was held in Bentong on May 13. The MCA’s candidate was Datuk Lim Ah Lek who was then a Pahang State Executive Council member. The by-election was a three-cornered fight with Datuk Lim Ah Lek defeating the other two with a convincing majority of 8506 votes. He was subsequently appointed Labour Minister (later renamed Human Resources Minister) and resigned his state seat which was won by the MCA’s Kan Tong Leong in the by-election that followed.