Posted by SM Maulana
Wednesday, 18 June 2008 By Reme Ahmad, The Straits Times
DR ISMAIL SALLEH used to run two clinics in Kedah with his partner, needing only to worry about patients.But in the past three months, he has been looking after the political fortunes of 1.9 million Kedahans. He is one of 11 executive councillors, or state ministers, in the new Pakatan Rakyat (PR) government.His title is a mouthful – State Exco for Health, Non-Governmental Organisations, Information and Human Capital Development.’The job requires maintaining good relations with our coalition partners, the Sultan, civil servants and the constituents. And there are many invitations to attend functions,’ said the 44-year-old assemblyman from Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS).In a nutshell, while it was easy to point fingers as an opposition leader, being in government is a tougher ball game.Opposition politicians turned governing officials must now bring in fresh investments, ensure that drains are not clogged, traffic lights work and rubbish is collected regularly.The story of Dr Ismail is repeated many times over in four of the states newly won by PR, or People’s Alliance, in the March 8 general election. The loose coalition – bringing together Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim’s Parti Keadilan Rakyat, the Islamist PAS and the Chinese-based Democratic Action Party – won Penang, Selangor, Kedah and Perak, in addition to retaining Kelantan.’It has been quite hectic, and the public expectation is high. I have been attending meetings to understand how government departments work,’ said Mr Chang Lih Kang, a 28-year-old Perak assemblyman from the DAP.When the government raised fuel prices this month, PR politicians were questioned by voters why they were unable to do anything about it. Mr Chang’s answer was that fuel was controlled by the federal government.The message from the public is clear – after all the promises, the opposition must now start to deliver.After 100 days in power, the PR is still enjoying steady support from voters, analysts say, thanks largely to the bitter fights in Umno and other Barisan Nasional parties that have attracted widespread media attention.’Support for them remains high because people are still fed up with BN. But people won’t accept excuses indefinitely,’ said political analyst Sayuti Omar.Being able to do well in the states they rule is very important for the PR if it is to have a good chance of grabbing federal power at the ballot box.However, Datuk Seri Anwar has boldly claimed that the PR will form the next government by September as a result of defections from BN ranks.The PR has a total of 198 assemblymen in all the 13 states, against BN’s 307. In the federal Parliament, the PR has 82 MPs versus 140 from BN.So far, the record of the five PR state governments is mixed.In Perak, voters lauded the state government’s move to grant permanent land titles to 134 villages, a longstanding issue. But it drew flak for announcing soon after it took over that all unpaid summonses had been waived. People are happy with the waiver, but some questioned whether it was legally correct, and whether such populist measures should be encouraged.In Selangor, the PR government is implementing its promise to give all Selangor households 20 cu m of water free every month. But it has yet to give RM1,000 (S$420) cash, as promised in its manifesto, to all students who gained entry into universities, to heckles from BN politicians.In Penang, when two foreign companies announced they were investing a total of RM1.32 billion last month, the PR government was quick to claim credit. But the former BN government said the investors had been wooed over the past two years.All these mean that voters, PR politicians and BN parties are still learning to grapple with a new political climate.Veteran opposition leader Lim Kit Siang of the DAP is beaming, saying the interplay will result in greater accountability.’I would like to see the first 100 days as one that gives hope, and people feel they have a chance to shape things up,’ he said.