Penang chief minister has fires to put out
DEMOCRATIC Action Party (DAP) doyen Lim Kit Siang was not the typical "birthday boy" at the grand dinner celebrating his 75th year.
He was, by and large, his usual stoic self despite the accolades heaped on him and his own birthday speech was as dry and serious as his blog postings.
There were endless requests for photographs from his guests but the only pictures where he looked genuinely comfortable were those taken with his family.
Otherwise, as one Penang DAP politician noted, Mr Lim looked his age and was also rather lonesome.
"His peers in the party have either died or retired. He is like the lone survivor," said the politician.
But retirement is not on his agenda - he intends to contest the next general election and lead the DAP push to capture Johor.
Another reason why he needs to be around, said the above politician, was to maintain a guardian role to his son, Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng, particularly given the problems that the younger man is facing with his coalition partners.
During his first term as Chief Minister, he had the voters in the palm of his hand and he could say and do as he liked. He is still like a demi-god to the Penang Chinese, hence, his "Tokong" nickname.
Everything that went wrong was blamed on Umno or the previous government, be it hill clearing, traffic jams, floods or land reclamation.
You name it, you know who they will blame. But the blame-Umno song is no longer at the top of the charts. It is starting to sound like an old record after eight years in power. Moreover, some of the ills that DAP blamed on the previous government turned out to be projects approved under its administration.
For instance, despite denials by the state government, the Penang Appeals Board has confirmed that a total of 55 blocks of high-rise buildings were approved on sensitive hill lands between 2008 and 2015.
The chief minister's problems with Barisan Nasional will always be around but his biggest headache now is that, after fighting and breaking up with Parti Islam SeMalaysia (PAS), he is now fighting with Parti Keadilan Rakyat (PKR).
His ties with PKR are at an all-time low especially after he stripped two PKR assemblymen of their directorships in Penang government-linked companies (GLCs).
The joke is that he "did a Najib" on them - he punished them for going against him.
The PKR pair, Cheah Kah Peng and Ong Chin Wen, were seen as ringleaders during the last general assembly sitting when five PKR assemblymen abstained from voting against an Umno motion on the land reclamation issue.
Mr Lim has called them "backstabbers" who are of no value and told off Selangor Chief Minister Azmin Ali for defending the sacked duo.
Mr Cheah and Mr Wong do not really care about the directorships. Besides, the GLC posts do not come with allowances or perks.
They claimed they were putting up a fight because they were being punished for doing the right thing. They said their stand on land reclamation around the island reflected the concern of Penang people.
The clash between the two parties is also a culmination of disagreements on issues over the years.
The flashpoints included their wrangling over seats in the 2013 general election, the Selangor Chief Minister issue and PKR's refusal to expel PAS from the Selangor government.
More recently, the formation of Amanah was perceived as a DAP-sponsored effort to undermine PKR.
Clashes are rarely the fault of one party. The DAP side says PKR does not pull its weight in Penang and has a weak ground machinery.
On the other hand, PKR feels that it is treated as window-dressing and that DAP uses the Malay PKR assemblymen to give the state government a multi-racial image.
Some PKR leaders say that when Mr Lim has something good to announce, like the Gurney Wharf project on Tuesday, he does not include them.
But when he had to face angry fishermen over the land reclamation issue, he made the PKR politicians attend to share the heat.
The cracks were there for all to see during the Chinese New Year. The big guns of both parties were visibly absent at each other's Chinese New Year open houses.
It was also quite ironic that Umno veteran Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah was the leading VIP guest at Mr Lim Senior's birthday bash.
"Giving face" is a big thing for the Chinese and many in DAP were hurt that Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail did not make the effort to attend.
She is after all the Opposition Leader, a post Mr Lim Senior had surrendered to her.
It was no surprise that Mr Azmin, who is PKR deputy president, also could not make it. Nurul Izzah Anwar, who represented the party at the dinner, told people that she stood up and left the banquet hall when the Penang chief minister was about to make a speech.
What happened to the PKR assemblymen was Mr Lim's prerogative as Chief Minister.
Every leader demands loyalty and those down the line have to toe the line if things are to run smoothly.
At the same time, coalition politics calls for accommodation and compromise, which are not Mr Lim's strong points.
Power seems to have heightened his quarrelsome nature. Even those in his party are growing uncomfortable with the way he starts fires and blames others for it.
The cracks forming between DAP and PKR is bad news for the nascent Pakatan Harapan.
"There will be a price to pay in the longer run," said the above DAP politician.
Mr Lim is at his strongest in DAP at this point in time.
He has wiped out all his opponents, especially in Malacca and Johor.
These were people who dared to go against his leadership but the thorns are gone.
The problem is that he seems to be trying to extend his supremacy into Pakatan Harapan.
But DAP has probably done its arithmetic in Penang.
It knows that it can survive the next general election in Penang without PKR.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK