NOBODY seems to be paying attention to Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR) exco and Bukit Tambun assemblyperson, Law Choo Kiang, on this muggy night on 24 May 2009. The 300-odd Chinese Malaysians in Kampung Sungai Lembu are more interested in piling their plates sky-high with the range of buffet dishes spread before them. The basketball court on which they dine seems like a temporary celebration tent for a neighbourhood Chinese wedding.
Law Choo Kiang
It is hard to believe that this is one Chinese Malaysian-majority voting stream in which PKR has never lost in the Penanti state constituency, even during Barisan Nasional (BN)’s 2004 routing of the opposition.
But five speakers later, it is clear that this crowd is here to stay. When DAP veteran Lim Kit Siang takes the podium, the audience hushes up, in rapt attention. And when Lim is interrupted by the arrival of PKR candidate Dr Mansor Othman, 59, the largely Chinese-speaking audience gets on its feet.
And Mansor does not disappoint the audience. In Mandarin, he cries, “A victory for Sungai Lembu is a victory for Penanti. A victory for Penanti is a victory for Penang. A victory for Penang is a victory for Perak. A victory for Perak is a victory for Manik Urai. And then Umno is finished!” The multi-generational Chinese Malaysian crowd applauds and laughs, and then PKR adviser Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim takes the podium.
Kg Sg Lembu diners
The rakyat’s burdens
It seems as though a PKR victory is a sure thing come this by-election’s polling day on 31 May. The party’s candidate is up against former Penang PKR Wanita chief Aminah Abdullah, former Gerakan Penang local leader Nai Khan Ari Nai Keow and Kamarul Ramizu Idris of Parti Iman SeMalaysia — all relatively lightweights in the contest.
But Mansor — who is a PhD holder from Yale University in the US — is not taking any chances.
“I’m not going to take things lightly,” he keeps telling reporters.
Mansor and his party are careful not to even mention scandal-tainted former Penanti assemblyperson and Penang Deputy Chief Minister 1 Mohammad Fairus Khairuddin’s name. Instead, Mansor doggedly sticks to his campaign manifesto when speaking to the press.
“I am focusing on the rakyat’s burdens, the rakyat’s quality of life, security, household income, and education opportunities,” says Mansor, who is also Anwar’s former political secretary.
Which all sounds brilliant, but in Mansor’s six-point manifesto, he does not clarify his actual stand on issues that seem to be gripping Penang, and even the country, at the moment. Take, for example, the Penang branch of the Malaysian Ulama Society’s self-declared “war” against “liberal Islam” in Malaysia.
His stand on Islam is crucial, since his campaign focuses on “empowering” mosques and setting up an “Islamic fund” in Penang. With 76.68% of the registered voters in Penanti made up of Malay Malaysians, issues that touch on Islam may be crucial in garnering the support of the community.
But just how is he going to empower Muslims and Islamic institutions? And with the debate on the upcoming PAS elections revolving around the tussle between PAS’s ulama and “liberals”, is Mansor himself for, against or indifferent to, “liberal Islam”?
“I’m going to skirt around this issue for now,” he tells The Nut Graph and chuckles. “I’d rather focus on empowering Malay Penangites and governance issues.”
But Mansor went ahead and clarified his stand on other issues with The Nut Graph, in this exclusive albeit brief interview on 25 May, at PKR’s main election operation centre in Kubang Semang.
TNG: What are your thoughts on increasing the number of women in leadership? At local and state government levels?
Mansor: I completely agree to this. This is something important that PKR and the state government have been aiming for anyway. And through my own campaign, I believe this falls under my agenda of memperkasakan rakyat by empowering the JKKKs (Village Security and Development Committees) and qariyah masjid. These can be used as platforms to ensure more participation and inclusion of women as leaders.
And your ideas on addressing violence against women, rape, snatch thefts and so on?
This is something that is of great concern. I don’t just believe in a cure, but also in prevention. We need more programmes to educate ladies on this matter, to raise awareness and so on. But also perhaps we need to impose harsher penalties on the perpetrators.
Does the state government have the power to carry out such punishments?
Well, we can always recommend the necessary legislative amendments to the federal government, and we can seek a proper solution accordingly. I will need to study the matter in more detail.
Penang seems to be lagging behind Selangor on enacting Freedom of Information (FoI) legislation. Your thoughts on this?
No, I think Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng is very open to this, and I will support any efforts to introduce FoI legislation.
Part of your manifesto is to create a culture of knowledge among underprivileged students. What then is your stand on the teaching of science and mathematics in English?
I don’t want to commit an answer to this. But you can refer to our party’s stand, it is very clear, and I will abide by PKR‘s stand on the matter.
What is your stand on the enforcement of Islamic laws? For example, in the issue of khalwat raids, the open sale of alcohol which is being debated in Selangor, and so on?
You have to understand that unlike a state like Selangor, Islamic laws in Penang still fall under the federal government — we have to abide by the Yang Di-Pertuan Agong. We are like Malacca in that way. So I will need to study this matter in more detail first.
But what is your personal stand on the issue of moral policing?
I think we cannot say that only the policy is the problem. We also need to see how it is implemented, and if there are abuses that happen during such operations. Do the officers follow the due process of the law and so on? But apart from this I would need to study the issue in more detail first before I can comment further.