Teng sets sights on winning seats

Teng sets sights on winning seats

TENG Chang Yeow is taller -- 5' 11'' -- than he seems in photos published by the media, all tracking his attempt to lift Gerakan back to the 28th floor of Komtar in Penang.

That's the office of the chief minister, whose current occupant, Lim Guan Eng, this week averted a showdown with Teng by insisting on the Chinese majority seat of Padang Kota.

By comparison, Teng has not gained wide name-recognition nationwide.

That has not stopped him from parading bravado and clarity in his immediate strategies as Gerakan secretary-general and Penang Barisan Nasional chairman.

The "naturalised" Penangite has transmitted this central message well -- the best antidote for a party that suffered a devastating defeat in 2008 is to go for a swift rebound.

"You cannot go on a strategy of seeking to win back just one seat... the question is, which constituency?" he said in an interview with the New Sunday Times, moments after attending the BN supreme council meeting in Kuala Lumpur on Thursday.

BN leaders see him as a fighter. Teng, for good measure, addressed an audience of two -- journalists RASHID YUSOF and ADRIAN LAI -- at a coffee house in the Seri Pacific Hotel in the same manner he would, perhaps, address a bigger crowd.

Crucially, he is banking on his adopted home's mature political culture to inspire change.

In 1959, Penang voters went with MCA and the Alliance, having experimented with Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu's Radical Party in the December 1951 municipal elections and, for a spell, even a Secession movement.

After Tan Sri Wong Pow Nee, Chong Eu became chief minister and stayed on the job for 21 years.

When the Gerakan co-founder lost his Padang Kota seat to DAP's Lim Kit Siang in 1990, his political secretary, Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, took over.

Five years ago, it was the turn of Kit Siang's son, Guan Eng, to be chief minister.

Teng, 49, has the right credentials to mount a challenge. He was a three-term assemblyman for the Padang Kota seat and had served as Tsu Koon's political secretary.

Question: You were a three-term assemblyman before being appointed Gerakan secretary-general and then Penang Barisan Nasional chairman. And you have, over the course of these few years, gained greater visibility. Now, you are more recognisable and nationally known. And hopefully in the future, your name will not be misspelt as we did this morning.

Answer: Why? You spelt my name as Teng Chang Khim (his brother, who is Selangor state assembly Speaker)?

Question: No, but there were misplaced letters (Cheng Yow instead of Chang Yeow). It sounded right, though. I had a sleepless night yesterday after realising that your name had been misspelt.

Answer: It's okay. I'm not too particular about it. It's a common mistake. Many people in the past have called me Teng Cheng Yau or Teng Cheng Yew or Teng Chang You. I don't mind as long as there is no name-calling.

Question: You were born in Batu Pahat, Johor, and your chief rival, DAP secretary-general Lim Guan Eng, was born in Johor Baru. You are both Johor-born politicians, vying to become the next chief minister of Penang. Don't you find that odd?

Answer: I didn't go to Penang to look for political positions or opportunities. I've been there since 1984 when I was an undergraduate. Subsequently, I stayed on to develop both my professional and political careers. All that started in the early 1990s. So, I don't see myself as an outsider. I have invested in property in Penang and my social groups are all situated in the state. It's been almost 30 years since I first arrived. When someone migrates to a place and stays there for a long time, he will naturally adopt its culture, tradition and way of life. I have immersed myself in Penang society for a long time.

Question: The question was raised because there had been instances in the past where Guan Eng was subjected to accusations that he was an outsider. It has been a widely discussed topic. What is your take on that?

Answer: The question is not where you were born, but how much you've contributed to the people. You must take the effort to understand local culture and traditions, which differ from state to state. Some people feel they cannot identify with Lim despite the fact that he has formulated many policies which have largely affected Penangites. I also understand that he does not listen to the people's views. That's why his detractors told him, "Look, if you are not prepared to immerse yourself in Penang society, then you should not have come here in the first place". When his father, Lim Kit Siang, decided to move to Tanjung in 1986, he was welcomed by the community there. His father spent many years to be part and parcel of Penang society. There are people within Gerakan who had, in the past, criticised me for not being a Penangite and accused me of being given various opportunities. However, I have already made Penang my home.

Question: You were the political aide to Gerakan president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, just as Koh was to the late Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu. Have you ever met Chong Eu?

Answer: Yes, but I cannot say I knew him well. There were a couple of occasions where I had the opportunity to converse with him. He was a very learned man and a visionary.

Question: Chong Eu, as you know, attempted to introduce multiracial politics in Penang by co-founding the Radical Party (1949), United Democratic Party in 1962, and Gerakan in 1968. But today, most Gerakan members are Chinese. Why was it that multiracial politics did not succeed, in Penang at least?

Answer: The problem with Malaysian politics is that it is still very much race-based. Let's not fool ourselves; even DAP leaders, who claim that they want to see equality among races, are only talking about Chinese issues. Chinese PKR (Parti Keadilan Rakyat) leaders also keep talking about Chinese issues. I have never seen them highlight the poverty of Malays, for example. They will only jump at Chinese issues like education and the like. On the other hand, Gerakan is changing the way we think. We are taking a Malaysian approach towards issues. Has DAP ever done that for the Malays? Have they ever talked about drawing up state policies to benefit the Malays in Penang? But when BN devises such a policy, DAP is quick to criticise it without coming up with one of their own. Ever since it took control of Penang, I have yet to see DAP come up with policies to help the underprivileged, regardless of race.

They know pretty well that their support base lies within the Chinese community. So, despite the call for a multiracial party, DAP is still banking on Chinese issues.

Question: Do you see yourself as someone with a multiracial outlook?

Answer: I hope the people view me as such. I have adopted the political struggle of Gerakan, which is a non-communal approach. And I strictly adhere to that principle. But I also realise that our support base lies within the Chinese community. That said, I hope I can garner support from both Malays and Indians. In the long run, a non-communal approach is still the answer to making multiracial politics work.

Question: You have been in Penang with and without the tenure of Gerakan as the state government. You must have witnessed the influence of Gerakan being eroded. What led Gerakan to its downfall?

Answer: I think it was how Gerakan leaders managed their relationship with BN component parties. It was seen to be beholden to Umno. That was the main reason why the Chinese thought that Gerakan could no longer represent them. This is what the DAP has been harping on. It has successfully influenced the Chinese people to look at Gerakan leaders through this perception. They said Koh is most beholden to Umno and that he gave everything to Umno. But Umno members told me that towards the end of 2007, they were not happy with Koh. They said this man was not entertaining their requests. He wouldn't give them a straight answer. That struck me and it made me ask, if Koh had given that much to Umno, what are the projects? They said Gerakan had given vast pieces of land to Umno. But that's not true. For example, Bayan Bay was on open tender and it was secured by a Chinese company. The project was abandoned and revived by another Chinese company, CP Landmark. Another Chinese company, E&O (Eastern & Oriental Bhd), received many projects. They were given first to UEM and KGM, both of which are public-listed and government-linked companies. Another example is the Jelutong Expressway project which was granted to IJM, which, at that time, was not an Umno company. Saying that Koh had given land to Umno was a wild allegation.

Question: Is there a proper structure of Gerakan machinery on the ground and how active is it?

Answer: Gerakan has been the leading force for the last 40 years in Penang. Even after we lost, we are still playing an active role as the watchdog in the Penang state assembly. We are the ones who unearthed many issues.

Question: MCA was, in its early days, associated with the Kuomintang, and later said to be a "party of towkays". Who among the Chinese community in the country are closely associated with Gerakan? What is Gerakan's current membership in Penang?

Answer: It's a mix of everyone; we have professionals and non-professionals. In fact, they have not left the party, despite our 2008 defeat. Only the opportunists left. We have over 30,000 members in the state. The number is quite small because in the past, Gerakan did not have many party branches because of the risk of party infighting. But over the years, the number of branches have expanded.

Question: How does Gerakan differ from MCA in Penang? Are both parties going after the same support base?

Answer: Yes, you can safely say that. That's why the rivalry between us has been there for the last 40 years. However, that rivalry has been dismantled over the course of the past four years. We have to work together. DAP is also targeting the same support base.

Question: Gerakan is contesting 13 state seats in Penang. Strangely enough, Umno and Gerakan have not talked about forming the next state government. In the past, it was vaguely mentioned that BN planned to gain a simple majority. Are you still pursuing the plan to gain a simple majority? Does this mean that BN is not confident of making inroads in Penang?

Answer: That is part of our strategy (to keep the formula under wraps). We must also satisfy our own supporters who have lost something. It's not that we did not have anything to begin with. DAP, on the other hand, had nothing, they came and wrested control of Penang from us. Is it wrong for us to take back something that belonged to Gerakan? I always tell my members, "If we work hard, move towards the same direction, we can win this battle. We must condition ourselves to think positively and have the confidence to win".

Question: Gerakan would need to win at least three state seats to stand a good chance of winning Penang back. Can it be done?

Answer: I think it's doable, as long as BN component parties work hand in hand. I have been helping MCA from the day I was appointed Penang BN chairman. I will be doing the same for any candidate chosen by MCA.

Question: What do you think are Gerakan's chances of winning in Pengkalan Kota and Padang Kota?

Answer: We're not giving up. We have set our sights on winnable seats. We won't name them for strategic reasons. They are mixed seats and the seats we lost in 2008.

Question: Where will you contest?

Answer: It will be known before nomination day.

Question: Guan Eng has launched his operations centre in Air Puteh and is prepared to face you in Padang Kota. Would it be on the mainland or island?

Answer: It could be either one. I'm not going to say which seat. There are eight mixed seats where I would like to contest against Guan Eng.

SOURCE: http://www.nst.com.my/nation/general/teng-sets-sights-on-winning-seats-1.249977




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