The Potential To Be An Impressive Leader

The Potential To Be An Impressive Leader

If Lim Kit Siang is living a self-made life of loud, unending futility, then his son has shown that the sins of the father do not always fall to the son. While hardly the greatest politician of his generation, Lim Guan Eng is living proof that a man need not live in his father’s shadow, even if he all too often chooses to do so.

Guan Eng has, with limited success, attempted to make DAP into what it could and should have been: A party of technocratic solutions, good governance, and racial openness, as opposed to a party of constant failure and Chinese chauvinism caught in its own intellectual ghetto.

Indeed, as the recent case against Utusan Malaysia shows, whether Guan Eng wants Malays and other non-Chinese to be part of DAP or not, he certainly understands the value of convincing them he does.

The son has also shown what his father could not by allowing Penang to continue succeeding on his watch. Penang’s growth and development, now well over a decade old, has continued under Guan Eng, providing another catalyst for Malaysia’s economic growth. While Guan Eng does not deserve credit for starting Penang’s economic explosion, he certainly deserves credit for not hindering it. So impressive have been Penang’s and Guan Eng’s performances that the British magazine The Economist recently devoted an encomia-filled profile article to both.

This is not to say that the younger Lim is without failings. The last few months alone have seen a spate of blunders. First, there was the Johor controversy, in which the bluntly-spoken Guan Eng allegedly described Johor as a dangerous place for Singaporeans; threatened to sue Bernama over reporting those alleged remarks; and concluded with an apology to the Sultan of Johor. It was an oddly off-balance moment for the young Chief Minister, a strange lapse of dignity and, more importantly, poise and self-control.

More recently, Guan Eng tried to calm the dangerous fracture in DAP and its Indian wing by appointing a three-man panel:

DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng told a press conference at the party headquarters last night that the committee would comprise himself, DAP life adviser Dr Chen Man Hin and party parliamentary leader Lim Kit Siang.

Lim Kit Siang, of course, is his father, and none of these men are part of the Indian component of DAP, an odd choice given that the issue to be resolved is the split in the party’s Indian leadership.

At best, including his father can be explained away as including the only DAP leader with enough weight to resolve this dispute between its Indian giants; at worst, it is a continuation of the cronyism for which DAP — which likes to decry alleged Malay cronyism — has become all-too famous. But the complete failure to include a single Indian — and packing the panel with Chinese — is going to leave hard feelings in its wake, and raise questions about Guan Eng’s leadership of DAP and willingness to expand the party beyond its racial roots. This is a serious crisis in the Penang DAP, with the real potential to ripple outward into the national party, and the younger Lim is reaching out for old, failed solutions.

Making matters worse, PKR Bukit Gelugor division chief Lim Boo Chang recently announced he was quitting PKR to return to Gerakan, laying the blame squarely on Penang’s DAP. This is not unlike a thrown hand grenade, the explosion echoing through PKR and DAP as a prominent Chinese leader departs to return to Barisan Nasional, decrying DAP’s leadership in what is arguably Pakatan Rakyat’s crown jewel state. At best, this suggests that Guan Eng is not in control of his state Party (Lim Boo Chang apparently used the words “arrogant” and “abusive” to describe DAP’s leadership in Penang), and at worst, that he personally damaged a vital coalition ally. Regardless, with GE13 fast approaching, this is a poor time for yet another internal Pakatan squabble.

These developments — though recent and worrisome — counterbalance, but do not outweigh, Guan Eng’s achievements and record of governance. Whatever his failings, Guan Eng has shown the potential to be an impressive leader, and has developed a track record far better than any other Pakatan leader. That is just as well, as between a fracturing party, a fracturing coalition, and an election coming soon, he has his work cut out for him