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TOC Special Report : Opposition creating a buzz in Penang elections

By Andrew Loh

The Democratic Action Party (DAP) of Malaysia is quietly confident of its chances in the upcoming General Elections, the 12th in the country.

Although it managed to win only one seat in the Penang state assembly in the last elections, DAP members told theonlinecitizen (TOC) that they are confident of creating a severe dent in the ruling Barisan National’s (BN) hold this time round.

The DAP, founded by Mr Devan Nair who later became Singapore’s 3rd president, is now led by Secretary General Mr Lim Guan Eng, son of the former leader, Mr Lim Kit Siang. The junior Lim was first elected as a Member of Parliament for Kota Melaka in 1986, defeating ex-Malaysian football captain Soh Chin Aun with a majority of 17,606 votes. (DAP)

The senior Lim is now the chairman of the Central Policy and Strategic Planning Commission of the party. (DAP)

TOC paid a visit to the DAP’s headquarters in Penang on Sunday and Monday.

Issues of concern

TOC managed to speak to five of the candidates contesting seats in Penang island – Jeff Ooi, Chow Kon Yeow, Ng Wei Aik, Liew Chin Tong (DAP's Chief Election Strategist), and Koay Teng Hai. What is clear is that all five felt that change is in the air. Indeed, the party’s election slogan is “Just Change It”, a call for Malaysians to deny the ruling coalition a two-thirds majority.

“People are tired of the corruption, the indecisiveness of the Badawi government”, says Mr Ng. Asked what the people of Penang are concerned about, Mr Ng said the economy is one of the top concerns. “We used to be number one in Malaysia. Now, we’re number three. The government is not doing enough for Penang.” Along with the state of the economy, corruption, education and rising inflation are the other issues they’re fighting on in the elections.

One of its election leaflets is headlined, “Corruption, Sleaze & Rising Inflation”. The text says: “BN claims that inflation rate is only 2%. Can BN be trusted when it is more than 20%?”. A few of the candidates repeatedly asked the assembled ceramah (i.e. rally) attendees that night if they believe the official figure of 2%. They were met by a resounding “NO!” response.

The perception we got was what matters are not government statistics but how the common man and woman on the street perceive things.

The Singapore government’s scheme of giving ‘progress packages’ is also cited in the leaflet: “For 50 years, the people have not received a single cent of Petronas profits. If a non-oil producer like Singapore can give S$2,500 to poor families yearly, why can’t BN do the same for Malaysians?”

In its party newspaper, The Rocket, Sec Gen Lim accused the Malaysian government of refusing to “restore the teaching of Math and Science from English to mother-tongue or refusing to build new Chinese primary schools or not giving fair development to Chinese and Tamil primary schools.”

Turning apathy into participation

Blogger-turned-politician Mr Jeff Ooi’s participation in the elections was spurred by another cause – that of trying to reverse the apathy among younger Malaysians.

One of the most popular bloggers in Malaysia at the moment, Mr Ooi says, “I hope to inspire younger people to take part in politics here. Even if I lost, I hope it will inspire younger people to come forward. And if I won, I’d have another platform to air national issues and push for changes.”

Asked about how Malaysian bloggers have taken to his “Jeff For Malaysia” campaign and his candidacy in the Jelutong seat, he said they were supportive. Donations through Mr Ooi’s blog has totaled RM113,000.00 thus far. Mr Ooi says on his blog:

“With the latest tally of about RM113,000.00 in total, that's about 113% of the target for this online campaign, i.e. to raise RM100,000 from readers of this blog. Thank you very much.”

Mr Koay Teng Hai (picture left, first from left) is up against one of the heavyweights, Datuk Dr Teng Hock Nan in the Pulau Tikus state seat. Teng is seen as one of the three men (the others being Mr Teng Chang Yeow and Datuk Lee Kah Choon) likely to succeed outgoing chief minister Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon.

Although Koay’s chances of unseating Datuk Dr Teng may be an uphill task, many of what were previously regarded as safe seats for Barisan National are now being termed as "hot", particularly those contested by Gerakan and MCA as the opposition has worked up a froth of anti-government discontent.

This is Mr Koay’s second elections. Aged 35, Koay is energetic and charismatic, judging from the rally speech he gave on Sunday night which had the crowd enthralled.

With his eloquence in Hokkien and Mandarin, and without any prepared script, his 50 minutes speech on Sunday took Barisan National to task over several issues. They included the controversy of awarding the construction of Penang's 2nd Link to one of the companies under Khairy Jamaludin's control, several other major infrastructural projects to entities with ties to UMNO, the state of minority tongue education in Malaysia, ways to truly reinvent (borrowing from BN's/Gerakan's campaign slogan), and revitalize Penang's sluggish economy.

For this general election, the DAP itself has embarked on a concerted campaign – with posters, flags, leaflets, badges, stickers, buntings, umbrellas, t-shirts and even a campaign song (Just Change It), an election video (The Voice Of Democracy) and a website.

All this is an attempt to deny the ruling coalition of a two-third majority in the state assembly. (Penang has 40 seats. One-third would mean 14 seats.)

Sentiments on the ground

The buzz is quite evident on the ground as well. TOC spoke to several Malaysians and all of them were of the opinion that it is time for change in Penang.

“Abdullah Badawi is hopeless”, said a taxi driver. “Mahathir was a better prime minister. Badawi didn’t do what he promised. Corruption is now even worse! Now, Anwar is giving them a lot of headache also!”, he said. Another taxi driver opined that “we will see some changes in this election”. One lady offered that the people of Penang were now tired and ready for new faces to represent them.

The current Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon is leaving office. Speculation is rife as to who will replace him. The DAP has accused the Barisan National of putting out misleading information on this.

They are alleging that the bemusing charade of a new contender emerging every other day shows that the Gerakan is driven by factionalism and/or that the outgoing CM Tan Sri Dr Koh is weak and indecisive, ever ready to kowtow to UMNO and in particular Khairy Jamaludin – Badawi's son-in-law and a Malay Ultra – who has publicly made known his desire to see an UMNO man take over as Penang's CM at some future point in time.

How can a house divided, a leader that exercises no effective control over his own party and who caves in to UMNO's whims and fancies be trusted with preserving the interests of Penangites and Penang as a whole, they asked.

A biased press

During the two days that TOC was there, it was evident that the local press was clearly taking the side of the ruling coalition parties, particularly UMNO. The front pages of the newspapers and the inside pages were dedicated to the coalition’s campaign. Bold headlines such as “BN will never neglect rural folk, says Abdullah” screams out at you, with a picture of a smiling Abdullah Badawi. Another report says, “BN’s Kelantan manifesto addresses needs of society” and many similar, positive reports on BN.

One would have to look hard for any positive – or at least, fair - reports of the opposition.

The New Straits Times reported the opposition thus, “Opposition in Sabah running out of steam”, “Opposition suffering ‘development envy’ and “DAP slammed over lawyer’s status”. As for Anwar Ibrahim, the press seems to have blanketed him out totally. There was only one small report on him, titled “Anwar cannot do anything for Permatang Pauh” – on page six of The New Straits Times on March 3rd.

“This is how it is”, says DAP’s Ng Wei Aik. The opposition thus have to depend on their own party newspapers to get their messages across to the electorate. For the DAP, there is The Rocket and DAP TV and their nightly rallies.

Soldiering on

Despite the obstacles, members of the DAP are giving their all in this elections, brimming with enthusiasm and confidence. Their campaign headquarters is abuzz with activities, candidates dropping in now and then from their walkabouts, schedules are confirmed and re-confirmed, phone calls are made, emails sent out, campaign vehicles are re-loaded with campaign paraphernalia, candidates wishing each other well for the night’s rallies, zesty, youthful as well as the not-so-youthful but nevertheless young-at-heart volunteers helping out in anything that needs their attention, etc.

There is a sense of camaraderie among the members and supporters. A sense of purpose, of a common end goal.

TOC met one ardent and long-time supporter of the DAP. Identifying himself as Mr Ho, he says he’s been a DAP helper for 50 years. “I do what I can. We need to help out even if we are not party members”, as he proudly relates his experiences and the history of the party.

Mr Ng Wei Aik, when pressed on how many state seats they hope to win, said that he hopes “6 to 10 seats” will fall this time – a sentiment echoed by those that TOC spoke to.

“BN will still win but with a smaller majority”, said one taxi driver. “But the opposition will win more seats this time.”

Verdict on March 8

All eyes will be on Polling Day this Saturday, March 8. The opposition is well aware that they will not win a majority in the elections. What they are hoping for is to deny the Barisan National a two-thirds majority.

In the state of Penang, such ambitions may have been laughed at in the past. However, this time it might just be a realistic goal.

Special thanks to Shaun Lee.

Read about the Malaysian elections here.

Also, visit Malaysiakini for the latest news on the elections.

Below is the DAP video titled "Voice Of Democracy". You can find more of their videos on YouTube as well.

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DAP candidate Koay Teng Hai's rally speech:

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