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Lim Guan Eng Strikes Back

Lim Guan Eng said, in London, last month, “Sabah and Sarawak are equal partners. Without them, there is no Malaysia. They are not one of the 14 “states”, they are one of the three territories which are Sabah, Sarawak and peninsular Malaysia.

“The East Malaysians see the beautiful highways in peninsular Malaysia, but they have none.

“They only get 5% of the oil royalties, and are not able to enjoy the resources of oil and gas.

“East Malaysians are very unhappy. For them to live in dignity, we must honour our agreement with them. It is a shame that Sabah has the highest number of poor people, despite its wealth.”

Below is the write-up on Lim Guan Eng’s chat session organised by the Monsoons Book Club.

Speaking at a dialogue called ‘Where is Malaysia heading?’ on Sunday, July 12, 2015 in London while he was on an official visit, Lim was asked several probing questions about Malaysia.

For over 30 minutes, Lim responded with apparent ease and candour, injecting humour, sarcasm and facts to keep his audience entertained and engaged.

He was the consummate politician and spoke with clarity, but may have evaded some questions. That his popularity is high was without doubt. That he had drawn a diverse crowd of Englishmen and Malaysians, who had travelled in heavy rain to Central London on a Sunday afternoon, is testimony of his appeal.

Lim was affable and charismatic, displaying none of the arrogant streak which many have claimed that he possesses. He was full of humility and apologised for the break-up of Pakatan, caused by the excision of the progressive leaders of PAS. He apologised for being late, as his driver had been caught-up in the traffic jams caused by London’s mini-marathon.

He was full of inspiration as he told Malaysians never to lose hope and faith, despite Malaysia being in a state of crisis. He was informative, and quoted figures to support his arguments. He was unwavering in insisting that DAP will always stand by its principles and would never veer from these.

He talked about the economy, the effects of the Goods and Services Tax (GST), Najib Abdul Razak’s handling of the 1MDB crisis, the suffering of the people, the closure of many businesses, throughout the nation, and stressed, “There is no Malaysia without Sabah and Sarawak. They are our equal partners. We are a trinity, together with Sabah and peninsular Malaysia.”

He reiterated his trust in the Malaysian rakyat to do the right thing at the next general election.

There were an appreciable number of Penangites in the audience, some DAP supporters, many admirers of the chief minister, a sprinkling of political cynics, the token Malaysian Special Branch operatives and a healthy mix of concerned Malaysians, including East Malaysians.

Everything went swimmingly well, with questions ranging from the crisis in Malaysia, to the credibility of Najib, from communications with the rural areas,  to a choice of a possible cell mate, from Wanita Umno Baru’s ‘impenetrable fortress’ to The Wall Street Journal’s report, and from Hadi Awang’s betrayal to DAP’s unwavering attack on PAS’ hudud.

Then came the controversial question, about development in Penang, and Lim went ballistic.

Lim has done much for Penang, in terms of development and governance. Malaysians flock to Penang because of its CAT – competency, accountability and transparency. This was confirmed by a friend in the construction business, who prefers to conduct business in Penang, rather than anywhere else in Malaysia.

Malaysians flock to Penang for its vibrant art scene. Penang, according to someone from Shah Alam, “exudes an air of vitality, unlike any other Malaysian state.”

Some questions had to be asked repeatedly, “Had DAP consulted their remaining coalition partner, Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR), before announcing the death of Pakatan?”, or “Had DAP been ignorant to continually carp on hudud?” despite knowing PAS’s stand on this archaic law.

Touching of a raw nerve

The question that irked Lim was as innocuous as those that preceded it, but they brought passion to Lim. They were about the sustainability of development in Penang, hillside development and the threat posed to the breeding grounds of fish, by land reclamation.

Lim’s body language betrayed the touching of a raw nerve. He shot forward in his seat like a sprinter from the starting blocks. The pulse on his right temple throbbed. His voice rose and he bellowed, “These are outright lies, and I will sue anyone who says that. I will sue them and I have sued them.” His indignation caused a ripple of laughter.

Lim was riveting. The audience was enraptured although one cannot decide whether it was because Lim lost his calm composure, or whether it was because the audience was moved by his passion for Penang. He is not a native Penangite, but has embraced his adopted state with enthusiasm and energy. Some claim that Lim was in the right place at the right time when he won his seat in Penang.

The animated Lim raised a few eyebrows. He did not mince his words, and warned against making baseless accusations, and the crowd loved it. He added, “I challenge anyone who says that the Penang state government has granted massive land reclamation rights. These are scurrilous attacks. We stand by what we have achieved. We will defend (our achievements) with our lives.”

He advised those who were unhappy, to sue the BN government for contracts made before DAP’s time, like Tanjung Pinang Two. In 1995, BN sold reclaimed land for RM1 per square foot, instead of RM60 per sq ft, which was the prevailing rate at the time.

Lim brushed aside the criticism by saying that it was typical of the NGOs who are aligned to Umno Baru, and that Unesco has awarded Penang heritage status.

He is misinformed. These were questions garnered from ordinary Penangites, and not NGOs which are aligned with the Umno Baru opposition in Penang.

Despite his harsh rebuttal of the allegation of unsustainable development, members of the audience admitted that they would rather have him as leader than a corrupt Umno Baru or BN chief minister; the good he has done outweighs the criticism.

Lim said, “Penang is cleaner and greener now. Please don’t blame us for the wrongs of the previous BN government. We are not perfect, but we have a plan to resolve issues like public transport. You can attack me for anything, but do not attack our integrity.”

(Published Malaysiakini on 20 July 2015)

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