(Penang, Wednesday): The Sungai Bakap by-election on Nov. 8 is to give Penang voters an opportunity to pass a mid-term verdict on the Barisan Nasional after its unprecedented landslide victory in the 1995 general elections.
For months, the people have been buffetted by one crisis after another, whether it be the national haze disaster, the currency collapse or the stock market tumble.
The twin economic crisis have adverse far-reaching implications for the people, not only in sparking an inflationary spiral with the general increase in the price of goods but adding to the burden of Malaysians who have to support their children's studies overseas.
As if the twin economic crisis are not enough, the people also have the third crisis of the national haze disaster, causing untold damage and losses to the economy and environment, and what should be more worrying, the adverse effects on the health of Malaysians and in particular of the young generation, which would only be manifested in ten or twenty years' time.
In a democratic country, the voters have the fundamental citizenship right to express their disapproval with certain government policies and measures which have brought hardships to the people which does not tantamount to asking the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad or the Penang Chief Minister, Tan Sri Dr. Koh Tsu Koon to resign from their respective office.
Otherwise, we might as well scrap the democratic system, abolish elections and declare that in Malaysia no one can oppose, criticise or disagree with anything done by the government of the day.
I am indeed very surprised that a veteran politician like Gerakan President and Primary Industries Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Lim Keng Yaik could seriously ask the DAP to stay out of the Sungai Bakap by-election to show our support for Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad as Prime Minister, allegedly because there is an international conspiracy by foreign powers using the foreign media to force him to resign as Prime Minister.
At first I thought Keng Yaik was joking, but he did not seem to sound like it. My second thought was whether Keng Yaik was afraid of losing in Sungai Bakap by-election. I thought this to be very unlikely either as Sungai Bakap is a traditional Barisan Nasional stronghold which it had never lost before.
We are indeed seeing a very different Keng Yaik, very unlike him during the Teluk Intan parliamentary by-election in May this year, when he was so arrogant, regarding the Teluk Intan seat as one which was "unlosable" for the Gerakan and "unwinnable" for the DAP.
My third thought was that Keng Yaik was up to one of his wily tricks to frighten and stampede the voters of Sungai Bakap into voting for the Gerakan candidate by telling them that the Sungai Bakap by-election is not just about choosing who should be their State Assemblyman, but a national vote of confidence as to whether Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad should continue as Prime Minister; that a vote for the Gerakan candidate was a vote for the Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Dr. Mahathir Mohamad while a vote for the DAP was a vote wanting Mahathir to resign as Prime Minister; and that the Sungai Bakap by-election result is crucial and critical to show support to the Prime Minister, especially as there is an international conspiracy involving foreign powers making use of the foreign media to force Mahathir to step down as Prime Minister.
If the Sungai Bakap by-election is so important in its meaning and implications, where the future of Mahathir as Prime Minister hinges on every vote in Sungai Bakap, then the entire Federal Cabinet and the Barisan Nasional national leadership should be here today for the nomination and during the entire campaign. In fact, Mahathir and the Deputy Prime Minister, Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim should be here to tell the voters clearly and unequivocally that Mahathir needs the solid support of the people of Sungai Bakap because there is an international conspiracy to force him to resign as Prime Minister, and that a vote for the Gerakan is a vote for Mahathir to remain as Prime Minister while a vote for the DAP is a vote wanting him to resign as Prime Minister.
I would like to ask Keng Yaik whether the Gerakan wants the Sungai Bakap by-election to be turned into a national vote of confidence as to whether Mahathir should continue as Prime Minister, and where if there is a reduction in the majority won by the Gerakan candidate in the by-election as compared to the 1995 general elections, it would mean that Mahathir had lost in the national vote of confidence?
I do not think Keng Yaik and Gerakan would be serving the interests of Barisan Nasional, and in fact, would be doing a great disservice to Malaysia whether nationally or in the international arena, in trying to turn the Sungai Bakap by-election into a vote of confidence in Mahathir as Prime Minister.
I would call on the Gerakan President not to short-sell Malaysia and Mahathir internationally by giving the world the impression that Mahathir is facing a national vote of confidence in the Sungai Bakap by-election and that he cannot honourably continue as Prime Minister if the Barisan Nasional suffers a setback in Sungai Bakap by winning a smaller majority or even if the impossible happens, a defeat.
I believe it is most unlikely that the DAP could win in the Sungai Bakap by-election, but the prospect of reducing the Barisan Nasional majority is definitely on the cards, and Keng Yaik and the Gerakan should not place Mahathir in the invidious position where a reduction in the Barisan Nasional majority in the Sungai Bakap by-election is regarded as a failure by Mahathir to pass a vote of confidence.
Let the Sungai Bakap by-election be a straightforward by-election for the people to pass a mid-term verdict on the performance of the Barisan Nasional government.
For instance, I said last Saturday, when announcing Goh Kheng Huat as DAP candidate, that the exorbitant and unfair increase of the North-South Expressway toll would be one of the primary by-election issues. Immediately, there was a swift response from Anwar that PLUS would only be allowed "a slight increase" in the toll rate.
I doubt there would be such a swift response if there is no Sungai Bakap by-election. I welcome his response but it is most inadequate.
The problem is not the toll increase next year, but for every year for the next 21 years until 2018. What the voters of Sungai Bakap should make clear isthat they want the Cabinet to renegotiate the North South Expressway privatisation contract to end the provision allowing PLUS to impose an annual increase of the toll rate for the next 21 years until 2018.
As of June this year, Malaysians had paid PLUS over RM3.2 billion in toll for the use of the North-South Expressway and PLUS had forecast to collect RM80 billion from toll on the North-South Expressway during the 30-year concession period - which is very conservative as based on actual traffic volume which is well beyond original estimates, PLUS could collect from RM120 billion to RM160 billion though toll on the North-South Expressway.
Last year, when the government did not allow PLUS to increase its toll rate by 33.3% for nine months, the government had to compensate PLUS by RM176 million according to the contract.
The strong DAP opposition in 1987 to the North-South Expressway has now been proved right. If Gerakan had been as far-sighted as the DAP ten years ago, then the present and next generation of Malaysians would not have been burdened with such oppressive terms in the North-South Expressway concession contract.
There are many other issues where the voters of Sungai Bakap can represent the people in the rest of Penang and even in Malaysia to express their unhappiness and opposition, as for instance, in their opposition to the increases in fees for passports and driving licence, and to demand that these increases to cancelled.