The Leaderboard: Liow Tiong Lai

The Leaderboard profiles the people behind the policies of the Asia-Pacific.

Who is he?

Liow Tiong Lai is president of the Malaysian Chinese Association (MCA), the main ethnic Chinese party within Malaysia’s ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition. Liow previously served as minister of health from March 2008 to May 2013.

Liow Tiong Lai, right. Source: Wikimedia Commons user Yanbei, used under a creative commons license.

Liow Tiong Lai, right. Source: Wikimedia Commons user Yanbei, used under a creative commons license.

Why has he been in the news?

Prime Minister Najib Razak on June 25 appointed Liow the new minister of transport in a minor reshuffle that brought the MCA and another minor, predominantly Chinese, party into his cabinet. The minister of transport position has typically been held by an MCA member, but following its poor showing in last May’s general elections, the party had decided not to accept ministerial positions. Liow’s appointment has restored the MCA to its usual position in government.

Liow replaced Hishammuddin Hussein, who is also minister of defense and acted as the face of the government’s efforts to search for the missing Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 (MH370), which disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board. The Malaysian government received severe criticism for its early handling of that disaster, but most observers do not see that as the reason for the  reshuffle.

What can we expect from him?

Mr. Liow is the new face of Malaysia’s ongoing search for MH370 and its investigation of the more recent downing of Malaysian Airlines Flight 17, which was shot down over the Ukraine. The key challenge for his office will be repairing the national carrier’s reputation and the country’s image as a tourist destination.

One of Liow’s main political tasks will be to use the portfolio’s prominence to win back Chinese voters, many of whom deserted the MCA in the last election. This will be no easy task given the perception that MCA has been marginalized within the ruling coalition, which is increasingly focused on shoring up support for Najib’s United Malays National Organization among ethnic Malay voters.


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