At a ceramah on Saturday night on mainland Penang, it looks apparent that Mahathir’s Parti Pribumi Bersatu Malaysia (PPBM) is trying to make its presence felt in mainland Penang, especially in the parliamentary seats of Tasik Gelugor and Kepala Batas.
The ceramah was jointly organised by PKR and PPBM at Dewan Panorama in Taman Tun Dr Awang in Butterworth, which falls within the Tasik Gelugor parliamentary seat and the Teluk Air Tawar state seat – both held by Umno.
Taman Tun Dr Awang, where about 2,000 people live, consists of 10 five-storey blocks of low-cost flats, which had just received a coat of paint after lying in a shabby state for years – something this blog had highlighted on a number of occasions. In the event, the project to paint the flats was finally undertaken by the Penang Public Works Department, according to a project signboard near the flats, and today the flats look more presentable.
For years, the area has been a planning mess with structures all over the place and an under-used multi-million “fishermen’s jetty”. Traditionally, it has been an Umno stronghold under the Tasik Gelugor parliamentary seat, previously under Nor Mohamed Yakcop, at that time the minister of finance II.
So I was curious to see what the response was going to be like. In the event, about 150 turned up for the ceramah – close to 100 inside the hall, and others – a bit ‘shy’ (I spotted a civil servant among them) – standing outside the hall, even though the hall was less than half full.
Who were the speakers that night?
- Mustafa Kamal Ahmad, PKR coordinator for the Teluk Air Tawar state seat
- Muhammad Zahid Md Arip, PBBM spokesperson, former vocal critic of Anwar Ibrahim
- Marzuki Yahya, PBBM supreme council member and Penang PBBM liaison chair, formerly Penang Perkasa, believed to be a Mukhriz man, formerly an Umno liaison member
- Mohd Shariff Omar, PBBM Penang election machinery coordinator, Tasik Gelugor PPBM division chief, former deputy agriculture and agro-based industries minister I, former Penang deputy chief minister, and former Tasek Gelugor MP (1999-2008)
- Rosli Hassan, Amanah coordinator for the Sungai Dua state seat
- Saifuddin Nasution Ismail, PKR secretary general
According to a local PKR strategist, the PPBM could end up contesting in the Kepala Batas and the Tasik Gelugor parliamentary seats – both previously contested in 2013 by Pas (then representing Pakatan), which lost to Umno by majorities of 4,176 and 3,042. Mahathir himself will be visiting Sungai Dua within Tasik Gelugor on 23 April, indicating the party’s interest there.
Within Tasik Gelugor parliamentary constituency, Amanah may contest in the Permatang Berangan and Sungai Dua state seats (both previously contested in 2013 by Pas, which lost to Umno by 1,621 and 357-vote majorities. PKR is likely to contest in the Teluk Air Tawar state seat, where it had lost to Umno by 840 votes.
Within Kepala Batas, the PKR strategist said Amanah is likely to contest in Penaga, previously contested by Pas. PKR is likely to contest in the Bertam and Pinang Tunggal state seats, where it had previously contested. Umno’s winning majorities in 2013 in these three seats ranged from 1,500 to 1,700.
One PPBM speaker said if Pakatan won GE14, they would make sure that the air force base in Butterworth would not be relocated, as had been reported some time ago. He questioned the logic of the proposed relocation, saying the new site for the base could be only about 10km away. The only logical conclusion he could think of is that the present site sits on valuable prime land along the coast of Teluk Air Tawar that could be slated for high-end property development.
PPBM should go one step further and promise to stop all swap deals, which hinder a proper evaluation of both sides of the deals and complicate the regulatory assessment and approval process. By now, many of us are familiar with these types of controversial swap deals, and the experience hasn’t been good.
One more thing, I wish ceramah speakers would stop talking about the various cash handouts by Pakatan states. Remember, what opposition parties can distribute in cash handouts can easily be exceeded by BR1M handouts or pre-election goodies by the BN. In the larger scheme of things, such handouts barely make a dent on the burden many feel from the higher cost of living and rising debt.
Instead, Pakatan, if it is serious about real change, should talk about the failure of the neoliberal economic model – the income and wealth inequality, the burden of household debt, the removal of subsidies, the GST – and how it intends to tackle these.
Why have house prices soared across the country – including the Pakatan states of Selangor and Penang? And what are the parties going to do about it if they come into power? Same goes for healthcare and education costs.
Offer an alternative vision of society, something concrete, that is fairer to ordinary people and imposes less of a burden on them. How are the parties going to protect and improve the environment – more green spaces – and ensure genuine sustainable development?
Allow people to assess which model or vision is better. Otherwise, it is all hot air that doesn’t excite or inspire people to “vote for change” that could end up more of the same.