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
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
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.