Worry over state economy as Perak remains in limbo

(The Straits Times) KUALA LUMPUR, May 14 —Perak remained in a political limbo yesterday, as leaders from both the Barisan Nasional (BN) coalition and its rival Pakatan Rakyat (PR) alliance insist their chief is the rightful mentri besar.

But concern is spreading among politicians and observers that the continuing mess will affect Perak's economy, as investors are unsure who to approach.

The three-party PR coalition took over Perak after winning the most seats in the March general election last year.

But on Feb 4, BN wrested power after the defection of three PR lawmakers.

“If you are a businessman and wish to invest in a certain project which can be approved only by the chief, who are you to see?” Dr Hsu Dar Ren wrote on his blog.

“You see one a few hours ago and then a new one comes in through the revolving door, who is the actual boss?” asked Hsu, a top leader of Gerakan, a component party of BN.

Yesterday, BN's Datuk Seri Zambry Abdul Kadir reported to work as mentri besar, just a day after PR's Datuk Seri Nizar Jamaluddin had occupied the same office.

But the confusing political game of musical chairs may not be over yet.

Nizar's lawyers were at the Appeals Court yesterday to try and overturn a “stay of execution” granted by the same court on Tuesday which had him booted out of the mentri besar's office. The Appeals Court will hear the application on Monday.

“The leaders should be doing something more important, like solving the economic crisis. We are now confused. We do not know who is the rightful mentri besar,” hospital general manager Tsia Kwai Meng, who lives in Ipoh, told The Straits Times yesterday.

The bitter political fight has spread to the economic sphere as both BN and PR are claiming credit for several projects which are coming into the state.

Malaysia Airlines' budget subsidiary Firefly and low-cost carrier AirAsia are both keen to start flights from Ipoh to other parts of Malaysia and Southeast Asia.

And a new medical school will soon be established in Perak.

Zambry said these projects were due to the hard work of his administration since BN took over the state three months ago.

But a top PR official had claimed on Monday that it was due to its hard work over the last one year since winning the state in the general election.

Another tussle is over who should be credited for the plan to extend the runway at Ipoh's under-utilised airport so that bigger planes could land, bringing in more tourists.

“Our priority is the extension of the airport runway. I have spoken to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Razak about this and he told me that this was the priority,” Zambry told the media yesterday.

He said potential investors should not be worried by a ruling that declared Nizar as the rightful mentri besar.

“They can be rest assured about the political climate despite what you have been hearing about the situation here.

“When it comes to business, I think all Perakians are very serious about it and we would like to welcome everyone to Perak,” he was quoted as saying by Bernama news agency.

But others are concerned that the impasse will soon hurt small businesses in the state.

PR assemblyman A. Sivanesan said only one municipal councillor out of 14 in Perak had been sworn in. BN has not sworn in the rest since its takeover in the last three months.

Because of this, many municipal offices cannot issue licences such as those needed by hawkers and small traders, he said.