DAP in a corner on bungalow issue
THE controversy over Penang chief minister Lim Guan Eng's private residence could not have happened at a more inconvenient time. The issue hung like an awkward backdrop to the Democratic Action Party's (DAP's) 50th anniversary celebration on Saturday at its headquarters along Rangoon Road.
The party is at its height, perched on a pedestal of Chinese support, but for many of the party leaders at the anniversary do, the unfolding saga over Mr Lim's RM2.8 million (S$952,000) bungalow was like the elephant in the room.
They did not know how to deal with it and it was party doyen Lim Kit Siang who brought it up in his speech, showing pictures of Mohd Khir Toyo's "Balinese palace" to illustrate that it was wrong to compare his chief minister son to the former Selangor Mentri Besar.
The line of defence seems to be that the bungalow is not palatial, it is 30 years old, it does not have a swimming pool and Mr Lim did not pay cash for it but took a bank loan.
The next day, the latter took some members of the media to look at his house. It was a functional and comfortable-looking property with a spacious garden and it was certainly not a "Balinese palace".
Or, as he put it: "It is not the Khir Toyo mansion."
But as some have pointed out, proving that the house is not palatial or luxurious is not answering the issue at hand - its market value.
The issue erupted when Tasek Gelugor MP Datuk Shabudin Yahaya claimed in Parliament last week that the bungalow that was bought last year was undervalued.
He claimed the actual value should be RM6 million and asked the state government to explain whether the transaction was linked to the 2012 sale of a plot of state land at Taman Manggis, George Town, that was supposed to be for low-cost housing.
He claimed that the former owner of the bungalow was linked to a shareholder of the company that bought the Taman Manggis land to develop a private medical centre and hotel.
Mr Shabudin then repeated all that in the Parliament lobby.
"I am not accusing him. I am just telling the facts about what happened. It's up to MACC (Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission) to investigate if anything happened or not," he said.
The issue has caught fire on social media. Copies of supposed documents and charts linking all the characters in the issue have been circulating.
Some of it is funny, some nasty, but much of it is quite serious stuff containing facts and figures about the issue.
For instance, there was an illustration comparing the per square foot (psf) value of the bungalow and the government's affordable housing schemes. The bungalow reportedly cost only RM275 psf compared to RM400 psf for an affordable housing project in Penang.
Mr Lim's response so far has been rather uncharacteristic of his shoot-from-the-mouth style. Apart from a tweeted outburst on the day that Mr Shabudin accused him, his reaction has been restrained and, well, like how a Chief Minister should behave.
A day after the accusations, he held a press conference where he read from a press statement and declined to take questions.
It was a measured statement that was said to have been drafted by the party's legal advisers and he has denied all the allegations about the transaction.
But the oddest thing of all was his invitation to his accuser to meet him one-to-one in his Komtar office last Sunday. What was that about?
Mr Shabudin had accused him in Parliament. The natural thing to do is to turn up in Parliament to refute what he said, provide an explanation and clear his name.
Of course, Mr Shabudin did not bother to show up.
DAP leaders are extremely concerned about what is going on. They can see that, this time, it is a well-researched attack. Even the business background of the former house owner has been circulated on social media and there are all kinds of stories about her entrepreneurial ties in Penang.
There are diagrams linking her to the Taman Manggis land deal and it will clear the air if she also emerges to help explain the situation.
Some of his detractors, especially the superstitious ones, say the hugely popular Mr Lim may be known as "Tokong" but they say that politicians should not mess around with the Jade Emperor, a revered Hokkien deity.
They were referring to the way his administration had tried to take over part of the Jade Emperor's birthday celebration during the Chinese New Year period and they are implying that what is happening now has to do with karma.
The DAP ground has also been rather silent on the bungalow issue. It has been quite painful for the rank-and-file to have the matter compared to the case of Dr Mohd Khir, whom they consider to be the embodiment of all that was wrong about the United Malays National Organisation (Umno).
"We want to defend him but we don't know how to. We don't have the facts. What we know is from the news and social media," said a senior DAP politician from Penang.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK