GEORGE TOWN, Feb 21 — Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng today accused the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition of double standards for rejecting the state’s new non-Muslim affairs portfolio while endorsing the same in Perak.
Lim, who is also DAP secretary-general, appeared taken aback by the verbal attacks from his political foes — particularly Gerakan chief Tan Sri Koh Tsu Koon — following his government’s decision to set up a portfolio to complement the existing one for Muslims in the state.
He said the state believed the initiative would “promote civilisational dialogue, interaction and understanding” among followers of different creeds as all religions talk about peace.
He pointed out that the BN-led state government in Perak also has a similar portfolio to care for followers of religions other than Islam, which is headed by Datuk Mah Hang Soon, according to the silver state’s official website.
Mah refused to comment on his portfolio when contacted by The Malaysian Insider this evening, saying he was in the middle of a discussion.
Lim then questioned why Penang was being singled out and accused of having a racial agenda.
“What’s wrong with setting up this portfolio? It’s not wrong if BN sets up one but it’s wrong if PR does it?” an annoyed Lim asked at a news conference here today.
He said he was responding to criticism from several parties yesterday, including Koh and International Trade And Industry Deputy Minister Datuk Mukhriz Mahathir , but stressed that he was not replying to former prime minister, Penang-born Tun Abdullah Ahmad Badawi, whom he noted was retired from the government.
Koh, who was the island state’s chief minister for 13 years before being toppled in the landmark 2008 general election, had called the new non-Muslim interfaith portfolio a publicity stunt.
“This is deliberately being used as an extremist and racial issue to incite fights among the different religions,” Lim said.
Defending the new portfolio today, he said: “Everyone knows it has nothing to do with the status of Islam as the official religion.”
“Mukhriz said I insulted Islam… if so, then Zambry is equally guilty or more so, because he is a Muslim,” he continued, drawing Perak Mentri Besar Datuk Seri Zambry Abd Kadir into the fray.
“That’s why we did not include Islam, because we did not want to be accused of disrespecting Islam. But this also cannot… if so, then where’s the freedom of religion?” he added, sounding exasperated.
He warned that the BN front, especially its leaders from Umno, was “playing with fire” and claimed they were ready to put everything on the line, including the religious fundamental rights safeguarded by the Federal Constitution.
Lim, who is also heading the state interfaith panel, explained that it was working on two levels — the first involved the state lawmakers, and the second would include religious representatives and other non-governmental organisation members.
He said the panel had yet to meet and would do so only after getting feedback from the rest of the assemblymen on problems they faced within certain districts, but did not elaborate.