BN begins uphill battle for hearts and minds in Perak

By Neville Spykerman, The Malaysian Insider

When Barisan Nasional's newly sworn-in menteri besar walked into the Gerakan service centre in Kampung Simee, a Chinese new village here, for his first public function today, newspaper photographers had been told to focus on him shaking hands with Chinese and Indians.


The request was perhaps an acknowledgment of the tough battle the Umno-led BN government, whose legitimacy is still being questioned, faces in convincing the non-Malays, who make up nearly half of the state's population, to support the new administration.

In last year's general election, non-Malays voted overwhelmingly for parties such as the DAP, PKR and Pas which eventually formed the Pakatan Rakyat state government.

At today's Chinese New Year party, Datuk Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir was all smiles, posing in photo opportunities with many non-Malays and tossing yee sang with the state BN's Chinese leaders.

This was a far cry from the scenes yesterday outside the Istana Iskandariah in Kuala Kangsar when he was sworn in as thousands of mainly Malay protesters fought pitched battles with riot police because of unhappiness in the decision to let BN form the state government rather than conduct fresh polls.

That was a clear sign that BN would also have to convince a large part of the Malay electorate, many of whom also voted for PR parties, to back the new government.

For now, BN may be in control of the silver state again, but the battle for the hearts and minds of the people has only just begun.

Gerakan president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon acknowledged today that the people were not happy.

"Let's be frank , based on the information we have gathered in the last few days, many, especially the Chinese and Indians, are worried," he said at the party.

The Chinese and Indian concerns are largely a result of the fact that of the 28 BN lawmakers in the state, 27 are from Umno, with just one MCA legislator.

It is understood that BN leaders are continuing to make overtures to PR legislators, especially non-Malay representatives, to join the new government.

Koh, who was at the event with Zambry and former Menteri Besar Datuk Tajol Rosli, said BN needs to work hard to change the perception on the ground.

He said this can only be done through hard work, honesty and performance, addding that Zambry had an uphill task.

Earlier Zambry, who was accompanied by his wife Datin Saripah Zulkifli, was greeted by lion dances and great fanfare when they arrived at Kampung Simee.

The Pangkor Assemblyman took great pains to stress that he was the menteri besar for all people in Perak and not to only one particular race.

"Perak belongs to all of us and no one can claim it belongs to one particular race," he said, in what was his first speech after his appointment.

While acknowledging there were problems, Zambry told the 500-strong crowd that all issues could be solved through consultations and urged people not to take to the streets.

"Everyone wants stability, so let's be united and restore the confidence of the people."

Zambry told reporters later that his appointment was according to the rule of law and pointed out that Sultan Azlan Shah was a former Lord President.

"I have the mandate from the Sultan."

Zambry also took a swipe at Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin for not stepping down and for questioning the Sultan's decision.

He argued that Nizar's appointment last year was also against convention (as Pas did not have the most number of assemblymen in the state legislature) but the Sultan had exercised his discretion.

He said it did not matter if Nizar still wanted to use the official residence of the menteri besar or the official car.

"I can work from my own house and use my own car," said Zambry, adding that are no plans to evict Nizar at this point.

In what is a major political impasse, Nizar has refused to resign as MB and continues to stay at the official residence, and is also refusing to recognise Zambry as the new MB.

Zambry said he was considering ways to overcome the problem of representing all the races in the new state executive council, which will be appointed on Tuesday.