Sunday August 19, 2012
Hate-and-blame game goes on
By Joceline Tan
There have been lots of I-say-you and you-say-me stuff going on between those vying for the Chinese vote in Penang as political parties accelerate towards the general election.
A CHINESE war of words has been raging in Penang over the last few months and reached a crescendo last weekend.
Both Gerakan and MCA held their state party conventions in George Town last weekend and they turned up the heat on Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng. There was a lot of name-calling, finger-pointing and all sorts of accusations flying through the air.
Are Gerakan and MCA trying to be like the DAP in its tactics? The answer is yes as well as no.
Yes, in the sense that the Barisan is giving Lim a taste of his own medicine. Lim had led DAP in attacking the Barisan Nasional when his party was in the opposition. Their job was to poke fun at Barisan leaders, criticise their policies and paint everything that the Barisan government said or did as wrong or stupid. But Lim is now in the seat of power and the Barisan is playing the opposition role of poke, attack and criticise.
However, Gerakan veteran Tan Sri Dr Chin Fook Weng denied his party is out to copy DAP’s tactics.
“It has nothing to do with us being more aggressive or copying their style. We have been watching Guan Eng and monitoring his announcements. Our leaders are now challenging him to explain and answer on important issues,” said Dr Chin.
There is no shortage of issues after more than four years of Pakatan Rakyat rule in Penang. But most of all, Gerakan and MCA who were completely wiped out by the DAP are fed up with the way Lim has been playing the blame game.
MCA vice-president Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen captured how Barisan politicians in Penang feel about Lim when she told him off for trying to blame the federal government for the failed Kancil carpark – so called because the ramps were so narrow that only a tiny Kancil car could use the carpark.
Speaking at the Wanita MCA AGM last Saturday, the Tourism Minister said her ministry approved the funding for the multi-storey carpark because of the shortage of parking at the foot of Penang Hill. But the design and construction was all done after 2008 and by PDC (Penang Development Corporation) of which Lim is the chairman.
Dr Ng could understand why Lim tried to avoid blame but when he tried to pin the blame on her ministry she fought back. Her ministry wrote him an official letter detailing the chronology of the project and showed that the blame lay squarely on Lim’s team.
No one in MCA can quite match Dr Ng when it comes to entertaining her audience. She does not believe in standing still at the podium; she takes the mike and moves about the stage and, sometimes, she even walks among her audience to engage them.
Her Hokkien is not bad and the all-ladies audience liked the way she unleashed a string of Penang-style Hokkien “titles” for Lim – Mr How Lian (egoistic), Mr Lua (blame), Mr Siam (evade), Mr Beh Cho (cannot deliver), Mr Beh Siong Sin (cannot be trusted) and Mr Tiak (demolish). The last bit was in connection with the fact that the unfortunate Kancil carpark is in the process of being demolished.
The next day, Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon added a few nicknames of his own for his successor when he officiated at the state Gerakan convention. The Gerakan president accused Lim of twisting and misleading people on issues affecting Penang, and labelled him “Mis-Leader” and “Twister King”.
Lim, for once, seemed rather lost for words and his defence was that Dr Ng is still upset with him for raising the issue that she had once held an Australian PR. He said Dr Koh should have stood up to Umno when he was in power.
It was quite a weekend of name-calling.
Dr Koh has kept a low profile in Penang since announcing that he will not contest in the next election and has passed on his post of Penang Barisan chief to the up-and-coming Teng Chang Yeow.
This is the first time Dr Koh has lashed out so directly at Lim. Dr Koh, for all his faults, is a true gentleman. He had held his tongue for the first couple of years because he acknowledged that Penang voters had chosen Pakatan and he felt he had to respect their choice.
He is not into taking pot shots and his criticism of Lim is premised on what he sees as two key contradictions of the state government. Lim had boasted that his administration was the first to have the CAT policy of competency, accountability and transparency and also the Freedom of Information Act.
But Dr Koh said the two policies are largely lip service because Gerakan has been unable to obtain complete information about state land that was sold to developers to build shopping malls and boutique hotels or land that was meant for low-cost housing being allocated for a private hospital project.
When Gerakan politicians applied to view information on hillslope projects, they were told the state had to get the developers’ permission before they could release contour maps for hillslope projects.
“Are the developers running the government?” Dr Koh asked.
Gerakan leaders are still furious that Lim had claimed the state coffers were empty in 2008 whereas it actually held more than RM800mil.
They said the Johor-born Lim is insensitive to Penang culture and issues because he is a newcomer to Penang politics and that is why he goes around calling other Penang people liars.
They told Lim to learn from true-blue Penang leaders in his party like state exco member Phee Boon Poh who handled questions about him being a New Zealand PR without losing his cool. They praised state exco member Chow Kon Yeow for the way he handled the hillslope development issue and their view is that Chow, who has been in Penang politics for more than 20 years, should have been the Chief Minister.
Chow would have been the natural choice if Lim had not nominated himself for the top post hours after the election results were confirmed. In a column that he used to pen for a Chinese language free paper called Red Tomato, Chow said everyone had squeezed into a room at the Red Rock Hotel in downtown Penang.
Chow said Lim had asked if there were any proposals for the Chief Minister post but before anyone could speak, Lim nominated himself. The whole room went quiet for a while before it slowly filled with applause, he said.
After years of being at the receiving end of DAP’s attacks and accusations, the two opposition parties are starting to hit back.
They know that Lim still has a lot of momentum behind him because of the strong anti-Barisan feeling in Penang. People rush to shake his hand and they want to be photographed with him.
Some of the hardcore supporters have picked up the aggressive tactics of Taiwan politicians and have no qualms about haranguing speakers who say things they do not like at public functions. They are the real life version of the DAP cybertroopers.
Bad relations with press
Earlier on, people had complained about the aggressive style of Lim’s political secretary Ng Wei Aik, who has since toned down. Now they are complaining about Lim’s press secretary Cheong Yin Fan. Instead of smoothing relations between her boss and the media, Cheong aggravated things by criticising reporters in Facebook and in a column she writes for a Chinese paper.
Some DAP leaders have privately told reporters that she is to blame for the fallout between Lim and the media; they said that despite having been a reporter, she has neither the skills nor temperament to handle the media.
The Chinese would probably say the yin and yang in Lim’s administration are not balanced – there is too much yang and not enough yin.
Lim is widely expected to win another term in Penang even without the Malay vote. The ABU (anything but Umno) sentiment is quite deep-rooted even among the Chinese intelligentsia who are starting to state policies on development and the environment.
“The Penang middleclass generally welcome development but they are always complaining about traffic jams although each family has two to three cars. They buy property but complain when a new condo comes up beside them,” said a Penang lawyer.
Lim, said the lawyer, is a man in a hurry and he had misread this sentiment when he rushed to announce mega schemes like the sPICE project, cable cars for the hills, a tiger park, highways and a tunnel linking the island and mainland. It alarmed people especially those living in areas that would be affected by such projects.
According to the lawyer, the mood and issues raised at the recent Penang Forum reflected quite well the sentiment of civil society about the government.
There are undercurrents among the intelligentsia and the middleclass. They are unhappy with Lim over a variety of issues; they feel he is too pro-development; traffic jams have worsened and the demand for affordable housing is growing. Penang is not dirtier but it is not very much cleaner either.
They want clear-cut policies on hillslope development, and do not want to hear any more excuse that it was the last government’s fault because that was why they booted out the Barisan.
But, as evident at the Penang Forum, they are still willing to listen, to accommodate him and to give him a chance to prove himself. They are telling him that he is too fond of announcing big projects without an overall plan to convince citizens that there will be traffic control and that their quality of life will not be affected.
Lim’s second term is going to be more challenging and he can no longer blame the last government or even the media for bringing up environmental issues. It was quite entertaining to see him point fingers in the first few years, but now that he is about to approach full term, the hate-and-blame game is starting to resemble an old movie.
The expectations will be higher, the people will be more demanding of intelligent answers and, as the above lawyer put it, voters are not going to put up with “jokers in the government”.
Any shift among the Chinese voters is going to depend on the calibre of the candidate. The choice of candidate is going to be crucial for both sides. The Penang Chinese, especially the middleclass and intelligentsia, are a sophisticated class of voters. They are independent and focused about their political choices.
They still want Lim up there but they now know that too much power in the hands of politicians – whether from Barisan or Pakatan – is bad for civil society.