A friend of mine provides an eye-witness account and pictures of the pro-NEP demonstration around Komtar, Penang, this afternoon. (The Komtar tower houses the offices of the Penang state government offices and the Chief Minister.) The crowd, which included several Umno leaders and reps in the state, were protesting against Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng’s declaration that the new DAP-led state government would discontinue New Economic Policy (NEP) policies.
Here is the eye-witness account:
At about 2.55pm, I was walking through Komtar and out from the third floor at the Maybank entrance. At first, I saw people lining the balcony railing looking down to three FRU trucks being loaded up with personnel. There was a strong police presence (though not intimidating), vehicles and personnel and a curious but not ruffled crowd.
When I asked, I was told the new chief minister was coming. A bit of a heavy welcome, I thought. So I followed the crowd and walked to Jalan Ria where I could both see and hear a large banner-waving crowd.
As I could not hear what they were chanting and could not decipher their banners, I can only describe what I saw and felt. Firstly, there was, at that time, no sense of tension either from the crowd or the marchers. The marchers at the front were young mainly male and evidently Muslim. Further back, the marchers were a mix of ages and sexes as well as ethnicities, though I would say they were probably all Muslim – Indian and Malay.
All seemed to be peaceful when I left the scene. Although there was a helicopter overhead, there didn’t seem to be any tear gas or water cannon truck lurking in the background, just FRU directing the march and guiding the traffic.
One thing though – there was a slight awkwardness in the marchers… and unfamiliarity… as if they were not from Penang, at least not from the island. They looked a little out of their familiar territory – just an observation.
Well, thankfully everything ended peacefully. Indeed, the FRU should be commended for acting with restraint in sharp contrast to the way their counterparts in KL handled the Hindraf protests.
Earlier, theSun quoted Chief Minister Guan Eng as saying:
“We believe in the freedom of speech and assembly as long as it is peaceful. Anybody who wants to protest, we have no qualms about it but please do it based on facts and not based on certain interests or to try and test the state government,” he said.
Speaking in a press conference after a meeting with 21 Muslim non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in his office in Komtar, Lim said the state government is a united front that should not be tested on their commitment to represent all Penangites.
“Don’t test us on our commitment towards establishing integrity and accountability and don’t test us on our commitment to listen to all the voices of Penangites,” he said.
“If they want to come and give their views, we are willing to listen but if they want to demonstrate, that is their right. I hope they won’t provoke sentiments that are not true,” he added.
He was commenting on a plan by certain groups to stage a protest in Komtar against the state government’s stand in not using the New Economic Policy (NEP) but an open tender system instead.
“We will not back down on the open tender system because the NEP is associated with corruption, cronyism and inefficiency,” Lim reiterated.
“We want an open tender system but they raised so much hue and cry. If they want to test us, they can go ahead and test us. We have the full exco support on this and we won’t back down on that,” he said.
Earlier, on his meeting with the 21 Muslim organisations, Lim again reiterated that the state government has no intention of sidelining any group or races.
“We are a state government for all and we listen to the voices of the people and we want to represent everyone in Penang,” he said.
He reassured Muslims that the state government emphasised on integrity and the status of Islam in the state will never be disputed.
“Please do not listen to any rumours about the state government wanting to tone down Azan (the call for prayers) or anything like that. In fact, this is the first time I’ve heard about such things,” he said.
Meanwhile, Malaysiakini quotes Zaid Ibrahim, the former Umno MP for Kota Bharu as saying that Guan Eng should not have been too hasty:
“I find it very shocking to see today that DAP is being very arrogant too. First day in office – Lim Guan Eng (Penang chief minister) made this statement about NEP,” he said.
“This is not the time to stir everyone’s feelings. Our race relations are still fragile and those elected should just stop talking and get on with the job.”…
“A good leader should be able to say the good part of NEP, which is to help the marginalised group, should be continued. The NEP which helps selected individuals to enrich themselves will be stopped. That’s all he should have said, not provocative statements,” said Zaid.
“This is something which Guan Eng should be mindful of. TV3, the newspapers and the radio stations must also stop pitting the Malays against the non-Malays. It is so dangerous.
Interestingly enough, Penang Umno leaders have proposed to the federal government to withdraw funding for all mega-projects in Penang. Guan Eng has described the call as akin to cutting their nose to spite their face – and an act of revenge.
Actually, Umno’s call to end the Penang mega projects such as the Penang Outer Ring Road could be a blessing in disguise. Everyone knows that Penang is already terribly congested. A delay in the mega projects would give civil society groups and the new state government in Penang more time to look into more sustainable alternatives to improve public transport, preserve the environment, reduce traffic and create more green spaces and parks. Guan Eng should explore these alternatives rather than rely on mega projects that earn huge profits for a few privileged corporations.The state government must also implement development projects that truly empower and uplift the lives of marginalised communities – in other words, people-centred, holistic development – rather than put much hope on mega projects.
Here is an article I wrote for Aliran Monthly:
Is the BN’s economic model sustainable?
Is our current model of economic development sustainable in the long-run, wonders Anil Netto. What will happen when our oil wells dry up? What has been the environmental cost? These are issues that our political parties – both the BN and the Opposition – must address. Full article