A fight to keep Gerakan relevant


The next leader of Penang Gerakan will either be a ‘fighting cock’ or an idealistic lawyer, both of whom hope to keep the party from sinking into oblivion after two disastrous general elections.

Joceline Tan, The Star 

GERAKAN politician Teng Chang Yeow returned from abroad only on Saturday night.

The former Gerakan secretary-general arrived at the Penang party headquarters in the morning yesterday with a big delegation to hand in his nomination papers to contest the chairmanship of Penang Gerakan. It was definitely a show of strength on his part.

His Gerakan friends and local reporters had not seen him for quite a while because he had been spending time on work and business after his party was again wiped out in the general election.

His business takes him abroad a lot, mostly to China and Taiwan.

Chang Yeow is about to make a comeback in Gerakan politics after resigning all his political posts on the night of the general election as a way of taking responsibility for his party’s disastrous performance.

His hardcore supporters are delighted. They not only think that he is the man to lead Penang Gerakan, some even think he should go for the Gerakan presidency later this year.

But that would be like trying to make an omelette before the egg is laid. First, he has to secure the Penang chairmanship against the other contender, Baljit Singh.

Baljit was a no-show yesterday although his nomination papers arrived at the headquarters. His absence was quite strange but he is holding a press conference today on his bid for the top post.

His candidature came as a bit of a surprise even though some party members had been talking about it for several days. He is a lawyer who is in charge of the party’s legal and human rights bureau and is supposed to be Gerakan’s version of Karpal Singh.

Like Karpal, he is quite fearless, with a booming voice and sound opinions but just as there will never be another Tun Dr Lim Chong Eu in Penang, there will also never be another Karpal Singh.

The party will decide on the new Penang leadership line-up at the state convention on Sept 15. A total of 14 others are vying for the six exco posts. Lawyer Rowena Yam won the Wanita leadership uncontested and Hng Chee Wey also won uncontested as Youth chief yesterday.

Although the top contest is between Chang Yeow and Baljit, most see it as a proxy fight between Chang Yeow and outgoing Penang chairman Datuk Dr Teng Hock Nan.

The two are known as the “young Teng” and the “old Teng” and the feud between them has been going on for so many years that people can’t even remember how it started.

The Dr Teng camp had apparently approached several other people, one or two of whom would have given Chang Yeow a good fight. But they had given up on politics while another potential candidate Dr Thor Teong Ghee claimed that he wanted to focus on his medical practice.

That was how Baljit ended up being the fall guy. No one really expects him to win but those behind him are hoping he will be able to embarrass Chang Yeow by getting at least 35% of the votes.

The “old Teng” camp does not want Chang Yeow to win uncontested because that would make him too powerful. Chang Yeow has an aggressive political style and he has accumulated his share of enemies through the years.

In fact, the proposer for Baljit’s nomination was Dr Lim Boon Han who hails from a powerful Gerakan family in Nibong Tebal. Chang Yeow had made an enemy out of Boon Han during the general election when he contested the Bukit Tengah state seat which Boon Han had been eyeing.

“The contest is less about ideology or principle than personal feuds,” said a party insider.

Shortly after nomination closed at noon yesterday, Chang Yeow held out an olive branch to the other camp and said he wished to work with them.

He admitted that there were differences but that should not prevent them from working as a team.

His camp had also contemplated approaching Baljit to come on board with them. But too much water has flowed under the bridge and Baljit has told people that members should have a chance to choose.

Wong Mun Hoe, the Gerakan coordinator for Bayan Baru, rightly pointed out that this is his party’s last chance.

The new leadership, he said, will be responsible for deciding the direction and fate of the party.

“The party has hit rock bottom. Whether the party is heading to oblivion or if it will remain relevant will depend on the new batch of leaders. There is a lot riding on this election.

“Whoever wins next week, I hope he will be big enough to accommodate everyone. For a party to survive, we need to accommodate dissenting voices,” said Wong.