Sunday May 20, 2012
Bringing a rugged edge into the fray
By Joceline Tan
The battleground in Penang suddenly seems a little more intense and it has to do with Gerakan politician Teng Chang Yeow who has a reputation as a street fighter.
THE star of the DAP ceramah in the wealthy Penang suburb of Tanjung Bungah was not Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng but his long-time nemesis in the party, Datuk Teng Chang Khim.
Chang Khim, who is also Selangor Legislative Assembly Speaker, is a top orator in DAP; he has a laser tongue, his command of Mandarin is top-notch and he does not talk nonsense like some of his DAP colleagues when put on a ceramah stage.
He is a crowd-puller but the Penang crowd last Friday night was more intrigued by the fact that his younger brother is Penang Gerakan politician Teng Chang Yeow.
The two brothers have been on opposite sides of the political fence right from the start and their father is said to be an MCA man. But the family DNA prevails when it comes to their political style – both brothers are like fighting cocks.
They are not the sort to suck up to people. They speak their minds and that does not always go down well with the top leaders in their respective parties. It is no secret that Chang Khim and DAP secretary-general Lim cannot stomach each other. Chang Yeow has problems with his own party president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon – they are what is known as “frenemies”.
Chang Khim did not talk about his brother that night but stuck to his favourite topic: the success story of Selangor.
The two brothers are different politically but the irony is that Chang Yeow’s chief adversary is also Lim.
Chang Yeow recently replaced Dr Koh as the Penang Barisan Nasional chairman. It is a big post and basically means that he is the Barisan’s choice for Chief Minister in the event of a win. It also a signal that Barisan will continue to respect the people’s aspiration for a Chinese Chief Minister.
DAP and Lim, in particular, have been closely watching Chang Yeow since the latter’s appointment.
They were unconcerned about Dr Koh whom they know is so damaged that he is no longer a threat. But Chang Yeow is something else. He is young, articulate, daring and, last week, he showed he has ideas and plans for Penang.
His announcement of what Barisan has in store for the state has caused ripples of excitement among Penang people. The plan included restoring the free port status and making the services sector an engine of growth on the island that would boost tourism, healthcare, sports and education. Plans for the mainland included an international monetary centre, innovation dynamo park and a modern aquaculture centre.
It was significant that he spoke about narrowing the development gap between the island and mainland Penang. It showed that he recognised how the Malay-dominated mainland has felt marginalised in the last four years. There is apparently more to come and Chang Yeow’s team will be unveiling plans for Penang’s social development soon.
Even Penang millionaire developer Tan Sri Tan Kok Ping, the man who has the ears of the Chief Minister, was impressed and called to congratulate Chang Yeow.
As up-and-coming new face Rowena Yam pointed out, the plan not only addresses the economic gap between island and mainland, it also addresses the aspirations of the Penang middle class.
“Penang has a large middle class that is very private sector driven. The features of the plan has particular appeal for this group,” said Yam.
On the DAP side, the Chief Minister’s political secretary Ng Wei Aik has sprung into action. He rubbished the free port proposal, calling it a political gimmick aimed at fishing for votes.
Ng, often seen as Lim’s “mouthpiece”, has tried to run down or contradict almost everything coming from Chang Yeow in recent weeks. It was obvious that he was acting on behalf of Lim, saying things that Lim did not want to say.
Tactics at play
Some say that Ng was also behind an online poll in a DAP website urging Chang Yeow to contest in Padang Kota, a State seat where Chang Yeow was the assemblyman until he was defeated in 2008. It would have been an innocent enough suggestion were it not for the fact that the current assemblyman for Padang Kota is none other than State exco member Chow Kon Yeow, the man who, some think, ought to have been the Chief Minister of Penang.
It was evident that Ng was playing politics because, regardless of whether Chow beat Chang Yeow or vice versa, it would be one less headache for Ng’s big boss.
Ng’s tactics have not escaped the notice of Chang Yeow who joked: “He seems to be very concerned for me. Every time I talk, he jumps.”
All said and done, it looks like Chang Yeow has shown a fighting spirit that has been missing for some time on the Gerakan side. At a recent press conference, he criticised the mock funeral that Perkasa staged outside the Chief Minister’s residence and also pressed Umno to condemn the gesture.
The conventional wisdom is that Pakatan Rakyat is on course for another victory in Penang. The only question is whether it can hold on to its two-thirds majority. But that has not stopped the Barisan side from aiming for the sky. Umno which currently has 11 State seats has been tasked to win another three more, Gerakan and MCA have been asked to aim for at least three seats each and MIC one.
The trouble is that only Umno and Gerakan have any hope of fulfilling their target. Gerakan has been written off as a party in death throes but it actually has a better chance than MCA of making some sort of recovery in Penang.
MCA is struggling because it is contesting Chinese-majority seats held by DAP whereas Gerakan will be contesting mixed seats currently held by PKR, the weak link in Pakatan.
Tanjung Bungah, for instance, is seen as a winnable seat for Gerakan. The once scenic coastal suburb is now a concrete jungle and residents have complained that the authorities are not taking heed of their petitions about dangerous hill slopes, over-development and traffic problems.
The Chinese press had speculated that Chang Yeow may contest there but party sources say that former deputy minister Datuk Seri Chia Kwang Chye, who has a house there, stands a good chance of winning. Chia understands environmental issues and has a good track record in the area.
The DAP knows what it is up against in Tanjung Bungah and that was probably why they picked the area for their big ceramah.
Or as Gerakan politician O.K. Hun put it: “They like to blame us for everything but they are enjoying what we fought for. Their ceramah was in the hall above the new market that we built. We fought so hard for the facility, now we have no access to it.”
Chang Yeow is a well-liked figure among the Penang media circle. He has a good track record with them, and they like his style of calling a spade a spade compared with Dr Koh’s “slowly and softly” style.
He has a good understanding of what Penangites want and the local journalists say that among the Chinese politicians in Penang Barisan, he is arguably most suited to take on Lim.
And his timing could not be better. Lim is still riding the crest among the Penang Chinese but he has been taken down a notch or two after the shocking resignation of Tunku Aziz Ibrahim as the party vice-chairman. Prior to that, some of his advisers had cautioned him to tone down on his big talking style which is beginning to come across as boastful and arrogant.
For instance, when the Chinese media asked whether he would contest in Tanjung Bungah against Chia, he had reportedly said that Chia is not the “king” and that “king should fight king,” meaning that he should take on Chang Yeow.
Chang Yeow’s appointment has also revived the groups of activists in the party who call themselves “Gerakan Gerakan” or Moving Gerakan. This group had been very critical of Dr Koh after 2008 and had tried to oust the current State chairman Datuk Seri Dr Teng Hock Nan.
They are people who support causes like Bersih and who want good governance and leadership but they are loyal to Gerakan and dislike the DAP. They have sprung back into action to help Chang Yeow.
“We aim to give them (Pakatan) a hell of a fight,” one of them, Yeap Ban Choon, said.
Everything is happening at the same time for Chang Yeow, 48. A few months ago, he and his wife became parents again after 13 years. He has had to endure jokes from his friends but he joked that politics is not as tough as waking up at night to feed the baby.
Chang Yeow and Lim are political enemies who actually have quite a bit in common. Both men hail from Batu Pahat and had attended the same school. But while Lim is a newcomer to the State, Chang Yeow arrived in 1985 to study in Universiti Sains Malaysia and has settled in Penang since 1990. It remains to be seen whether Chang Yeow has what it takes to play the opposition leader role against Lim’s government. As the Chinese saying goes, “you know whether the horse is good after it has run 1,000 miles”.
Chang Yeow’s problem is that he does not have the luxury of running 1,000 miles, so to speak. He is aware that he is about to fight a very difficult battle and his conversation is littered with battle terms.
“In ancient times, when you prepare for war, you sharpen your weapons in secret. But time is short, I’ve got to lay out my weapons on the table. I have to show what I have to offer and I have to convince the people that I want to deliver what I say,” he said.