Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Tee Keat mulls going it alone in Pandan

Ong remains popular with Pandan constituents

Datuk Seri Ong Tee Keat is exploring a run for the Pandan constituency as an independent, days after he was dropped as Barisan Nasional’s (BN) candidate for Election 2013.

In a post on his Facebook page today he asked voters: “Pandan voters, will you support an Ong Tee Keat candidacy as an independent?”

Earlier this morning a handful of his followers were seen parading around a wet market in Pandan in support of him.

Tonight, another group is planning a demonstration to express their backing for him.

But with nomination day on Saturday looming, Ong has so far not committed himself to contesting.

Speculation over what Ong will do is being played out against the backdrop of his rivalry with MCA president Datuk Seri Dr Chua Soi Lek, who has been singled out as the man behind the decision.

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Dr Chua was quoted earlier today by the Chinese-language Nanyang Siangpau newspaper as saying the reason Ong had been dropped as a candidate was because he had been allegedly criticising BN and MCA.

If Ong decides to stand as an independent, he will face his replacement from the party, 39-year-old lawyer Garry Lim Chin Yee, and PKR’s Rafizi Ramli.

“I will cross the bridge when I come to it. MCA list will be judged by the people soon,” Ong told The Malaysian Insider earlier this week.

Ong, who has been at loggerheads with his successor Dr Chua, is the five-term MP for the Pandan federal seat but was unceremoniously left out of the running when BN’s final list of contenders was finally handed over to component party chiefs.

Aside from Ong, other political heavyweights dropped from the contest include MCA vice-presidents Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen and Gan Ping Sieu.

Ong and Ng are the incumbent MPs for Pandan and Raub, respectively, while Gan was appointed senator after losing his Mengkibol state seat in Johor.

Gan was once said to be on Ong’s team during a fractious faction war in MCA that took place shortly after the tumultuous 2008 polls saw the party’s parliamentary representation slashed by half.

Dr Chua deposed Ong as MCA president in 2010, but the latter remains popular with independent Chinese voters and significant numbers within BN.

Ong insisted last February that he would contest as a BN candidate in Pandan ― going up against PKR strategy director Rafizi, a well-known opposition politician ― after Dr Chua dropped him from the party’s nominees list for the 13th general election.

Ong had at the time also brushed off a question on whether he would choose to stand as an independent candidate should BN decide against selecting him to defend Pandan.

He also would not say if he felt he was BN’s or Najib’s choice candidate for the seat.

Both points, he said then, were merely speculation that he should not dwell on until a concrete decision is announced by the BN leadership.

It is understood that Ong is favoured by senior leaders in Umno to defend his Pandan parliamentary seat because of his personal popularity among constituents there.

Observers also believe that the best chance for BN to retain the seat was to field Ong, especially in a contest against Rafizi, known as PKR’s “exposé man”.

MCA won only 15 out of 40 parliamentary seats that it contested in Election 2008; seven of the seats it won are located in Johor.

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