The Malaysian Insight did a series of articles on Penang recently, and as part of their journalistic work, they asked me what I thought about the civil society response to what is happening here. This is what I told them:
In the 2018 general election, the opposition parties in Penang received a drubbing and are either demoralised or ineffective now.
Penang civil society activists and concerned individuals including young people have stepped up to fill this vacuum by highlighting issues close to their hearts especially over-development and hillside development.
Part of this is motivated by the concern about [and even fear of] floods and landslides created by over-development, the lack of sensible planning, the mega projects under the RM46bn transport proposal for Penang and massive land reclamation.
I see this activism so soon after the general election as sign of the blossoming of a green movement. In a sense, this environmental concern has been there for a long time eg the Save Penang Hill Campaign around 1990 and the Stop the Penang Outer Ring Road project in the early noughties.
At that time, the opposition political parties in the state were around to pick up on these issues, so ordinary people had some back-up. Now the political opposition in the state has all but been wiped out, and many ordinary people have no choice but to speak up for themselves – and they are doing just that – filling the political vacuum in the state.
[It is not just NGOs making noise now; more and more ordinary people are stepping up to the plate, among them the 17,000-plus individuals who have signed an online petition opposing the controversial Pan Island Link. This dwarfs another petition in support of the mega transport proposal that has received just over 12,000 signatures.]
As environmental issues grow in importance in the face of over-development and with climate change manifesting itself, I expect the green movement in Penang (and the rest of Malaysia) to grow and become even more vocal to fill up the vacuum left behind by opposition political parties.
[Gazing into my crystal ball, I predict the green movement will eventually converge with grassroots groups championing the struggles of ordinary workers in Malaysia – for what we have now is largely an economic system that exploits both the ecology and ordinary workers in the quest for ever-increasing corporate profits for a few.]