Monday, April 14, 2008

From prison to public office

Penangites look set to give new chief minister a chance


Life took on a new meaning for Penang voters that fateful night on March 8. Many voters had wanted to "teach the ruling coalition a lesson" at the polls and ended up, some pundits might say, overdoing it.

Penangites handed the opposition alliance more than two-thirds majority which resulted in Mr Lim Guan Eng landing the coveted post of chief minister. If the Democratic Action Party (DAP) secretary general had been caught somewhat unprepared by the voters' drastic change of heart, he can now relax - at least a little - in knowing that not all Penangites are regretting their action.

"I think people are getting used to having Guan Eng as chief minister. Perhaps he should feel at ease in his job after over a month now," noted community leader Vincent P'ng.

Some among the population had eyed Mr Lim with suspicion and labelled him "opportunistic" for having abandoned his Kota Melaka stronghold to stand for elections for the first time in Penang, a place where his father Lim Kit Siang - DAP's iconic leader - was state assemblyman before he was thrashed in the 1995 polls.

Now, a growing segment of the population are beginning to regard the junior Lim as being an astute politician and voice their support for him. They said he has what it takes - intelligence and maturity - to do a good job.

"He became a chief minister because of the March 8 political tsunami. And he deserves the chance to prove that he can be a capable chief minister," said a former local councillor, who declined to be named.

Mr Lim is a fast learner - he has learned to conduct himself differently now that he is leading one of the richest states in Malaysia and the only Chinese chief minister.

On the eve of polling on March 8, Mr Lim had vehemently accused the ruling Barisan Nasional coalition of using "last-minute dirty tactics" to frighten the people from supporting the Opposition.

The next day, shortly after election results showed that Penang has fallen to the Opposition, he turned up at a media conference with a different persona.

Mr Lim displayed statesman-like qualities and spoke with extra care and moderation.

With victory comes new challenges for this 47-year-old political activist and former Internal Security Act detainee.

The administration and revival of Penang rests on his shoulders – a daunting prospect for a new man at the helm.

As Mr Lim himself said in a recent interview with The Malaysian Insider news portal: "The DAP is learning now that governing is tough."

There are plenty of pressures that a Chinese-based DAP-led state government has to face. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi recently lashed out at the Penang government for adopting a fully open tender system, which he said did not guarantee fairness to those who are too financially weak to compete.

The implementation of the system, with its focus on equitability, has endeared Mr Lim to Chinese businessmen, who hope that he will improve the business environment in the state. As for Penangites in general, they have to trust him to make Penang shine again on the economic front.

It is still early days for Mr Lim. He can expect greater pressures from more quarter - some Penangites are even concerned for his personal safety.

"Now that we've given him a chance to perform as chief minister, we don't want anything to stop him from working for the people. He should only leave office if Penangites vote him and his party out in the next general election," said teacher A L Tan.

Mr Lim may well remain Penang's chief minister for many years to come if he succeeds in winning over his detractors.

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