WITH only three Opposition members in the august House, Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow certainly had it much easier compared to his predecessor Lim Guan Eng.
It turned out that the moments of truth took place outside the building instead, with scores of protesters holding peaceful demonstrations to voice their objections to the proposed Pan Island Link (PIL) 1 highway project.
The representatives from several non-governmental organisations (NGOs) protested twice during the state assembly week over the proposed 19.5km six-lane highway that will meander along the foothills of Penang Hill from Gurney Drive to Penang International Airport.
They went well prepared, claiming that Chow used to be on their side against the old Penang Outer Ring Road (PORR) plan which bore similarities with PIL 1. PORR was scrapped in 2008. They even showed a copy of Chow’s press statement in 2002 to back their claims.
But Chow maintained his consistency, saying he merely called for the project to be reviewed because of the toll and the fact that a study found that PORR would only have provided relief from traffic jams for only five years.
In between the two protests were two groups who stood outside the state assembly in support of PIL 1 and the Bayan Lepas Light Rail Transit (LRT).
They were members of the Federation of Malaysian Manufacturers (Penang branch) and a group of factory workers from Bayan Lepas Free Industrial Zone.
Two things come to mind – do Penangites really need PIL 1, which the NGOs claimed is not environmental friendly, and what do the majority of Penangites really want?
In the petition war for and against PIL 1, support for the ‘blue’ team which is for the project, stands at 11,091 as of 4pm on Sunday.
The Facebook page ‘Support Penang Transport Master Plan (PTMP)’ directs you to that petition, addressed to the Council of Eminent Persons, to approve and implement the PTMP (PIL 1 included).
At the same time, the petition from the ‘red’ team saw 5,407 signatures gathered urging for PIL 1 to be stopped.
But these numbers are not definitive. They are not like a public referendum, and it is possible to inflate them.
In the last general elections, Pakatan Harapan was returned with a bigger mandate, with the implementation of PTMP as a promise in its manifesto.
But is that resounding victory a gauge of the sentiment on the ground that the PTMP has the support of the people? Obviously not.
A vote for Pakatan was not a vote for PTMP, some critics would say.
It could have been a vote of against the Goods and Services Tax (GST) or certain political leaders.
A friend of mine, whom I always view as a pragmatist and typical ‘kiasu’ (afraid to lose) Penangite, had this frank assessment.
Imagine you are now in Tanjung Tokong at 3pm on a Saturday and you want to drive to Penang International Airport.
For sure, you will dread plying Jalan Masjid Negeri and Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu at that hour.
Alternatives like Weld Quay, Jalan Paya Terubong and Jalan Ayer Itam – routes that only Penang residents will know – will be equally bad at that time of the day.
Those who have had such an experience may raise their hands for PIL 1 to come to fruition as it will be only a 15-minute drive to the airport from Gurney Drive, although who knows how long such a breezy drive will be enjoyed as the number of cars on our streets grow?
But who cares about any potential negative consequences, said my friend. Be it the marring of how Penang City Park will look to having a tunnel built near Ayer Itam Dam or Kek Lok Si Temple, “so long as it is not built in front of my house”.
He expected that many were not even bothered to go through thousands of pages of the Detailed Environmental Impact Assessment report when it was put on public display. None will care unless and until someone goes knocking at the doors and tells them their houses will be acquired to make way for the project.
It remains to be seen if the PIL 1 will get the nod from federal authorities. In the meantime, Chow remains cool by saying that he will listen to people of different voices.
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