Friday, December 16, 2011

DAP's Extended Honeymoon in Penang

by Khoo Kay Peng912-14-11)

Susan Loone of Malaysiakini was right to note that DAP had lost an opportunity to address its plan and blueprint for Penang during the party's recently concluded state annual conference. DAP leadership and members should have used the opportunity to discuss some crucial state centred issues such as strategy to mitigate looming economic slowdown, job creation, curbing inflation, improving local authority services and enhance public transport.

Prior to the 2008 general election, the party was at the forefront in promoting and advocating local council election. What has happened to the pledge? Did the party leadership do anything substantial to prepare the state for local council elections? Leaders who were at the forefront of the campaign such as Sec-Gen Lim Guan Eng, MP Liew Chin Tong and others should help explain why the pledge was not being fulfilled.

A number of us who had helped in the drafting of the Penang Development Blueprint would like to know the status of the report. Surely DAP does not need to take 4 years to come out with it's own socio-economic development blueprint for Penang.

For voting in a new government, surely we have the right to know how the new government intends to lead us differently from the past ineffective Gerakan leadership under Dr Koh Tsu Koon.

Nevertheless, the DAP state leadership has done well to reduce deficit and strengthened the financial position of the state. It had introduced several measures to reduce the use of plastic bags, no car day for a particular stretch in the city, provided RM100 for elderly citizens and others.

DAP has done remarkably well to sustain the support of the Chinese voters, however the party must take cognizance of a potential erosion in non-Chinese support. Two main problems already emerged among the Malay voters. First, a lack of Malay-centric agenda to help uplift their social and economic status will cause some Malay voters to swing their support back to a Malay patronage leadership under Gerakan or MCA. Second, rapid private housing development on the Penang island, higher inflation and cost of living and a lack of job opportunities are pushing a lot of Malays to the edge of the island.

Lim Guan Eng's government has been to overly focused on the island as an engine of growth for Penang. His administration had proposed a few initiatives such as SPICE, education hub and a theme park - all centred on the island. Both the education hub and theme park are supposed to be located at Balik Pulau, almost the last bastion of Malay hinterland on the island.

A lack of emphasis on the mainland is going to create a distortion of prices and cost of living between the two zones - Penang Island and Seberang Prai - which are separated by just a bridge less than 20KM.

There are several issues confronting Dap and Lim in the immediate term:
1. A lack of new socio-economic model for Penang.
2. Job creation and retention/attraction of young & skilled workers to work in Penang.
3. Escalating housing prices and marginalization of the poor/urban lowly paid worker.
4. Losing Malay support due to a lack of Malay agenda (not NEP but true capacity building programme).
5. Institutionalization and decentralization of power from the CM office by hiring the right talents to assist the government on its programmes and projects.
6. Revitalizing George Town.
7.World Heritage City strategy and plan for sustainable development, restoration and conservation

DAP has done very well on a number of areas but it may still fall short of evaluation if the party leadership does not start to take on bigger issues and provide a steady leadership. We know that the party can stand up against UMNO and its extreme tendencies but this cannot be the sole selling point.

The party has set up a high-powered panel to resolve the spat between Ramasamy and Karpal Singh, we hope the party will set up a high powered panel to address Penang's position amidst the weakening global economic climate in 2012.

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