By Leslie Lau
KUALA LUMPUR, Aug 20 — Any doubt that Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng was the big winner in tonight's "live" televised debate with his predecessor Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon was probably erased during the winding up by the two men.
The knock-out punch came in this one-liner from Lim: "If there was no corruption in the previous Barisan Nasional (BN) government, then they would not have fallen in the March election tsunami."
But Koh was not the only loser in the debate.
Lim scored points against Umno and the BN as well by using the occasion to insinuate Koh was still protecting his coalition partners and that he had given special treatment when allocating land to those with political connections.
"Why was special treatment given to Abad Naluri in the allocation of land originally meant for recreational purposes to be converted to one for mixed development for the Penang Global City Centre project?" he asked.
Koh may have thought the occasion was an opportunity for him to score political points in a valiant attempt to revive his decimated Gerakan party.
He was wrong.
And indeed, Koh looked uncomfortable and defensive, except for a few glib comments and retorts, in the form of accusing his political foe of being more interested in attacking him then in governing the state.
"He is now the CM but yet he still behaves like he is still in opposition," said Koh at the beginning of the night's proceedings.
That was probably as good as it got for Koh.
Lim, on the other hand, appeared to understand the art of debating in politics.
He hammered home the point that the previous state government's mistake in alienating land that it did not own to a quarry operator had caused more than RM40 million in damages to the state's coffers.
The DAP secretary-general also kept asking the question of why Koh's administration had not taken action against the officer responsible for the mistake.
But more than just debating the alleged land scams, Lim used the occasion to highlight his administration's manifesto, publicising his commitment to "competency, accountability and transparency," or CAT as it has become popularly known.
Koh attempted throughout the debate to defend his administration, pointing out that two probes conducted by the Anti-Corruption Agency (ACA) found no wrongdoing.
Perhaps his advisers should have also told him that public confidence in the ACA remains low even now.
Strangely, Koh resorted at one point to his almost photographic memory of the dimensions of his former office to defend accusations that he had handed over an almost empty office to Lim after losing in the elections.
"The Chief Minister's Office on the 28th floor has more than 14,000 square feet of office space. The CM's room has more than 2,000 square feet. All the files are kept in the cabinet. The desk may have been empty but that does not mean there were no files," he said.
Lim's reply to that was to stick to his point that he found no files.
"We had to dig, dig, dig ourselves. But do not worry because when we had no resources in opposition we still managed to uncover scandals, what more when we are in government."
But perhaps the moment which underscored the uneasiness in which Koh found himself in tonight was when he was answering a question on how he thought land administration could be improved.
He said that improving the administration was a continuing process and was an "unending struggle".
Perhaps that was not quite the answer that should have been given by a man defending almost two decades in power as chief minister.
Gerakan is already wracked by infighting and in much turmoil following the loss of Penang to the DAP.