Iskandar Malaysia to Stay Competitive despite election outcome

Business leaders in Johor have said they expect Malaysia’s southernmost state to remain competitive, despite having gone through its most hotly-contested elections to date.

Water pipelines run across the Causeway between Singapore and southern state of Johor Bahru (background). (AFP/Roslan Rahman)

Many voiced optimism that Johor was destined for greater growth, as the Iskandar Malaysia economic projects move into the next phase.

In the recent general election, the opposition Pakatan Rakyat alliance tripled its number of state seats in Johor from six in the 2008 elections to 18.

Among the hottest contests in the May 5 elections was the seat for Gelang Patah, a key component of the Iskandar Malaysia special economic zone.

In a clash of the titans, veteran DAP politician Lim Kit Siang defeated outgoing Johor Chief Minister Abdul Ghani Othman by more than 14,000 votes.

Democratic Action Party (DAP) is part of Pakatan Rakyat.

The opposition, buoyed by victory, harbours ambitions of wresting the entire state of Johor from the ruling coalition.

Chen Kah Eng, DAP state assemblyman for Stulang, said: “What Penang and Selangor have done, we are going to do. For these five years we have to prove to them that we can be the state government.”

Changes impact policy, and when it comes to the Iskandar development region, the stakes are very high for big investors like Singapore.

Knowing this, the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) was quick to reassure stakeholders.

Shahrir Abdul Samad, BN MP for Johor Bahru, said: “As Malaysia wants to be competitive, or Johor wants to be competitive in economics and business, we naturally would have to welcome competitive politics. That kind of dynamics, I think, will be good, even for Johor.”

Verbal assurances aside, the ruling BN coalition still controls Johor with a two-thirds majority in the 38-seat state assembly.

But there is also the question of whether a larger opposition presence in the state assembly would hamper Iskandar development projects.

Loh Liam Hiang, president of Johor Bahru Chinese Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said: “I don’t think so. I think nowadays those politicians are more mature now. I think they consider the development of the country is more important. So since they have more opposition (members) in the state government, it may be better efficient for the future development.”

Steve Chong Yoon On, group managing director of Austin Heights, said: “Johor Bahru has always been governed by a democratic process. I think if there’s more opposition, maybe there will be a few more questions asked but the processing will be based on ‘the majority wins’.

“As long as the project makes sense, benefit the rakyat, stimulating the economic growth, whether you are from the opposition or from the ruling government, you should support that. I have least worries about that.”

With an increased presence of the opposition at the state assembly level, one thing is certain – the political discussion is going to be vibrant, to say the least.

But both sides of the political divide agree on one thing. The state of Johor is destined for greater growth.

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