THERE were lots of things happening at the MCA headquarters yesterday.

On an upper floor of Wisma MCA, a dialogue with Chinese non-governmental organisations (NGOs) about the Kelantan syariah Bill was going on and quite a number of MCA members who are lawyers had turned up for the dialogue.

MCA has taken a strong stand on the Bill. The ayes have outnumbered the nays in the Government and it looks like the Private Member’s Bill by PAS will go ahead with the support of Muslim MPs.

The objection put up by MCA president Datuk Seri Liow Tiong Lai had even resulted in a Muslim group demonstrating outside his service centre in Bentong, where they had strung up a banner supporting the Bill.

The MCA position is that the Bill is not in line with the Federal Constitution and the party will not change its stand even if Umno continues to support the Bill.

Meanwhile, in a function room on the lower floor, a lively and, at times, fierce discussion was happening at a talk by MCA expert and US-based academic Dr Heng Pek Hoon.

There were so many people fighting to ask questions and air their opinions that the organisers had a hard time managing it.

The talk, aimed at the English-speaking segment of MCA, was organised by the party’s School of Political Studies, headed by vice-president Datin Paduka Chew Mei Fun.

The English-speaking in MCA make up barely 5% of the party’s one million membership, but for once, size did not matter because these people did not hold back. Their English was not always comprehensible but sometimes, language does not matter when you feel strongly about something.

The Q-and-A session was so lively that Dr Heng hardly had a chance to say much.

The views and questions from the floor were quite reflective of how members of the party and public felt about the party. There was scepticism and hope, anger and humour, frustration and passion.

One of them wanted to know if it was possible to “unpoison” the wild stories and accusations circulating on social media.

Another member from the floor said he felt like “whacking back” at the other side when told that MCA should stay on the high ground and continue providing service.

A great deal of their anger and frustration was directed at their direct rival DAP and also at Umno because, as Dr Heng put it, MCA is trying to serve the interests of the Chinese but, at the same time, has to back unpopular policies of the Umno-led government.

One Indian member in the audience demanded to know what the party had done for the Indians and was satisfied only after he was told about how an MCA legal team had volunteered their services to Indira Gandhi who was trying to gain custody of her child in the unilateral conversion case.

But it was not all doom and gloom.

Kuantan politician Andy Chew said he decided to do some travelling overseas after he retired and he said Malaysia is still the “most peaceful and beautiful country for me”.

In the aftermath of the 2008 general election, there were even calls for the party to quit Barisan but, said Dr Heng: “MCA needs to be part of Barisan so that it can deliver what the Opposition cannot.”

The Chinese, she said, want to be represented in the Opposition but they also need to be part of the Government.

It was a sign of the times and of the challenges that MCA is facing.

The party fared badly in the last two general elections and the next one is essentially a do-or-die battle.

There were lots of opinions of what was wrong and what ought to be done but MCA politics, said lawyer and Seremban chairman Siow Koi Voon, is at the crossroads.

The party is not only up against a strong Opposition, it is also grappling with a generation of Chinese whose priorities and expectations are vastly different from that of their parents.

“I was born in the 1970s. My memories of hardship when growing up was the recession. MCA was in turmoil then, it was hard to get a good job when I graduated.

“For young people nowadays, hardship means no WiFi. When you tell them that the relationship between the races is fragile, they think you are trying to scare them or they tell you, so what?” said Siow.

The Opposition’s line of attack is that MCA has no say in the Government which, said Liow, is not true.

Liow shared that MCA leaders had just rejoined the Cabinet in 2015 when the Government moved to introduce the Syariah Index. It sent ripples through the non-Muslim community and Liow had urged the Prime Minister to issue clear guidelines on the policies and not to leave it to the civil servant who might have implemented it in a blanket fashion.

“The Chinese need to be in the Government to have a say on policies, to solve problems and to bring issues to the Government. Chinese school issues would be even more acute if we had no place in the Government, and we need Chinese support to be there,” he said.

The front page of the latest issue of The Guardian, the party’s English language newsletter, has the headline: “History made in MCA”.

It refers to the party’s new election system which will see up to 33,000 delegates choosing the party leadership, a big change from the previous system where only 1,800 delegates decided on the leadership line-up.

But for it to be a meaningful start to new democracy in the party, MCA has to do much better in the general election.