Sunday January 13, 2013
Dragon fight in the cards
By Joceline Tan
Penang Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng is following in his father’s footsteps of eliminating political threats as he prepares to hunt down and finish off his Barisan Nasional rival Teng Chang Yeow in the general election.
PENANG’S annual Dragon Boat Race has quite unfortunately become associated with death and tragedy. In 2010, three people drowned during a practice run and, last month, another drowning occurred in the middle of the boating event.
The tragedies have cast a pall over the career of DAP politician Danny Law, the state exco for Tourism. Four deaths in three years is no small thing and it is little wonder that many Chinese are superstitious about the number four, which sounds like “die” in Chinese.
The tragedies have left a bad taste in the mouth of Penangites and taken the glamour and thrill out of the Dragon Boat event. The dragon, they say, is too fierce and hungry for human lives.
But people in Penang have been talking about another type of dragon race or, rather, “dragon fight”.
They are referring to the looming battle between Chief Minister Lim Guan Eng and state Barisan Nasional chairman Teng Chang Yeow in the general election.
Guan Eng is gearing up to take on Teng. The DAP leader is reportedly planning to give up his Air Putih state seat to track down Teng to whichever seat the latter will contest.
The idea is that he has to, as the DAP people put it, “kill off” Teng while Gerakan is still in the wilderness and before Teng makes a comeback in Penang. If Teng wins a seat in the general election, he will pose a bigger obstacle and it will be tougher to take him on.
As the Chinese saying goes, you have to pull out the grass by the roots or else when spring comes, it will grow again.
“Chang Yeow has made an impact since taking over as Barisan chief. He has ideas and he dares to take on the Pakatan government,” said Penang Gerakan vice-chairman Wong Mun Hoe.
Guan Eng is very confident that he can crush Teng wherever Teng may contest. He has justified it as, “the king must fight the king”. It shows how supremely confident he has become since 2008.
DAP’s recent election fiasco has made a laughing stock of the party and dented its image but it does not seem to have affected its prospects in the polls. It has become the big brother in Pakatan Rakyat and is on the way to winning more seats and holding on to Penang.
Back in 2008, Guan Eng was not even sure about winning a seat in Penang and had parachuted into Air Putih, the smallest and safest state seat where there are only about 12,300 voters. He also chose to contest in the parliamentary seat of Bagan where there were two DAP strongmen, Lim Hock Seng and Phee Boon Poh, to prop him up.
He does not need such crutches anymore. Everywhere he goes, his admirers rush to shake his hand and even hug him. He feels he is big and popular enough to run on his own steam.
Confronting Teng is a shrewd move but Guan Eng may be stepping into a perception pitfall. This sort of bravado is fine if one is the underdog.
But Guan Eng is arguably the most powerful Chinese politician in the country today and his party is riding on a popular Chinese wave. Guan Eng is now Goliath, a giant with a big club whereas Teng is David swinging a catapult. In hunting down Teng, Guan Eng risks coming across as a bully out to pulverise his opponents.
Jelutong MP Jeff Ooi begs to differ. Politics, he said, is a zero sum game and it is only natural to eliminate one’s opponents.
“It’s about the state Pakatan Rakyat chief taking on the state Barisan Nasional chief. It will be a referendum on the people’s choice for the state government and leadership,” said Ooi.
Guan Eng is basically carrying on the tradition of his father Lim Kit Siang. In the 1986 general election, Kit Siang arrived in Penang to take on Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, the incumbent MP for Tanjong and who was then better known as a Chinese education activist. Kit Siang beat Dr Koh and declared his victory as Tanjong 1.
He declared the 1990 general election as Tanjong 2 and pulled off the biggest win of his career by toppling then Chief Minister Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu in Padang Kota.
“I don’t think Chong Eu ever recovered from the rejection. But they shed crocodile tears when Chong Eu passed away,” said Penang lawyer and former Gerakan politician Lim Boo Chang, whose father and Chong Eu were lifelong buddies.
By 1999, Kit Siang was restless again. He decided to move from the state seat of Padang Kota to Tanjung Bungah to take on Dr Koh who was Chief Minister by then. He also moved from Tanjong to another parliamentary seat in Bukit Bendera to face Gerakan rising star Datuk Seri Chia Kwang Chye.
Back then, the RoboCop movie was the rage and the Tanjong 3 campaign portrayed Kit Siang as DAP’s RoboCop. It was all very exciting and their ceramah drew record crowds night after night.
But DAP’s RoboCop movie did not win any Oscars when the votes came in. Both Kit Siang and the “DAP lion” Karpal Singh lost their parliamentary as well as state seats.
“It’s a sad thing because this politics of destruction is not our culture in Penang. When people give us their votes, it is so that we can serve them. But outsiders like them have no loyalty, they hop from state to state and from one seat to another. They collect seats the way people collect stamps,” said Boo Chang.
Penang people want to give Guan Eng a second term but they also realise that a good government needs some checks and balances. They have seen the state’s CAT or Competency, Accountability and Transparency policy become parodied as “cocky, arrogant tokong”.
“I don’t think Penang people like this type of politics. I know that after Chong Eu fell in 1990, they regretted it. They felt it was unnecessary and when Kit Siang tried to kill off the next sitting Chief Minister in 1999, Penang people voted him out,” said Wong.
Kit Siang moved on to contest in Perak after that, and now it is his son’s turn to carry on the politics of elimination.
Chinese politics can be rather cold-blooded and cutthroat. It does not have that kesian or sympathy factor found among Malay politicians and it is up to the people to choose.
Incidentally, a former PKR political strategist finds the notion of going after one’s opponent the way Guan Eng intends to go after Teng rather “crass and arrogant.”
“No political strategist worth his salt would recommend something like that. That is not strategy, that’s ego. Lee Kuan Yew was known as a hard-hearted politician but can you imagine him chasing his opponent from one seat to another? He has class, you know,” said the strategist.
But Guan Eng’s preoccupation with Teng might actually be good for Barisan during the general election. Teng will be Barisan’s weapon to contain Guan Eng in Penang, or what they call the “containment strategy”.
“The burden is on Guan Eng. If he wants to win handsomely and destroy Chang Yeow, he has to spend more time in Penang. He cannot spend time in the battlegrounds like Sarawak, Sabah and Johor.
“If you are planning to take Putrajaya, you cannot only be campaigning in Penang. You’ve got to be everywhere, a different place every day and night. You will be able to tell whether he is serious about Putrajaya by how much time he spends in Penang during the election,” said a Penang lawyer.
Thus, if Guan Eng sticks largely to Penang, it means that all the big talk about the road to Putrajaya is just another movie script that is not going to bring home any Oscars.
DAP’s support in Penang is still solid among the lower income group and young professionals in their 20s and 30s.
But the “noise level”, as some put it, among those in the business and industrial circle has gone up. This group is tired of the sloganeering and finger-pointing. It is fed-up of DAP’s habit of blaming Umno and the previous government for everything.
The joke among some of the people in this group is that DAP should have also blamed their party’s election blunder on Umno.
This group does not want to see Guan Eng go down as yet but they have had enough of the constant politicking and also of Guan Eng’s habit of talking in circles on issues like the Taman Manggis and Bayan Mutiara land issues. Land and development are serious issues to this circle and should not be treated as political fodder.
They can see that Teng and his team have produced their roadmap for Penang. The state Barisan has taken out a series of advertorials in the Penang editions of Chinese newspapers to showcase what they have in store for the people.
These are full-paged, colour advertorials that are basically pre-election manifestos for the people to assess and digest. The proposals include a monorail and transport plan to solve the traffic nightmare on Penang’s road, restoration of the free port status and creating a national financial hub in Seberang Prai.
It also addresses the burning issue of affordable housing and reviving the tourism industry which has fallen far behind that of Malacca.
Everyone is waiting for the Pakatan roadmap. Guan Eng’s government has commissioned an international consultant to come up with a development blueprint but it is still in the pipeline.
According to Pakatan insiders, the development blueprint is not only to give the government another term but also to carry it into a third term. That is the extent of Guan Eng’s ambitions. He has his sights set on the long term.
It explains why he is so hell-bent on finishing off Teng, to yank him out by the roots so that Gerakan will not grow again in the spring. “Goliath Lim Guan Eng” is determined to crush the political life out of “David Teng Chang Yeow”.
Penang is in for a brutal round of politics in the general election because when dragons fight, the ground rumbles.
> Joceline Tan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org