3 Chinese parties in BN may hold talks on merger

KUALA LUMPUR - The three biggest Chinese-based parties in the Barisan Nasional (BN) may hold discussions on a merger after internal elections are complete, following the ruling coalition's poor performance among Chinese voters in the recent general election.

Gerakan's acting president, Mr Chang Ko Youn, said he had already held several informal chats on this issue with Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA) president Chua Soi Lek and Sarawak United Peoples' Party (SUPP) president Peter Chin, according to media reports on Sunday.

A merger would be seen as an attempt to arrest the slide in popularity of these parties, whose fortunes have been on a steady decline since the 2008 general election.

MCA - the biggest of the three parties - won only seven of the 37 parliamentary seats it contested in this year's election on May 5.

But analysts say the merger proposal, which was mooted by Gerakan soon after the election, is unlikely to be enough to win back Chinese support for BN, which is estimated at under 20 per cent.

The process of a merger is also fraught with difficulties.

Party leaders alluded to some of these challenges on Sunday, including the fact that the MCA would have to amend its constitution to change from a race-based party to a multi-racial party in order to accommodate Gerakan and SUPP, which have a small number of members from other ethnic groups.

MCA vice-president Gan Ping Sieu said the party's grassroots had in the past resisted talk of mergers, or turning the party multi-racial.

"A lot of persuasion is needed," he told reporters on Sunday.

Political analyst Oh Ei Sun said the parties would be hoping that a merger would consolidate their forces and make them "deserving of renewed support" from Chinese voters.

"From the perspective of Chinese voters, however, it won't make a difference because they have rejected the Chinese-based parties, which they perceive to be subservient to Umno."

He added that a merger is unlikely to take place because of complications that would arise from the division of power among leaders and division of party assets.

Both Mr Chang and Mr Gan said further discussions could be held only after the parties completed their internal polls.

"The focus for now is for MCA and Gerakan to solve their internal issues," said Mr Chang. "To form a new party is not simple... We're different. This needs to be discussed."

MCA and Gerakan will be holding party elections at the end of this year, while the SUPP will hold its own next year.

MCA deputy president Liow Tiong Lai announced at the weekend he would run for party president.

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