August 14, 2003

Can The Malays In Penang Merely Become The Opposition?

Special Report by Azeman Ariffin and Nor Hammad Wariman

BUKIT MERTAJAM, Aug 14 (Bernama) -- While PAS claims that it can wrest Kedah in the next general election, its partner in the opposition, Parti Keadilan Nasional (Keadilan) launched a campaign called 'Reformasi Wants To Capture Penang' (Rentap) in April.
Rentap, which means to snatch something away rudely from someone, was launched at the party's stronghold in the Permatang Pauh Parliamentary constituency, here by Keadilan president Datin Seri Dr Wan Azizah Ismail without much publicity at a Chinese association hall, attended by more than 1,000 supporters.
Can Keadilan, which now has only one state assembly seat in Penang, with the assistance of other opposition parties, spring a surprise like in the 1969 general election when people in the state rejected the Barisan Nasional (then known as the Alliance)?
This can only be answered by the voters themselves, but for the Malay community in particular, there is something of greater significance that must be answered, that is, whether they are willing to forsake their political power and eventually become merely the opposition in the state legislative assembly, or do they want to strengthen their position in the state BN administration?
While some quarters claim that this issue was deliberately floated by Umno to maintain the status quo, political observers believe the scenario could become a reality if the Malay voters act according to sentiment and vote for the opposition in areas represented by Umno.
In the last general election, Umno won 10 out of the 12 state seats they contested in and lost the Penanti seat to Keadilan and the Permatang Pasir seat to PAS, both state constituencies are in the Permatang Pauh parliamentary constituency. The DAP won only one state seat while the remaining 20 seats were won by BN through Gerakan, MCA and MIC.
However, according to the BN power-sharing formula, the Malay voice in the government through Umno remains strong as the party is given the deputy chief minister's post and three other portfolios in addition to the Speaker's post.
But if more and more Malays in Penang support the opposition, it will mean that their political power will be eroded because the Chinese voters and other non-Malays generally continue to give their support to Gerakan, the MCA and MIC.
If this happens, then it will be to the detriment of the Malays in Penang who form the minority and need to be looked after through political power.
The presence of the Malays as the opposition in Penang would certainly be of great concern because it would not only affect Umno but also the programmes planned for the development of the Malays themselves, Deputy Chief Minister Datuk Dr Hilmi Yahaya told Bernama.
The cause of the Penang Malays still need to be championed as many of them live on government land, wakaf land, in pre-war houses and they also have no economic power in the state.
"Only Umno can look after the welfare of the Malays as we are in the government and have political power and we are in a position to plan and implement strategies for the development of the Malays," he said.
Dr Hilmi said Pas and Keadilan only know how to oppose and their actions are actually to the detriment of the race itself.
Bagan Umno division head, Datuk Abdul Latiff Mirasa said the fate of the Malays in Penang, especially those living in the urban areas, has yet to be fully safeguarded.
If Umno is defeated, it's not only the party that loses, in fact it will be a loss for the Malays themselves because they will not be able to lead the state government, he said.
"For as long as Umno still has power in the state, we will ensure that the Malays are not swept away from the mainstream of development and will not become 'Lebai Malang' (an Unfortunate Lot) in their own state," said Abdul Latiff.
For the opposition, it appears that the Permatang Pauh Parliamentary constituency, which was previously represented by Dr Wan Azizah's husband, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim, is the first step to toppling Umno in Penang.
The opposition's strategy in launching "Rentap" in Permatang Pauh is perceived by political observers as a tactic to at least retain the seat.
"Keadilan's victory or defeat in Permatang Pauh will determine the future of the party," said an observer.
Umno leaders acknowledge that it is difficult to wrest Permatang Pauh but they are convinced that there is still a chance if the party leaders and members are united and sincere in their struggles.
"We only need to convince the voters that choosing the opposition based on sentiments alone is a mistake that will affect Malay solidarity and strength in Penang," said Permatang Pauh Umno division head, Datuk Ahmad Saad.
Keadilan vice-president Azmin Ali concedes that the contest for the seat is expected to be intense as the BN will use all its resources to wrest the seat and to retain the other seats in Penang, which is the home state of future Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi.
Based on latest developments and current indication, Ahmad said he is confident Umno will win the Permatang Pauh parliamentary seat as well as the two state seats, Permatang Pasir and Penanti, besides retaining another seat in the parliamentary constituency, Seberang Jaya.
"The Keadilan and Pas victories earlier were not because both the parties were strong but because of the split in Umno members," Ahmad said.
He said a majority of the Umno voters and that of the other BN components as well as fence sitters who had previously supported the opposition, have now come back to support the government.
Several courses meant for the Wanita, Youth and Puteri Umno election machineries are also running smoothly, he said.
"In terms of development, the government has implemented various projects, all of which were due to the efforts of Umno at all levels and the Village Security and Development Committee (JKKK) and not due to the efforts of the opposition who only know how to criticise the government," Ahmad said.
Among the projects that have been completed under the Eighth Malaysia Plan are the Japan-Malaysia Technical Institute (RM152 million), Bukit Tengah Bridge (RM100 million) and the National Youth Skills Institute (IKBN) at Jalan Berapit worth RM75 million while educational institutions available in the area are the Universiti Teknologi Mara (UiTM) branch, Maktab Perguruan Bainun, Politeknik Seberang Perai and Institut Teknologi Tun Abdul Razak.