Mah-ching on ahead as expected

Newly-elected Gerakan president Datuk Mah Siew Keong was the overwhelming choice of his party and also the partys old guard who have been grooming him for several years.

VICTORY for the new Gerakan president Datuk Mah Siew Keong comes with a heavy burden.

Nothing in Gerakan has been the same since the 2008 political tsunami. The party
s golden age in Penang is over, it is the butt of jokes in political circles and the general opinion is that this multi-racial party is on the verge of extinction.

That is what Mah has inherited after crushing his opponent Teng Chang Yeow by winning with 65% of the votes yesterday. Mah secured 1,086 votes against 577 votes by Teng.

Mah means
horse in Chinese and the signs that this was a winning horse were there when Tan Keng Liang won the Gerakan Youth leadership a day earlier.

Tan, the maverick Kedah Youth chief, is in Mah
s menu and he won with 210 votes against his Penang counterpart Oh Tong Keong who got 165 votes.

Nevertheless, Mah was still working the crowd right to the final hour. As the party leaders were escorting Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak out of the hall after the opening ceremony, Mah pulled away from the entourage to mingle and wave at the delegates. That probably got him a few more precious votes.

Outside the hall, some of Chang Yeow
s supporters were pointing their index fingers in the air, shouting Satu! which was his ballot number.

But the party had decided to go with the man touted as a consensus-builder and rejected the one with a reputation as a fighter cock.

Mah, an incumbent vice-president and highly experienced figure, was the favourite from the start. He had the blessings of the party elders and old guard who held sway over delegates.

They had a menu of names which they successfully pushed though. The new deputy president Dr Cheah Soon Hai, who is the Kedah state chairman, is also in Mah
s team.

Chang Yeow
s drawback was that he took his time in deciding whether or not to contest the presidency. He only confirmed it a day before the nominations were due, leaving little time to campaign.

Although he is a familiar face, this is about the presidency and delegates want to evaluate what the candidates stand for and hear their ideas on how to help the party survive.

Mah, on the other hand, had been moving around for months. The party establishment had been grooming him for sometime, taking him around the states to meet local leaders and to acquaint him with the state grassroots leaders.

The state party organisation had a chance to meet him and assess him up close.

Politically speaking, Chang Yeow was up against a lot of roadblocks.

The party establishment, led by former president Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon, was dead against him.

The establishment found him too independent and impetuous for their liking and they knew he would buck the trend rather than go along with their wishes.

Chang Yeow also had a major adversary in the form of Datuk Seri Dr Teng Hock Nan, the former Penang Gerakan chairman.

They share the same surname but could not see eye to eye on many things. Hock Nan
s supporters threw their votes behind Mah.

The politics has also gone down to a personal level for some of Hock Nan
s supporters.

For instance, lawyer Baljit Singh who lost to Chang Yeow in the fight for the Penang party chairmanship last month, could barely contain his personal feelings about his rival at the sidelines of the Gerakan gathering.

Teng Chang Yeow is the most hated man in Penang, everyone dislikes him, he blurted out in front of the Prime Ministers political secretary Wong Nai Chee.

Wong looked shocked and did not know what to say. It is not the done thing to bad-mouth a party colleague to a person he hardly knew but Baljit is riding high and won a seat in the new party central committee.

The result was also the delegates
way of telling Chang Yeow that they want him to focus on Penang. They want him to rejuvenate the partys prospects in what was once the partys jewel in the crown.

As Najib pointed out in his speech, the then Penang government under the leadership of Dr Koh had put in place the policy and physical infrastructure that has made the state a tourist destination with a heritage flavour.

The party came up with a great slogan this year
A New Way, A New Hope, A New Gerakan. The Prime Minister complimented it but added that the content also matters.

After two general election wipeouts, the party seniors have become resigned to the fact that they will not be going anywhere soon.

We are down there and we reckon it will not be just for a few years but a decade or so, said one party leader.

Reality has set in and the thinking among the current batch of leaders is that they may not be able to take the party to where it was within their lifetime. Their priority is rebuild the party, strengthen its ideological base and expand its membership.

Chang Yeows job is to stabilise the party in Penang and build up the third echelon so that they will be ready when opportunity presents itself because politics has its cycles, said the party leader.

s win is also a victory for the old guard. They were the king-maker and they can go on running things behind the throne.

But, said a party insider, if Mah listens too much to the old guard, he will end up as
another Koh Tsu Koon.

The new president must try to bring change or else the new way will become the old way, the new hope will be hopeless and there will be no new Gerakan, said the insider.





Follow @partigerakan