Over the past week, they have been talking about the
general election. They have enjoyed the attention given by the campaigners as
they hold the privilege of deciding the winner of the fight in Bukit Gelugor
The battle is between two outspoken lawyers – DAP veteran Karpal Singh and
Barisan Nasional's Lim Boo Chang. Karpal Singh, 63, has a reputation of
challenging the authorities and has lost count of the number of times when he
was thrown out of the Penang state assembly.
At ceramah, he tells his listeners he has eaten kari pooi (curry rice in
Hokkein) – a euphemism for having spent time in prison or a lock-up. In his
case, he was detained under the Internal Security Act in 1987.
Lim is an equally colourful character. Like his late father, Datuk Lim Ee
Heong, Boo Chang, 48, does not care whom he criticises and he has paid a heavy
price for that. His open attacks against the Barisan state government had
landed him in hot soup, resulting in his suspension from the state
He also nearly lost his membership in the MCA as his former Gerakan comrades
pressured the coalition leadership to punish him for voting against a
Ee Heong, a contemporary of Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu, earned his stripes whipping
the Alliance in the 1969 general election when the Gerakan was an opposition
At rallies, attended by tens of thousands of Penangites, at the Esplanade, he
would ridicule Alliance leaders for their fondness in getting state awards,
describing them as worthless kau pai (dog tags).
Penang voters, known for their independent mindedness, love such controversies.
They want their elected representatives to be humble, hardworking and
outspoken, irrespective of whether they are in the Barisan or opposition.
The fight in Bukit Gelugor is almost a rematch. In 1999, Boo Chang defeated
Karpal Singh for the Datuk Keramat state seat by a 3,148-vote majority. Karpal
Singh lost his Jelutong parliament seat to Barisan's Lee Kah Choon by 775
It was a painful pill Karpal Singh, dubbed the Lion of Jelutong, found hard to
swallow. On the eve of the 1999 polls, at least 10,000 people had turned up to
listen to the DAP ceramah but this was not translated into votes.
He had kept the Jelutong seat for five terms since 1978 and he thought it was a
walkover but he did not see the writing on the wall. He had neglected his
constituency and he could never be found when needed, busy fighting his legal
battles in courts.
Worse, he apologised to PAS for his famous ''over my dead body'' remark, made
in 1990, on the setting up of an Islamic state. When the DAP and PAS
co-operated in 1999, he said he was sorry.
The apology was front-paged in Harakah, the PAS official newsletter, under the
heading Karpal Minta Maaf (Karpal Apologises). The predominantly Chinese voters
saw the opportunistic side of DAP leaders and rejected him.
While the Malay voters were caught up with the reformasi movement which saw the
likes of Tian Chua and R. Sivarasah staging protests even the
anti-establishment Chinese voters found too radical, it was the DAP which paid
the price on Keadilan's behalf in Penang.
As far as the DAP is concerned, it was all a bad dream. Now, their whipping
target is PAS president Datuk Seri Hadi Awang and Datuk Nik Aziz Nik Mat. The
salvoes from Hadi have, in many ways, helped the DAP to show the pact between
them is over.
The MCA and Gerakan have tried to remind Penang voters of the past but it is
doubtful whether their advertisements in the Chinese newspapers work. Some have
complained they are offensive but the fact remains these events did
Karpal Singh, in a recent interview, admitted there was no big issue, pointing
out he would highlight the controversial Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR) project,
aimed at resolving the island's traffic problems but which has caused
dislocation among the residents affected, especially in Bukit Gelugor.
Ironically, the PORR issue was the reason, for Boo Chang getting the boot from
the state assembly.
The sympathy card is being played by the DAP in Penang, as in other areas where
it is contesting, to win the polls. The tactic is that since the Barisan would
win the elections, there was nothing wrong to let the underdogs get some
It is a clever tactic, as the strategists understand well the psyche of the
kind-hearted Malaysian voters. Sure, they prefer to see the Barisan form the
government but why not have a few opposition Members of Parliament to check on
It has worked well, especially among the middle-class electorate in Bukit
Gelugor. They take note of the arrogance of some Barisan politicians and their
refusal to listen to their grievances, especially the noisy construction works
in their area.
There is the kesian-them (pity them) factor but irrespective of which party
they vote – whether Barisan or DAP – the voters must believe in what the party
has done and what it can do for them in the future.
It is fine to vote for the DAP because of one's belief in its struggles and
beliefs. If the voters cannot be convinced by the Barisan campaigners, then the
DAP deserves to win.
Similarly, there is no reason not to vote the Barisan if the voters truly
believe in what Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi is doing, especially his
personal agenda to fight corruption and to instil accountability, integrity and
Many of us want him to do more to deal with corruption and he has pledged to do
so, telling us to ''wait and see for yourself''. There is no reason why we
cannot believe his words.
After all, this is his first election as Prime Minister; he deserves a chance
to prove it to us.
It will be a real kesian (pity) if we say we believe and support what he is
doing but decide not to vote for his party on Sunday, as this will make Pak
Lah's job more difficult.
The world is also watching how we would vote. The Composite Index soared past
900 points on Thursday, indicating the confidence the coalition enjoys. Over
the past one-week, foreign funds have started coming in as they anticipate a
strong government to be formed.
No one can dismiss the business impact on the voting trends and they would
certainly affect our daily lives. Politics involves emotions but voters must
use their head, instead of the heart, when they vote.
Philip Fernandez has voted in previous elections. Like a seasoned voter, he
does not want to talk too much about it. With plenty of free time on his hands,
he has learnt to use the Internet to read opposition websites.
He reads the Aliran magazine regularly, saying he wants some alternative views.
He says the mainstream and independent media are the same, all too
Knowing that he is talking to a journalist, he complains about his dislike for
some Barisan leaders in the state, singling out one Penang leader for being a
''yes'' man. ''Everyone in Penang knows who I am talking about.''
He named the leader when this writer pressed him.
He challenged this writer to quote him and name the leader if free press exists
in Malaysia. I told him I could but it would be personal and besides, there are
many who like that leader. He accepted the explanation.
But he has no qualms about his admiration for Abdullah whom, he said, deserves
to get the votes for being a moderate and progressive leader.
He wants his candidate in Bukit Gelugor to be able to work and speak up for
He is also concerned about the future of Malaysia, saying he wants his
grandchildren to be able to live freely and practise their beliefs, culture and
lifestyles with no restrictions.
There are many Malaysians like Philip Fernandez. Educated and widely read, they
do not like to be told who to vote for. They prefer to make their own
They can be critical of the Government at times but that does not make them
anti-establishment. They want to keep Malaysia as it is now but feel more needs
to be done to root out corruption.
They think there are tainted leaders in the Government and they want Abdullah
to remove them from the Cabinet after the elections to prove himself.
But for that to happen, they have to decide whether Pak Lah deserves their
votes. It is not about sympathy for a particular person but whether they truly
want to let Pak Lah clean up Malaysia.