GE15: ‘Sister’ a hot topic in Penang

Jocelyn Tan, The Star

It is hard to meet many people in Penang who are not planning to vote for Pakatan Harapan.

The political pendulum which swung against the 15-year leadership of Tan Sri Dr Koh Tsu Koon in 2018 is still very much on the side of Chief Minister Chow Kon Yeow.

But political support is somewhat like love and romance. It does not seem to last forever.

There are Malay undercurrents in Penang which are of concern to Pakatan’s support base and there are also worries about voter turnout.

Pakatan leaders are confident but admit that there is “no more wave”.

Penang is one of six states having separate elections and it is unclear whether voters will return in droves to vote twice.

Pakatan’s stranglehold on Penang is coming to 14 years now and, for the first time in years, there are rumblings on the ground, with people questioning the performance and delivery of the state government.

A local businessman was having “kueh teow t’ng” in a kopitiam in Carnarvon Street last week when a man at a nearby table told his companions in Hokkien and rather too loudly: “I don’t care, let DAP fall!”

Everyone turned to look at him, then smiled at each other and turned back to their food. In the early years, the man would have been shouted down by others.

The angry man was apparently a fisherman who disagreed with the state government’s reclamation plans in the southern end of the island that will pose a threat to the livelihood of hundreds of fishermen.

The kopitiam incident was the opinion of one man but it was a metaphor of how the longer one remains in power, the more toes one tends to step on.

DAP’s parliamentary candidates unveiled last weekend also failed to impress and drew reactions like: “uninspiring”, “no oomph”, “no new faces”.

Actually, Senator Lim Hui Ying, 59, the candidate for Tanjung is a new face.

There was also an almost new face, namely former assemblyman Syerleena Abdul Rashid, 42, who is contesting in Bukit Bendera.

Unfortunately, Hui Ying’s candidature dominated the media space. Her age and family ties became the talk of the town.

Hui Ying’s father is, of course, Lim Kit Siang and her former finance minister brother Lim Guan Eng is defending his seat in Bagan.

Chinese social media was flooded with commentary of “qun dai guan xi (nepotism)”.

Comparisons were drawn to the Umno trend of succession politics where “suami mati, isteri ganti (husband dies, wife takes over)”.

Hui Ying was supposed to contest in 2018 but it was deemed too sensitive given the then dominance of her father and brother.

She is a good organiser as DAP’s state secretary and is some sort of “tai ka cheh (big sister)” among the DAP crowd.

But it is hard to see someone who is one year short of retirement age as a new face and despite being a second-term senator, she is not known for her opinions or views on issues.

Whatever the local chatter, she is a sure-win in the iconic Tanjung seat which was first won by her father in 1986.

The Chief Minister contesting in Batu Kawan also came as a surprise given that the seat was the Waterloo for Chow’s predecessor.

Chow had earlier declared that he would not be defending his Tanjung parliament seat so as to focus on his state seat and Chief Minister duties.

Batu Kawan is known for its Indian turf wars and it is understood that Chow is stepping in with the full support of Deputy Chief Minister Dr P. Ramasamy, who holds sway in the area.

Chow’s stature befits what is happening in Batu Kawan, which is on the way to becoming the next growth center of Penang.

Industries, housing and commercial development as well as an academic campus are shaping up in the constituency.

Penang has six parliamentary seats on the island and seven on the mainland. Pakatan won all except for Kepala Batas and Tasik Gelugor in GE14.

DAP is set to win its seven seats but Amanah and Muda, which are contesting a seat each, are unlikely to make it.

Nurul Izzah Anwar remains the anchor in Permatang Pauh but the other three PKR seats are under scrutiny.

Bayan Baru, which is 39% Malay, 49% Chinese and 12% Indian, is a must-watch seat.

Although PKR’s Sim Tze Tzin won with a whopping 37,751-vote majority, the fierce fight shaping up is a sign of the changing dynamics on the ground.

Sim will face Penang Gerakan deputy chief Oh Tong Keong, Warisan state chairman Jeff Ooi who is a strategist with name recognition, while MCA is fielding a fresh face – Saw Yee Fung who has a degree in actuarial science.

It is indeed a fight of worthy opponents. It will be interesting to see how they carve out the Chinese support and where the Malay vote goes.

Another seat of interest is Balik Pulau, which is normally more famous for durian than politics.

Balik Pulau is 60% Malay and Umno is hungry to regain the seat.

Nibong Tebal, with 45% Malay voters, is also another seat where Barisan is out to test its claims of Malay support.

The parliamentary contests will not affect Pakatan’s hold on Penang but it will be a precursor of what will come in the state election next year.

It will enable the political parties to gauge how sentiments have shifted so that they can restrategise for the real battle for Penang.