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Each time I read about my home state of Penang either in malaysiakini or any other Malaysian- based publication, I cringe at the thought of another attack on my island home. But I have come to realise that even the people of Penang who live and reside there are growing unhappy about Penang's state of affairs.

Penang is in a unique crisis and has been since Dr Lim Chong Eu left office some years back. The problem, however, is not merely political but stems from social decay.

Politically, the consensus-based government of Penang is weak as no one party has an absolute majority in the state legislative council.

Gerakan used to be able to form the government by itself but it is now trapped with pleasing its coalition partners under the broad umbrella of the Barisan Nasional. This severely limits the effectiveness of the chief minister and his cabinet. Dr Koh Tsu Koon does not have the freedom to strike mortal fear into civil servants and municipal officers like his predecessor did with a sound knowledge of state figures and statistics.

I doubt very much if Koh can even get our inner-city drains cleaned regularly without having to ponder on the political repercussions on his cabinet's position. This is indeed a sad reflection of a state and of an office that used to lead the way for other states in the federation.

Calls for Koh to leave office will not ultimately solve the political problems of Penang. Give the state to the opposition? Well, that happened before way back in 1969 but even that state government realised which side of its bread was buttered.

The only way out for Penang is for either one party to win absolutely; namely give the state to either Umno or Gerakan. However, if the latter is lacklustre and has outlived its previously earned labour-oriented goals, then the MCA deserves a chance.

But however one looks at it, the Barisan formula is failing Penang. An urbanised state like Penang deserves an elected municipal government and I believe that is the solution. The BN government has to trust the people and not act in its old mould.

That generation who wanted to turn Malaysia into a communist state never really existed. What the people want now is some control over the quality of their lives. Having said all that, we have to acknowledge that Penangites have changed as the older socialist public-spirited generation passes into the great beyond.

Younger Malaysians, myself included, are more preoccupied with personal achievements rather than social responsibility. This is a general statement that many under-40s will not disagree with. Even the most socially-minded would have very little socialist tendencies in them. This is because Penang's political machinery (a refraction of Malaysia), congested by racial politics, is failing to inspire the younger generation to take an interest in their environment.

Evidence of this is there for all to see and for once, it is not bounded by race. We are all apathetic together. Malaysia Boleh? Indeed.

Finally, I would like to address the complaints that have tarred Penang's image over the last decade. Why is Penang so dirty? It is because nobody bothers to pick up anyone else's rubbish. Everyone thinks it is someone else's problem.

In some middle-class neighbourhoods like Fettes Park, the residents have even decided to claim the backlanes as part of their property and build extensions beyond set limitations. Why is this happening? Because nobody complains and the authorities, hampered by politics as well as some amount of grease, will not act.

Penang's real problem lies with its people. The beaches used to be clean, the drains used to have 'peacock-hu', the tourists used to come. But today, all these things are going ('peacock-hu' in the drains? The kids today will think you are crazy!).

Some complain but nobody actually does anything. There are a few committed souls in the consumer's associations and other NGOs but by and large, the people are content to allow the rot to set in and fester. Civil society is nearly dead in Penang because the people are too self- engrossed.

I remember the Save Penang Hill campaign - why did it work? Because a generation ago, Penangites still had that Penang civic-mindedness about them. Is there a new generation of road-warriors left in our once-happy island home?

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