Monday, March 04, 2013

There’s another side to Penang

Anyone interested in what's really going on politically in Penang should read this. Not everything is rosy posy as how the Pakatan has made themselves look to be, not all the ruling representatives are favored by the people who voted them in, most being just 'grabbed by the collar' kind of candidates back then who got voted in by people wanting a change. These candidates have proven to be nothing more than what they truly are, a bus driver will still be a bus driver, most times even unable to control rowdy children let alone handle constituents problem or heaven forbids state opinion on policies.

Corruption scandals are ablaze, most are being covered up by the Pakatan PR people as soon s the they are leaked out. And the idealist among the supporters continue to close one eye, their head constantly fed on the conspiracy theories.

The Chinese wind will easily carry Pakatan Rakyat on Penang Island but it is a different kind of wind in the Malay heartland on the Seberang Prai side.

THE political chatter in Penang is that celebrity ulama Datuk Dr Asri Zainal Abidin may be about to make his political debut. Asri is being courted by both sides of the divide to be a candidate in the general election.

But strangely enough, the man is neither flattered nor overjoyed to be in such great demand. Dr Asri’s priority has always been about what is right and reasonable rather than who or which party is saying it.

The market talk is that Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim has approached him to be a candidate in Penanti, one of the three state seats in the Permatang Pauh area. Anwar also dangled a carrot before Dr Asri in the form of the Deputy Chief Minister post.

Dr Asri is also believed to have been approached by an Umno minister to come on board. He is native to Seberang Prai, the mainland half of Penang, and is seen as some sort of X-Factor for the Malay vote.

But should he decide to be a candidate, he will have to sign up with one side or the other and swallow the good, the bad and the nonsense that comes with politics. So is Dr Asri about to move into the world of politics?

“We are close friends, he served as mufti during my time. If he were to ask my advice, I would tell him his voice will be stronger if he remains where he is now,” said former Perlis Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Shahidan Kassim.

Politics in Penang has always had a Chinese flavour to it. Yet, Malays make up 41.6% of the Penang population, Chinese 40.9% and Indians and others, the remaining 17.5%.

The Malays dominate in Seberang Prai where seven of the 13 parliamentary seats and 21 of the 40 state seats are located.

Seberang Prai – the Hokkiens know it as “Pak Hai” (northern seas) – will be a big battleground in the general election.

This is where the big names in Penang politics are based. They include Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng as well as his two Deputy Chief Ministers Dr P. Ramasamy and Datuk Mansor Othman.

Two of DAP’s biggest warlords Phee Boon Poh and Lim Hock Seng and the party’s silver-haired Wanita chief Chong Eng also have seats here. And, of course, there is Anwar in Permatang Pauh.

The mainland is also where PAS has its sole seat in Permatang Pasir.

On the Barisan end, there is former Premier Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and EPU Minister Tan Sri Nor Mohamed Yakcop.

“The DAP wind is very strong on the island but less so on the mainland,” said a Pakatan insider.

The island saw a near clean sweep of state seats by Pakatan. Of the 19 island seats, DAP won 12, PKR four and Umno three.

But it is a different story in Seberang Prai where Umno won eight seats, DAP seven, PKR five and PAS one. Umno has some 150,000 members in Penang and most of them live in this Malay heartland.

Seberang Prai is also where some of the more wobbly Pakatan seats are located. Barisan needs only another four seats to break Pakatan’s two-thirds majority and some of these seats will come from Seberang Prai.

For the first time in decades, PAS members are worried about Permatang Pasir, a seat it has won through thick and thin, thanks largely to the lovable personality of the late Hamdan Abdul Rahman.

However, his successor Datuk Salleh Man has turned out to be the PAS version of PKR’s Mansor. He is a rather stiff and dour personality and does not have that oratory ability that is so important in PAS politics.

But the party’s biggest worry is the impact of the kalimah Allah issue that was sparked off by the Chief Minister’s Christmas Day message.

Surveys show that 80% of Malays say the “Allah” term should be exclusive to Muslims. An ulama figure in Penang even referred to Pakatan’s stand on the issue as jenayah akidah (crime against the faith).

PAS members are afraid that the Malay fence-sitters will punish Pakatan, particularly DAP and PKR, for advocating the use of the term by other faiths.

Moreover, the Malay perception of DAP has worsened rather than improved. For instance, the state government’s failure to build low-cost housing over the last five years hits the Malays most.

To them, it shows that the state does not have the Malay interest at heart and some of them even imagine that it is a tactic to make them move out to states where housing is more affordable so that the Chinese can dominate the demographics.

Analysts say that while 80% of Chinese in Penang support DAP, 80% of Malays are against DAP.

The hardcore Umno supporters among the Malays are furious at the way DAP is still riding on a hate campaign against Umno.

“Every day, they pile hate on us. The seed they planted has grown into a tree of hate,” said state Umno chief Datuk Zainal Abidin Othman.

The mainland politics is more complicated than that on the island and everywhere one goes, one hears of politicians with underworld links.

Hokkien-speaking Penangites like to say that when they voted in 2008, it was a case of chai lang, chai bin, mm chai sim (see the person, see the face but cannot see what is in the heart). They wanted to get rid of Barisan and they got some good ones from the other side as well as what local journalists describe as “cartoon characters” who have become the subject of local gossip and discussion.

For instance, one PKR assemblyman, a lawyer, is so low-profile that he is almost invisible. Many of his constituents are not even sure what he looks like and they say he is lazy and refuses to attend community dinners or events.

Assemblymen, unlike MPs, are expected to live in the area and to be on call especially if they are part of the ruling party. The “weekend YBs” in Pakatan may soon become ex-YBs if they are not careful.

Another assemblyman, also from PKR, was implicated in a controversy involving some quarrying activity that was the talk of the constituency. He has denied any hanky-panky but people claimed they saw him holidaying in Hong Kong with the quarry owner.

Pakatan insiders said he will be dropped but the party may have problems regaining the seat because the wealthy businessman who allegedly bankrolled his campaign has since fallen out with the party and refuses to even shake hands with the assemblyman.

Another PKR assemblyman who was out of action for a while after suffering a stroke has publicly declared that he will defend his seat even though the potential successor, who currently lives in Selangor, is already moving on the ground, distributing ang pows during the Chinese New Year.

The incumbent held an open house do recently and did not put up a single PKR flag. The incumbent also complained that the newcomer did not have the courtesy to knock on his door before entering his territory.

Yet another PKR assemblyman incurred the wrath of his party members when he allegedly mishandled the PKR election in his division a few years ago by taking the ballots home to be counted in his house. It is said that if he does not lose as a result of internal sabotage he will lose because Malays make up 60% in his seat.

But, according to the Pakatan insider, it is not only the PKR assemblymen who have problems. A DAP assemblyman whom locals call Bas Sekolah because he used to be a school bus driver has become a bit of an embarrassment to his party because everytime he opens his mouth, something wrong pops out.

He is trying his best but is so out of his depth that constituents take their problems to the former assemblyman who is from MCA. Unless DAP sends him back behind the wheel of a bas sekolah, he may send voters back into the arms of the other side.

Another DAP assemblyman in the Butterworth area is so lazy that he has been named the “second Peter Paul Dason”. The late Dason was a DAP assemblyman born with the gift of the gab but who was known as “Sleeping Beauty” because his opponents claimed he did not provide service.

Yet another DAP assemblyman who is also a state exco member may be kicked upstairs to a parliament seat. The former contractor is good with people on the ground but is lost at sea as a state exco member.

Another DAP exco member whom colleagues have described as a blur sotong (floating like a cuttlefish) may be dropped altogether as a candidate.

The thought that laws in the state are being passed by a mixed bag of characters that include a school bus driver and a “blur sotong” is quite mind-boggling. It explains why Guan Eng has to play such a domineering role, otherwise the people’s attention would be diverted to the “cartoons”.

Despite that, most of the incumbents are reluctant to make way because they know the Chinese sentiment will give them another easy passage.

DAP is said to be going for 30% new faces but PKR may have to opt for more drastic changes to stay in power. A DAP source said the coalition is hopeful of winning 26 seats – three down from 29 in 2008 – but added that a more realistic tally would be 24 seats.

The Umno candidate list is said to comprise 50% new faces. Several of them have surprised people by openly announcing that they would not be contesting the election, something that would not have happened in the past.

“The final decision lies with the party president but our new faces are people with local roots and who have the people touch,” said Zainal Abidin.

But the most talked-about fight on this side of Penang is the one looming between two state party chieftains – PKR’s Mansor and Umno’s Zainal in the parliamentary seat of Nibong Tebal. Billboards and banners of Mansor have sprung up in Nibong Tebal ahead of the man.

He is not exactly a parachute in the area but this is Zainal’s home­ground, and Mansor will have to lean on the Chinese votes.

Pakatan will have a smooth ride on Penang island but it will not be as easy in the Malay heartland of Seberang Prai.

by Joceline Tan of The Star.

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