Time is not on Zambry’s side

The question now is, will Zambry, assuming BN overcomes legal and other challenges from Pakatan, be able to pull off what Dr Mahathir and Abdullah could not?

By Lee Wei Lian, The Malaysian Insider

Unlike other newly anointed menteris besar, Datuk Dr Zambry Abdul Kadir does not have the luxury of 100 days to get his affairs in order. After being sworn in just a stone's throw away from clouds of tear gas and storms of shouts and jeers by angry protestors, he knows he has to time his moves in hours, not days, if he is to have any chance at achieving success in his newfound position.

But he will have his hands full in trying to do so as he has so many battlefronts to fight.

First, there are the lawsuits to be filed by Pakatan Rakyat aimed at getting the BN state government declared illegal.

Even if those lawsuits are neutralised and the Sultan continues to reject PR's pleas to dissolve the state assembly, there is the daunting prospect of facing a very hostile opposition in the state assembly.

Internally, he will have to carefully pick his way through the treacherous waters of Umno politics.

Not only are there individuals envious of his rise from ISA detainee to menteri besar, but there will be pressure coming from various competing quarters as the list of who will be named to the state executive council is even now being thrashed out on whiteboards in round-the-clock meetings at the Casuarina Hotel in Ipoh.

Zambry's skills at balancing his goal of selecting only the most qualified to serve the people and the realities of political accommodation will likely be thoroughly tested before the list is finished by mid-afternoon tomorrow and submitted to the Sultan for his approval.

But last and not least, he has to contend with the huge public outcry over the way BN took over the state as many, if not most Malaysians, would have preferred to see the state assembly dissolved to make way for an election.

"He's totally aware that many people are not happy with events leading to his appointment due to the way the government was taken over," an Umno member familiar with Zambry told The Malaysian Insider.

"He was also inundated with e-mails and SMSes, some supportive, some critical. But he will stay focused on delivering on his promise to serve the people. He sees his detractors as a source of constructive criticism so he can improve."

Zamby, who has been given a free hand, is expected to make some radical changes to the way things are traditionally done in Umno.

The state executive council portfolios will be redesigned to match the competencies of the assemblymen, with an emphasis given to skills, knowledge and abilities.

An attempt will also be made to depart from the racial approach practised by BN, important since there is an obvious absence of Indians in the BN state assemblymen line-up.

"The landscape has to change. People should not be seen as Malays, Chinese or Indians but as Perakians. A Malay representative should be able to serve an Indian voter."

Easier said than done however as Umno has proven to be quite resistant to reform.

As put succinctly by a commentary on The Malaysian Insider titled "Will Najib flatter to deceive?" —"For the first 100 days, they speak the language of reform. They penetrate cynicism and reignite hope. And then they disappoint. It was the case with Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad and it was the case with Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi."

The question now is, will Zambry, assuming BN overcomes legal and other challenges from Pakatan, be able to pull off what Dr Mahathir and Abdullah could not?

Zambry has been consistent on his messaging internally but it is still too early to tell.

He is currently conducting "forensics" and plans to restructure the entire administrative structure of the Perak state government to give an added focus on serving the people.

Since yesterday, he has been building a shortlist of about eight people, including academics and villagers, to serve in a think tank to "gather feedback from the ground."

He understands that winning back the people's hearts is his utmost priority.

At age 47, he is also among the youngest menteris besar and likely to be more receptive to new ideas and his experience of growing up in a fishing village will give him additional insight into the problems faced by rural communities.

However, Umno sources acknowledge that if he does not deliver on his promises, it is all over.

"He has to select only the most qualified people otherwise he will be drowned in a sea of challenges. We must understand that change otherwise we face the consequences."