On the Beat | By Wong Chun Wai

X-factor can bring in the votes

For many Penang Barisan Nasional leaders, it's never easy
being in the government. The islanders have a reputation for being  anti-establishment, which explains  why many of the country's more vocal
politicians and non-government organisation leaders hail  from this state.

Dr Ling was born in Taiping but  settled
in Penang and eventually  opened up a
clinic in Butterworth  before becoming the
MP for Mata  Kuching, now renamed

Over the past one week, Penang  has
become the focal point for  Barisan and
the Opposition because the stakes are high.

The MCA, which has nine assemblymen and two MPs in this  state, is determined to wrest back  Bagan (from the DAP).

For the DAP, secretary-general  Lim Kit
Siang has declared the  state as its
frontline  short of  stating it wants to take another  shot at capturing the state.

After its humiliating defeat in  the 1995
general election, where it  only one of
the 14 seats it contested, the DAP believes its luck will  change with the help of Parti Keadilan
Nasional, PAS and PRM.

In 1995, Lim lost to Chief Minister Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon in the  Tanjung Bungah state seat.

In 1990, the DAP won 14 seats   three
short of forming a simple  majority in
the 33-seat state assembly.

This time, the DAP hopes to do  better
while the MCA believes it  can maintain
the status quo, perhaps perform even better with the  perception that the Chinese are  with Barisan.

For Umno, the attention is on  Permatang
Pauh, the parliamentary seat of Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim.

Last week, Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohamad entered the lion's  den by holding a meet-the-people  session at the constituency. It was  his first visit to Permatang Pauh  since the sacking of Anwar from  the government and party last  year.

With many believing that Keadilan president Datin Dr Wan Azizah  Ismail will contest in Permatang  Pauh, instead of Dr Mahathir's Kubang Pasu
constituency, the fight  for the hearts
and minds have been  more intense

If the fight is between MCA Gerakan and DAP on the island for  the Chinese votes, it's a clash between Umno
and Keadilan-PAS on  the mainland for the
Malay votes.

For MCA and Gerakan, they believe that the Chinese voters are  not as passionate as the Malays  over the Anwar issue. The economic recovery
and the bullish stock  market sentiments
are an advantage.

The oppositionists, however, say  that
the Chinese community would  see the
Anwar issue from a citizen's point of view rather than  from an ethnic angle.

They are banking on the middle class, particularly the English speaking
professionals, to buy  their talk of
democracy and human  rights.

In the end, though, the side issues might swing the votes. Penangites have a
reputation for being  fickle-minded;
there is little political allegiance and their mood  changes in almost every election.

The general perception of Chinese voters is that there should be  more than just one opposition  member in the state assembly. At  the same time, not many Penangites are
willing to trade the Barisan state government for the Opposition.

Lim has read the sentiments of 
Penangites well by refusing to 
openly declare the party's plan. In 
1995, the DAP slogan of Try Five 
Years was rebutted with Barisan's 
Die Five Years.

Based on experience, Lim would  be the
first to testify that a huge  ceramah
crowd is no indication of  support. In
the 1995 polls, his last  ceramah at the
Weld Quay flats  saw a mammoth crowd but
they  failed him in the end.

Matters such as the Rent Control  Act is
still important to the working class because it is basically a  bread-and-butter issue. The state  Barisan has now appealed to the  Federal Government to grant a  three-year reprieve to pre-empt  attacks from the DAP.

Visitors to Penang are sometimes surprised to see the somewhat disorganised
location of  hawker spots and light
industrial  areas. Houses are converted
into  coffee-shops and offices, much
to  the dismay of city planners.

But the state government has allowed this flexibility, well aware  that in a small state one cannot  risk losing the votes of hawkers  and small businessmen.

Strange as it may seem, DAP's  Lim Hock
Seng won the Bagan parliamentary seat in 1995 simply because word went around
town that  he was a real people's
man  he 
reportedly became a pall-bearer 
for a constituent during the election campaign.

In fact, during the recent Penang 
Gerakan elections, some of Dr Goh 
Cheng Teik's supporters blamed 
the local Chinese press for not reporting that Goh paid his last
respects to a delegate's family member who passed away. Dr Koh's  visit, instead, enjoyed coverage.

Such incidents may seem trivial,  even
irrelevant, against seemingly  bigger
issues. But the personalities  of
candidates and local issues do  count a
lot in Penang.

If the race is going to be a tight  one,
then the X-factor among the  contenders
will determine the winner.