In the face of an impending state election in Penang, the party that was shown the door by the electorate in 2008 appears to have consumed a strange brew of confidence lately.
Gerakan, which was seen by some as the conscience of Barisan Nasional (BN), when it was then a partner of the coalition, said it is ready to take back the state it once governed for 39 years.
Despite a bleak prognosis among political observers, the party appears to have convinced itself that it can dethrone the ruling DAP when the state election is held this year.
It befuddles the mind as to why Gerakan harbours such unrestrained optimism on the heels of its poor showing in the last general election.
Is the party’s newfound confidence based on the “green wave” of success in the Malay heartland gained by its Perikatan Nasional (PN) partners Bersatu and Pas?
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If that is the case, then riding on the coat-tails of Malay-Muslim parties will not instil much confidence, especially among Penang Island voters who are largely from other ethnic backgrounds.
One of the obvious questions that could crop up is to what extent can a junior PN partner assure ethnic minority voters that their interests will be promoted and protected by a coalition in which Gerakan is seen to be playing second fiddle to its dominant Malay-Muslim partners?
It is, therefore, conceivable that it would be an uphill task for Gerakan to dispel fear among ethnic minority voters in other states – particularly Kelantan, Terengganu and Kedah – about PN’s green wave when their respective elections take place.
Anxiety prevailed among non-Muslims when Kedah shut down gambling outlets and restricted the sale of alcohol in non-Muslim areas.
Permatang Pauh lawmaker Muhammad Fawwaz Mohamad Jan did nothing to lower the temperature when he ‘advised’ a mall in Seberang Jaya not to openly sell discounted liquor for the Lunar New Year.
It was not endearing to DAP supporters nationwide when Pas president Hadi Awang labelled the party pro-Communist.
With good reason, Bersatu president Mahiaddin Yasin and Hadi wearing red shirts and tossing yee sang for the Lunar New Year may not necessarily have warmed the cockles of the hearts of the ethnic minorities.
Besides, the minorities were rattled when Hadi accused them of being the root of the corruption that has become rampant in the country, giving the impression that the ethnic Malays as a community are clean.
If Gerakan is indeed serious about making a comeback, its confidence cannot be dependent on its past glory or a line-up of new candidates. Luck may not even knock on the door.
More importantly, it has to show Penang folk how different it is from other parties, in terms of its policies and its notion of development.
The electorate will need to see whether there is any ideological difference between Gerakan and the DAP before they can make an informed choice at the polling station.
Would Gerakan, for instance, be more prudent about the construction of high-rise buildings, including luxury condos that dot the island, so they don’t have an adverse impact on the environment?
If the party regains Penang, would it continue to pursue the protracted ‘Penang Transport Master Plan’, the funding for which hinges on sales of land on the controversial three reclaimed islands off the southern tip of the island.
The reclamation, it is feared, will cause irreversible damage to the environment and marine life, and harm the livelihoods of fisher folk.
Will Gerakan be charting a different path in the context of climate change, despite the party itself having a history of land reclamation projects?
Meanwhile, how does it intend to achieve food security for the state?
Yet, as intimated earlier, Gerakan may be able to show that it is a force to be reckoned with.
However, its political alliance with its Malay-Muslim-based partners may not be comforting to ethnic minority voters who prefer an inclusive outlook.
Unless Gerakan’s confidence stands on solid ground, its determination to make a comeback may turn out to be a bad dream, especially if the party receives a drubbing in the coming election. – The Malaysian Insight