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Thursday, 19 July 2012

Penang top politician's life tough?

Life’s tough at the top

Instead of ruling with skill and deftness, what comes out of Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng's office is a steady rush of statements blaming the previous government or baiting its arch foes, MCA or Gerakan.

MANAGING success has been a difficult learning curve for DAP, once the country's premier Opposition party but now a ruling party in Penang and significant partner of a Pakatan Rakyat-ruling coalition in Selangor.

The Opposition party, founded in 1965, was swept into power on the back of the 2008 tsunami to lead Penang.

It came to the job with an image as a party preaching transparency and accountability but now after four plus rough years in power, DAP seems to be struggling to cope with its initial success, at least that's the perception.

Governing can be tough and DAP has been the first to admit that the honeymoon is long over. Party secretary-general and Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng admitted in his first 100 days in power that it is a tough act to balance the different racial and socio-economic forces in the state. He had confessed that ruling was indeed tough and he had a steep learning curve.

Today, his administration, which was brimming with euphoria in 2008, is stuck on its own rails, unable to break free to energise the people of Penang a victim of its own success.

Instead of ruling with skill and deftness, what comes out of the 28th floor of Komtar, where Lim sits, is a steady rush of statements blaming the previous government or baiting its arch foes, MCA or Gerakan.

While the rank-and-file party members throughout the country will be pleased with the constant baiting game, some of his own party members in Penang, who are either born in Penang or have put deep roots in the state, are not amused.

A Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia political analyst said: “I think the Chief Minister is in the process of transformation. He needs to act and talk more like a CM because right now he can't shed his combative, street fighter behaviour.”

Middle-class Penangites, whose living environment and homes are being threatened by hillside development, are not pleased. They want the state government to come to grips with this emotive issue.

It does not matter which government gave the approvals, what is more important is what is being done to put matters right.

The Chief Minister is caught in his own blame game, unable to get out of it to address the concerns of the people while some of his colleagues try their best to address the issues.

They hold dialogues, express concern and vow to do something about hillside development. But the statements coming out of the 28th floor just get more combative and provoking.

While the party's rank-and-file is happy, the statements infuriate the house-owning voters of Penang.

A Penang Chinese newspaper editor said: “Lim Guan Eng is so sure of the support he is getting from the Penang Chinese, who forms the majority, I do not think he really bothers what the press thinks of him. That's the reality.”

A large section of Malays, however, is alienated with the constant blame game in which they are not interested and want to see support for Islam, leadership of mosques and low-cost house ownership.

The escalating prices of houses and condominiums in the state are beyond the reach of most Malays as well as many Indians and some Chinese. The housing situation is no longer sustainable and potentially explosive.

As land is a state matter, they all look to the state government to make houses affordable but prices just keep escalating.

Furthermore, for the Malays, the abrupt resignation of DAP vice-chairman Tunku Abdul Aziz Tunku Ibrahim in May citing “irreconcilable differences” has cast doubts on the party's multi-racial image.

DAP's plan to woo Malays in large numbers is effectively derailed.

“One or two Malay leaders in DAP does not make it multi-racial or reflective of Malay support. The likelihood is that the Chinese on the island will back DAP but on the Malay-majority mainland, the votes will go to Barisan Nasional or Umno to be more precise.”

The loss of Tunku Aziz, a former vice-chairman of Transparency International, who joined DAP in 2008, was incalculable.

For the Indians, who can make or break the winner or loser in four parliamentary and eight state seats, the on-going feud between DAP chairman Karpal Singh and Penang Deputy Chief Minister Dr P. Ramasamy is an eye-opener. It shows that DAP is also rife with battles of ego and personality.

Lim himself is caught in a controversy of his own but has denied having an affair with a former staff member who was later transferred out of his office.

Initially, he threatened to sue anybody who even asked him about Ng Phaik Kheng, also known as Rainbow, but later, he and his wife Betty Chew, a Malacca state assemblyman, came out to strongly deny it.

For weeks, blogs and Facebook users had a field day speculating on the matter and Ng's “no comment” answer only fuelled more speculation.

However, another political analyst said the controversy had no political impact and only made good gossip, adding that he was against the use of personal issues in any campaign. But perception is everything in politics and politicians more than anybody else know this intrinsically.

The DAP image, which was seen as squeaky clean when it came to power in 2008, has been dented in the four years that it has been in power.

Most political parties, after working hard for years to win power, however, fail to manage the success properly, losing at the more imaginative work of balancing different forces.

It is even more difficult to retain power because of shifting public perception, which is what Lim has to contend with in the next general election. Lim looks set to retain his Penang power base but the test will be whether his PKR and PAS allies can hold on to their seats to give him support in the state.


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