Distrust behind the smiles


  • Letters
  • Saturday, 25 Aug 2012

It is inconceivable that Datuk Dr Mansor Othman can continue as Deputy Chief Minister of Penang after leaked transcripts of a PKR meeting reveal his distrust for Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng.

THERE were smiles and even some hand-holding as two of the most powerful men in Penang tried to show a packed media conference that their relationship is still on track.

But the strained body language between Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and his deputy Datuk Dr Mansor Othman was all too obvious.

The two have been left red-faced after what appeared to be verbatim transcripts of a PKR meeting was exposed by a news portal.

It was what journalists call “a scoop” but let’s just say it was a Penang-style “WikiLeaks” that is now the talk of Penang political circles.

The leaked transcripts had Dr Mansor, who is the Penang PKR chairman, describing Lim as “cocky”, “arrogant”, “dictator” and “a tokong” (deity).

The adjectives were nothing new because they were what people inside and outside the DAP have been saying about Lim’s domineering ways for some time now.

What was more interesting was the level of distrust that Dr Mansor seems to have about Lim’s ambitions for another term and how the seats in Penang would be worked out among the Pakatan Rakyat parties in the general election.

Dr Mansor and his party are under pressure to deliver. They know they will have trouble holding on to their seats because of the Malay shift back to Umno. Unlike DAP which is contesting in Chinese-majority seats, PKR seats are ethnically mixed and tougher to defend without support from the Malays and Indians.

Dr Mansor is suspicious about DAP’s motive and seems to believe that it is planning to expand its current share of the seats from 19 to 21 so that it can form the government even if PKR and PAS do not deliver.

Penang has 40 state seats, of which DAP holds 19, PKR 9, PAS 1 and Umno 11.

But the most shocking part of the transcripts was Dr Mansor telling the meeting that if that happened, PKR would have no qualms about taking on DAP in the other seats and had asked those at the meeting to prepare a contingency list of candidates.

In short, Dr Mansor was threatening sabotage in the general election if the DAP tried to be funny with him. It was quite a bombshell.

The press conference did not convince anyone that things are going to be okay between the two men.

“I could see the CM making a face as he glanced through the press statement prepared by Dr Mansor,” said a Penang-based journalist.

The stony-faced Dr Mansor has never been comfortable with the media and, according to the journalist, he looked “flustered beyond belief”.

After reading out his press statement, he quickly switched off the microphone although reporters were still shooting off questions.

The journalist had to push her way to the front to ask him to switch on his microphone and to ask more questions.

He was put in a tough spot, reluctant to confirm that he had actually said those things and unable to deny that he had said it.

He pleaded that things had been taken out of context and sort of mumbled and “umm-ah-err” his way through the barrage of questions. But at least he was honest enough not to make a bald-faced denial or to divert attention by bla­ming those who leaked it.

Dr Mansor took over as Deputy Chief Minister 1 after Fairus Khai­ruddin was forced to resign in 2009. PKR insiders said the developing tension between Dr Mansor and Lim had been an open secret in the party.

He had brought his problems with Lim to the party’s central leadership and Anwar had reportedly told him that they would bypass Lim and deal with Lim Kit Siang; the father is more reasonable and respected.

Both men are extremely hard-headed but the scholarly Dr Mansor is no match for Lim’s bare-knuckled style.

He is said to have crossed Lim because he dares to argue and contradict the chief minister at meetings.

On the other hand, Lim thinks that Dr Mansor does not pull his weight in the coalition and is unimpressed with Dr Mansor’s academic style of doing things.

Besides, Lim had preferred the more pliable Malik Kassim as deputy chief minister but Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim wanted Dr Mansor because both go back a long way. Anwar thought Dr Mansor would bring back some measure of respect to the party as well as be a counter-force to Lim.

But sources said Dr Mansor’s days as Penang’s No. 2 may be coming to an end and the talk is that he may be put to contest a parliamentary seat in Nibong Tebal.

Pakatan is said to be preparing the ground for another PKR leader, Datuk Abdul Halim Hussein, to come in as the next deputy chief minister after the general election.

Abdul Halim is currently the State Legislative Assembly Speaker and PKR’s vice-chairman in Penang and he recently hosted a Hari Raya open house at the Balik Pulau Sports Complex.

He is reputed to have better people skills and has some corporate experience in the banking sector. His drawback is that he does not have the grassroots base.

The press conference was also meant to be a show of unity among the Pakatan parties. Apart from Lim and Dr Mansor, state exco members Malik and Chow Kon Yeow and state PAS commissioner Salleh Man were also present.

All of them stood up and linked arms at the end of the press conference but the moment the cameras stopped clicking, they were out of the room, with Dr Mansor trying to make the quickest exit.

It would take a miracle for things to improve between the No. 1 and No. 2, especially given their headstrong personalities.

The remarks have hurt Lim because it comes from within and so high up the coalition.

As for Dr Mansor, it is hard to see how he is going to live down those cutting words. But the silver lining to this awkward episode is that Dr Mansor may have actually succeeded in pre-empting any bully tactics by the DAP in the run-up to the polls.

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