No sinking Mr Penang

Lim outside the high court in George Town, Penang, last week. The corruption charges against him include the abuse of power to purchase a bungalow at below market price.
Lim outside the high court in George Town, Penang, last week. The corruption charges against him include the abuse of power to purchase a bungalow at below market price.PHOTO: CHINA PRESS

Lim Guan Eng carries on with busy schedule despite court case

Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng has a lot on his plate at the moment. He faces two corruption charges that could land him in prison for up to 20 years. But instead of solely focusing on dealing with the blowback from the case, he has kept working.

This weekend alone, he has filled up his schedule that even includes breakfast meetings.

"He needs to fill up his time. In that sense, he is a workaholic," said Mr Tony Pua, an MP from Lim's Democratic Action Party (DAP).

Lim, 55, is the son of opposition heavyweight Lim Kit Siang. Before the younger Lim's 30-year dive into politics, he was a bank executive, having graduated in economics from Australia's Monash University.

But not long after entering the corporate world, politics came calling when he stood for and won his first election in 1986.

He is married to Madam Betty Chew, 51, a former Malacca assemblywoman, and the couple have four children, who have been kept well away from the limelight, unlike the children of several top Malaysian politicians.

As an opposition leader, Lim's family has seen him enter and leave lock-ups and jails many times.

It was in 1987 when he became the first to be detained under a government crackdown known as Operation Lalang, an effort the authorities said was necessary to prevent racial riots then.

Lim was detained without trial under the Internal Security Act, since replaced by another security law.

In 1998, Lim was jailed again under the Sedition Act, this time over his criticism of prosecutors who had allegedly allowed a former Malacca chief minister to walk away from the rape of a minor.

Three decades as an opposition politician can be exhausting for many, but according to those close to Lim, his persistence is due to stubbornness and determination.

"Guan Eng is headstrong. Once he decides to go (ahead), he will move all the way through," said Mr Zairil Khir Johari, a Penang MP.

Lim's public demeanour can often appear to be loud and brash, but it is his frankness that draws people in. "What you see is what you get."

As in the past, when Lim got entangled with the authorities, the DAP has thrown its support behind him over the latest charges, which it has viewed as an attack on the opposition.

As the corruption case has strong political overtones, there is some worry in government that, like the two sodomy trials involving opposition chief Anwar Ibrahim, the court decision would be cast aside by the court of public opinion.

Attorney-General Mohamed Apandi Ali told The Star newspaper on Thursday: "His trial is before a High Court, and it is the judge who will decide on his guilt or innocence. He should not try to have his pending trial brought to the public and should stop attempting to submit his defence through the media."

Staff working under Lim have credited him as the man who spurred Penang's development since he took office in 2008.

"He has been identified as the man responsible for the success Penang has today," said Mr Andrew Yong, Lim's former legal officer. "He knows what is right for Penang."

Some point out Lim's drive to succeed in both politics and running the state government as stemming from growing up under the shadow of his father, the elder Mr Lim, 75, who has been an influential politician since the 1960s.

Allies are quick to point out differences between father and son. While the elder Mr Lim is more reserved, the younger Lim is more personable and an extrovert.

"He gets his energy from being around people. He cannot sit still or be quiet," said Mr Pua.

The name of his wife, Madam Chew, was mentioned in court documents as an involved party in the ongoing corruption case. However, she was not charged.

Madam Chew is a friend of Phang Li Koon, the woman who sold the bungalow to the couple.

If convicted, Lim could lose his position as chief minister, a situation which allies say could shock investors and Penangites.

As Mr Yong put it: "He's basically Mr Penang."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 03, 2016, with the headline 'No sinking Mr Penang'. Print Edition | Subscribe