KUALA LUMPUR, July 1 — All eyes are now on the DAP’s Lim Guan Eng as the Penang chief minister struggles to fend off concerted attacks against him ahead of general elections due within a year.
The pro-Barisan Nasional (BN) mainstream media today published lopsided reports of the federal opposition leader’s run-in with members of Perkasa, a right-wing Malay organisation, at the Teluk Bahang market in Penang yesterday.
The reports, which related the incident from the viewpoint of the Perkasa members, appear to indicate a concerted effort by the ruling federal coalition to reclaim Penang, a key economic state under BN control until four years ago.
“The failure by police to immediately arrest Perkasa members involved in violence not just against members of the public and reporters but also make direct threats against my personal safety has only confirmed fears that Perkasa can do no wrong because they are supported by Umno and BN,” Lim said in a media statement today.
“[The] Police should review their hands-off approach towards Perkasa to avoid public perception that they condone the violent tactics by Perkasa to intimidate PR leaders,” he added, referring to the opposition Pakatan Rakyat pact formed in 2008 after their landmark win in the polls.
The DAP-PKR-PAS pact swept nearly 29 out of the total 40 state seats there in Election 2008, wiping out Penang BN’s controlling party, Gerakan, in the process.
The first-term Penang CM had told a news conference in George Town yesterday that Perkasa members had threatened his safety during the walkabout.
But the country’s major newspapers including Umno-owned Mingguan Malaysia and New Sunday Times (NST) headlined reports that blamed Lim’s entourage for “roughing” up a Perkasa man.
“I was brushed so suddenly from behind and the situation is like (he) wanted to threaten my safety. Somebody brushed me and my bodyguard pushed me to the car.
“This is not the first time they acted violently. You are not supposed to rush in the close confines of Chief Minister in a threatening manner,” Lim (picture) told reporters yesterday.
An audio recording of Lim’s news conference in George Town was made available to The Malaysian Insider.
Today, Miggguan Malaysia, the weekend edition of Malay daily Utusan Malaysia, appeared to give a very different account of the marketplace clash, faulting Lim’s administration for oppressing the minority Malay residents in the island state.
Lim’s account of the ruckus was conspicuously missing from the newspaper’s reports.
Reports of the ruckus, headlined “Penduduk bantah kehadiran Guan Eng” (Residents oppose Guan Eng’s presence)”, the Malay-language paper highlighted allegations that a PR supporter who was part of Lim’s entourage had attacked a Perkasa demonstrator in the market.
In similar reports carried on the English-language NST, Mohd Rizuad was quoted saying that Lim’s entourage had purposely “created” the incident to paint picture of the Malay movement.
Lim’s relations with the mainstream media has been tumultuous at best in the past fours since helming Penang.
It worsened after he banned all Umno-linked papers, notably Utusan Malaysia and NST from covering official state functions, saying they gave him unfair coverage and did not give him the right of reply in allegations against him.
The DAP secretary-general had won a couple of defamation suits against Utusan and had recently filed another RM15 million suit against two mainstream newspapers and Perkasa leaders over unsubstantiated reports that he had leaked national secrets to Singapore’s ruling People’s Action Party. In his statement of claim, Lim suggested that the allegation was part of an agenda to help BN recapture power in Penang.
He pointed out that Umno, the leading component party in BN, has a substantial shareholding in both papers through Media Prima Sdn Bhd and was therefore able to “politically manipulate news items for its benefit”.
The Penang High Court had on June 22 found Utusan Malaysia guilty of defaming Lim, he second such ruling in six months, and ordered the Umno daily to pay him RM200,000 in damages and RM20,000 in costs. The Penang chief minister had claimed a March 12, 2008 article headlined “Tiada Lagi DEB (No More NEP)” in the Malay-language newspaper which said he would abolish the New Economic Policy was inaccurate.
The DAP secretary-general said he had merely said his administration would be free from the “cronyism, corruption and systematic inefficiency” stemming from the policy.